A conceptacular experience

ultima retweets my post on as we may think

I’ve dedicated this post to one of my very most favoritest former students, Ultima Castro, whose conceptacular work has continued to inspire me for–can it be?–four years. When I thought of the title “concept experience” for this assignment, I was thinking of many things, but one of them was conceptacular Ultima.

But I digress–which means I’ve started down another associative trail. You’d think that this meta level–write a post about the associative trails concept experience!–would be enough to keep me occupied. But starting down the trail-about-the-trail creates other trails … but again I digress.

So here’s the history. Two screenshots, in reverse chronological order:

associative trails history one


associative trails history list begins

Rather than be like Tristram Shandy endlessly narrating his own life, I will just go down the trail with a little reflective commentary on some key stops.

I started by putting on my headphones–Sony MDR-7506–to put myself in a thought-cocoon. I can’t usually write and listen to music at the same time. But I knew the music would start me on associative trails with just enough distraction–or immersion–to ensure I wouldn’t be too self-conscious about what I was doing. So now, where to find the music.

Associative trail mile marker one:

associative trails start with time

Pandora, and my High Llamas channel. I used my Windows Snipping Tool to get the screenshot, and the little “pen” in the tool to make a crude, trackball-generated time check. I knew this channel would be just right to get me in the zone: melodic, a little melancholy, a little puckish, a little curious. So on I went.

The Pandora site had a link to the High Llamas website. I hadn’t been there in quite awhile, so I decided to pop over there to see how the band (really one guy, mostly) was doing. To my delight, they seem to be active again. I saw a link to sign up for a newsletter, so I clicked on it and signed up. Then of course I had to go to gmail to click on the link that would confirm my subscription. I doubt the High Llamas will be coming to RVA anytime soon, but by signing up for the newsletter I felt I had signaled to someone, if only to myself, that I was a deep fan of the band and its music; as if I had signed a petition supporting the band. I also realized that when I follow associative trails on the web, I’m often looking for more stuff to read, even the long things that many people believe are tl;dr material. But then, my oldest intellectual addictions are music and words, so there you go.

After doing some more reading and confirming my subscription to the newsletter, I remembered that I’d been meaning to follow up some suggestions regarding music that’s apparently like the kind of music the High Llamas make. Well, close enough: I went in search of “dreamcore.” Eventually I discovered a huge list of dreamcore bands–on a last.fm page–and was fascinated by the images associated with a band I’d never heard of, Tears Run Rings:

I clicked on the thumbnail and found myself on a profile of the band and its second album. I’m now about six minutes into the experience.tearsrunrings


I click on the link to the band page and spend a little time there, finally selecting two images I wanted to keep and share as part of this experience–which is something I do pretty often, and which reminds me that when I follow associative trails on the web I often look for things to download or otherwise capture. In other words, when I’m learning, I’m also on the lookout for stuff to share. It’s a teacher’s habit, I guess, but it’s also something I’ve found very helpful in my own learning. When I find the thing and at the same time think about sharing it, I’ve kind of found it twice–that’s not quite right, but perhaps you get the gist:



By now I am getting a wee bit self-conscious. I hadn’t intended to make this concept experience into music only. But obviously, tonight, this was something I needed or wanted. Nevertheless, time to check my email. (It’s always time to check my email. Sad, I know.)

(Well, perhaps not always sad.) When I got to my email, I discovered that one of our Thought Vectors participants had replied to one of my tweets. Which one, I wondered? Ah, it was the tweet about my own recent inquiry project (this one took a couple of years, or maybe twenty, depending on how you count):

bill smith tweets re cambridge companion

I hadn’t anticipated that anyone would find my tweet ironic, but it was actually pleasant to be tickled in this way. I wanted to counter with some irony of my own, so I thought I’d head to the Kindle store and find an image of the Kindle edition of the book in which my essay had appeared. But of course, it’s back to music, as today Amazon launched a new service called Prime Music:

amazon prime music

And I’m still only ten minutes into the concept experience. I stop here for a bit to speculate about whether Amazon had made these particular images pop up because they knew my demographic or my buying/listening preferences, or whether this was an ad based on the music they actually had the rights to. I’m guessing the former. But onward, onward; I must find my response to those who were giving me the needle, in a very friendly way, about tweeting about an analog book. Me being such a digital person, and all. (Yes, but a Miltonist, let us not forget. An amphibian, as Sir Thomas Browne would put it.)

