Teun

Philosophy student, confused soul, lost hippie.

It's good: Angelique Kidjo – Remain in Light

It's a daunting task, covering an entire album, and even moreso when the album is a classic. Angelique Kidjo's take on Talking Heads' Remain in Light taps into the afrobeat and other African influences on the original, and makes them the musical focus. And I have to say that this is quite the genius move. The adaptation into this new style sounds effortless, which of course reveals the original album's influences, but is also a testament to Kidjo's incredible musical skill. If I hadn't known about Talking Heads or Remain in Light, I'd probably still greatly enjoy this album.

Another big change from the original is the lack of vocal delivery. While the original is drenched in biting irony and sarcasm, Kidjo's voice is earnest and direct, and even optimistic. The transformation of the classic lyrics of Once in a Lifetime, purely through vocal delivery and instrumental support, is absolutely incredible. This is music magic, right here.

It's good: The Claypool Lennon Delirium – South of Reality

It's pretty bizarre to hear music that sounds so much like the Beatles, and that simultaneously sounds so modern and refreshing. The Beatles part is unsurprising, considering that Sean Lennon, son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, is one half of the titular duo. But never have I heard a beatles-esque vocabulary used so well in a modern sound. It's a very colourful and fun experience that's not so easy to put into a box. Sure, it's psychedelic in that Beatles worship way, but it's also much more progressive than your average Ty Segall project.

The song South of Reality has that Dog Fashion Disco vibe going on, with weird evil-sounding vocals, and surf rock riffs backed up by organs. Boriska, then, starts off as a perfect Beatles song, before taking a dive into space-prog Pink Floydish territory and ending with a foreboding building riff that reminds of King Crimson. Clearly, they have many influences, and they do wear them on their sleeve a lot of the time. But they never limit themselves to simple imitation. The sounds of different bands and different eras can be picked out from their music if you want, but their music as a whole is something new entirely, and it's a lot harder to describe. It's exactly the kind of colourful prog that I need in my life.

On the question of free will

I am free. But not because of some smart re-conceptualisation of the term 'freedom' away from naturalistic determinism and towards some kind of phenomenological idea of freedom. No, I am free precisely because I am made of the same stuff that the rest of the universe is made from. I am a living part of an equally living universe. Our modern conception of 'laws of nature' as perfectly restrictive mechanical processes has itself emerged from the activity of human beings in this world. How could it ever be that they, biologically and physically determined sacks of meat and water, perfectly locked in to the one and only correct way the universe works, while they were simultaneously determined by that very universe to begin with? Doesn't it make much more sense to see the universe as neverending life, change, flux; to see ourselves as a part of that process; and to see the claims of physics, biology and chemistry not as eternal truths but as results of that very same process?

We are always free, because we are the universe. Modern science and philosophy wants us to see ourselves as helplessly stuck in our natural state (we are matter, and have no choice but to obey the laws of matter), while simultaneously being infinitely above nature (we can accurately unearth the laws of nature). We are, in fact, neither. We are indeed unavoidably a part of the universe, made from the same stuff, because there simply is no other stuff. There's no chasm between life and non-life, object and subject, nature and culture. But the laws of nature are as variable as humanity; we may be bound by what we deem to be true at each moment, but what we deem to be true changes and shifts constantly. The idea that we now think we've finally found the right method to find the facts about the universe is as ridiculous as the idea that a bat, a dolphin, or an octopus could find such a method. We can see clearly the limitations of other creatures – how they are bound by their own physiology and embeddedness – yet we refuse to accept the same thing about homo sapiens.

We are just animals. Animals are just stuff. No fundamental borders separate us from animals, or animals from lifeless matter. Yet we all live. We run, we reflect, we sleep and wake up, we notice the world, we notice others, we notice ourselves. Is that what life is? Or is what we call 'life' just the principle, or the force, that makes all of that possible, and that makes different things possible in different configurations? If so, then the universe is rife with life. Then life, or the universe, is what gave birth to us, and we, in turn, constitute the universe, are an integral part of it.

(These thoughts came to mind in the process of reading two works: We Have Never Been Modern by Bruno Latour (1993), and The Origin Paradox: How Could Life
Emerge from Nonlife? by Ion Soteropoulos (2018). They are deliberately written down unacademically, because I wanted to note my own thoughts in all their colour and radicalness, rather than watering them down with citations and fact-checking and on-the-one-hand/on-the-other-hand. I know that these sorts of thoughts are fleeting, which is why writing them down as they appear is important to me. What I mean is that I might distance myself from these thoughts the day after I write them. They don't represent me or my 'stance' on anything, whatever that might mean. I'm simply considering thoughts that might or might not have value.)

09-07-2021

Yesterday two important things happened in my life. I got my first COVID vaccine, and I had a talk with my to-be supervisor about my bachelor's thesis in philosophy.

The shot was nothing to write home about, so I'll spare you the details. Suffice it to say that I was surprised by how not-unpleasant it was (I dislike needles quite strongly), and by how much my arm hurts a day later. The whole ordeal was organized super-efficiently. Or at least, I hope that it was, because the process had the charm of a paperclip factory. It gave me flashbacks to my university exams: the same gargantuan hall, the same lines of people, the same unceremonious treatment. At least the people were very friendly!

Regarding my thesis talk, that went a little differently than expected. I had in mind to write about ad-blocking and attention. Online adverts mess with our attention, and attention is important in our lives (this is the tricky part), so therefore ad-blocking is a good thing to do, right? Well, we ended up spending an hour talking about my previous idea, which was to write about our current ecological predicament (to put it mildly) and how it relates to our attitudes towards nature. I had originally discarded the idea because I have no background in any kind of philosophy related to nature, environment or climate. So I figured that the process would be too painful, and simply not realistic. Well, my teacher seemed interested, and we spent a lot of time trying to specify my intuitions on this topic. He was very open and inviting, which was great, because I feel quite unsure about myself in this area due to my lack of background. But I have to say that my motivation for this topic is through the roof. I feel the urgency of our environmental problems more strongly than any other problem, and to be able to work on that would be incredibly fulfilling. Although I was excited for the ad-blocking stuff too, it didn't fill me with purpose in the same way.

In any case, I got a whole bunch of pointers for where to look for inspiration and starting points, and he even suggested a full-blown topic: A critique of utilitarianism in our relationship with nature. I'm far from the first one to put this topic on the agenda; plenty of thinkers – Heidegger, Horkheimer and Adorno, and (probably) Hannah Arendt – have talked about the way in which modern Western society has come to see nature as a resource to be exploited. Yet these attempts don't seem to have stopped humanity from exploiting the earth far past its limits regardless. So I want to look at these critiques in the light of today's problems, to see where they succeed and where they fall short. Perhaps a new critique is in order?

Right now I'm sitting in the back yard, in the sun but out of the sun (my head doesn't like it), with some nice music on. I just read Aldo Leopold's article The Land Ethic, which is considered the first work in environmental ethics and which is officially my first read work for my thesis (if I decide to go with this topic, that is). I still have roughly a year to finish it, so I think I'll manage. I'm feeling slightly anxious about somehow not being productive enough, not doing enough, being too passive and lazy, just going where the wind takes me. I have these days. Tomorrow might be very different. But I do also enjoy these days at home, doing a bunch of things and nothing huge or capital-I Important. I think it's okay to have these days.

Living, with and without phones

A week or two ago, my smartphone broke. Unusable. My first reaction was anger and frustration. But as time went on, I got increasingly surprised by the upsides. So consider this my reflection on a brief period without my phone.

First off, I find it pretty bizarre that living without a smartphone for little more than a week is even something worth writing about. That this can actually have an impact on one's life. It is a strange, ultra-recent development that we westeners seem unable to live without a tiny computer with GPS and internet access in our pockets. It grows on all of us like an extra body part. Losing it hurts and feels unnatural. But even fifteen years ago this wasn't the case at all.