Ah, here’s the Kindle edition.

kindle edition ccpl

And here’s the TOC that includes my name. Just another drop in the lit-crit ocean, but it represents a lot of work alone and in conversation with both fellow professors and (even more crucially) with students asking great questions to which I did not have the answers.

ccpl table of contents

This post is growing exponentially, it seems, and I’m still only about 15 minutes into the experience. So I’ll pick up the reflective pace here and avoid the reverie.

After spending some time looking at other Milton books on Amazon, I quickly realized that I could spend the entire time on Amazon, clicking around to window-shop as well as to learn things about the various books, movies, records, and other items that drew my interest. Over the years I’ve watched Amazon grow not only in the variety of goods and services it offers, but in the range and volume of information they have on the site. Fascinating, and instructive to compare with other retailers’ sites. But enough of Amazon. Amazon is not the Internet. Everyone knows that Reddit is the Internet.

So to Reddit I went, where I immediately found this image of Bill Nye the Science Guy in his ninth-grade science class:

billy nye 9th grade


It’s always fun, and a little unnerving, to see childhood photos of people who look almost exactly like their adult selves. This image is a perfect example. By now, however, I felt a growing realization that I was going to spin back to music and I should just surrender and do it. On my way, though, I thought I’d preserve for posterity my strategy for keeping every possible option open for further orienteering and trail-blazing:

multivector tab menagerieI sometimes wonder why my computer is slowing down–and then I take a look at how many tabs I have open.

Where was I? Oh yes, music. No better place on the Internet to feed my music habit than the Steve Hoffman Forum, the place that back in 2002 opened my eyes to one powerful way an Internet community could become a learning community.

hoffman music forums

There were a couple of Who threads tonight, including one in which the forum’s host, mastering engineer Steve Hoffman, posted his favorite picture of Pete Townshend. I’d never seen it before, but based on what I know of Steve from the forum, I can guess what he likes about it. It really is a terrific photo of the main creative engine behind my favorite band:

pete and records

I clicked into one more thread, this one about the newly released Blu-Ray “Pure Audio” 5.1 remix of The Who’s Quadrophenia, and found an hilarious YouTube video by a UK critic/musician/YouTube webcaster named Darren Lock. His video review of the new edition of Quadrophenia made me laugh out loud, especially when he comments on the acoustics in the room and how they make the crackle of the cellophane especially vivid. Talk about digressing… (But I digress.)

Pulling myself away from a possible 15-minute YouTube excursion, I decide to close the loop and see if I can find more information about the kind of music I was looking for earlier. It seems that “dreamcore” may be too specific a genre label. I really was looking for something more like the new Real Estate album, I think.

real estate

Going to the Wikipedia article on Real Estate, I found the genre “dream pop” (I almost went for “jangle pop,” another genre label for Real Estate, but I was intriguing more by “dream” than by “jangle”). And here I found some very extensive resources indeed. I think I’ve found my starting place:

dream pop

list of dream pop artistsClearly this page will give me more new bands to discover than I could possibly get to in my remaining life, unless of course I win the lottery tomorrow.

“Time is my tedious song here hath ending.” for those who persisted with my trails until the end, the final stop on my journey. The Kings of Convenience, a band Pandora (with its own “music genome” trailblazing) originally led me to.
kings of convenience--end

Wait, still not quite the end: as I tidied up my savings and prepared to write the post, Pandora was still playing, and a song came on by a band I’d never heard of but instantly liked.

pernice brothers all music

Note to self: follow up on Pernice Brothers. And so another associative trail is born.

And so to bed.

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