Second, it sucks to lose the ability to reliably stay in contact with people. I want to be reachable if people want to contact me. However, not being reachable 24/7 has paradoxically also been a relief. I now tend to check my messages a few times per day on my laptop, and there's nothing to check in the meantime. And that ties in with the biggest upside…

No more distractions! My phone has been a huge source of constant distraction in my life. Toilet? Phone. Friend to the toilet? Phone. Train ride? Phone. Online lecture? Phone. Brushing teeth? Phone. There's no more room for downtime with a phone in your posession. And the things I do are utterly pointless: I check for updates (if there weren't any updates 10 minutes ago, there's probably still none now), I open the news (I don't even want to read the news!), I open Reddit (the default Reddit front page is garbage), I open Wikipedia and close it again (the front page only updates once per day), my mind briefly goes to Facebook until I remember I deleted my account because Facebook is worthless, and then I repeat some or all of the above until I have something better to do, or until the end of time, whichever comes first.

These acts of self-distraction seem small on their own, but they add up to a vague feeling of dissatisfaction and emptiness. Not always, but often. And not having the option to whip out my phone at every occasion made me realise how often I feel that urge, and also how pointless it is.

As a more general conclusion, I think that I have grown too dependent on my phone. I don't want a messenger program to be mobile-only or even mobile-first. (Signal does better than WhatsApp in this regard, because it has a desktop app that works independently of the phone app, but both services still require a verified phone number for an account.) I don't want to have to look up directions for every place I visit. I don't want to get all my emails in my pocket. And I'd love to use anything else to listen to music. I don't think I can get rid of my smartphone any time soon. Messages from friends and two-factor authentication have become necessities in my life. So instead, I'd like my phone to do as little as possible. So that it can cause the least amount of distraction.

I'm happy to see that I can live without my phone. Let's see if I can keep it up once it's repaired.

Amazing open source software

I'll admit it, some open source programs feel like second-grade imitations of proprietary software. This is not a jab at any open source developers; I think this is mostly due to copyright laws and the sheer money that's behind the world's most popular software.

However, there is open source software out there that's simply unbeatable. Here's a few of these programs.

youtube-dl

Website    https://yt-dl.org
It is    a video downloader
Platforms    Windows, macOS, Linux
Replaces    Freemake Video Downloader, Free Studio, shady ad-filled websites

Youtube-dl is, like, so good. It can do everything you expect from a Youtube downloader, and much more. It officially supports many hundreds of video sites, and it can handle even more through some generic extraction methods. Seriously, throw any video link at youtube-dl and if there's any way to download it, the program will do it.

Youtube-dl is a command line program, but it's so well documented that even inexperienced users should be able to operate it fairly easily. If the command line is too intimidating, there's always youtube-dl-gui which gives you a nice and simple interface.

Firefox

Website    https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/
It is    a web browser
Platforms    Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS
Replaces    Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Safari

Almost the entire internet has switched to Chrome over the last few years, which is a shame, because it's owned by Google and doesn't give a shit about its users' privacy. Firefox is fairly private by default, and can be tweaked to be as private as browsers get. It's also very customisable and has tons of great add-ons, like uBlock Origin, my personal favourite ad and content blocker. Talking about uBlock Origin…

uBlock Origin

Website    https://ublockorigin.com/
It is    a content blocker
Platforms    Firefox, Chrome, Edge, Opera
Replaces    WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger

I'm not sure how this ad and content blocker could get any better. I haven't seen a single ad in a long time, and web pages have become a lot less bloated (both visually and data-wise) since I installed it. It can be run in easy mode, which blocks most stuff you don't want automatically, or in manual mode, which means it blocks a lot by default and you occasionally have to un-break certain websites. This control and transparency is a big part of what I love about this extension. By default, even in easy mode, it blocks not only ads but also tracking, annoyances and resource abuse (using your CPU or bandwidth without consent), so it's a great one-stop-shop for a better internet experience.

PDF Arranger

Website    https://github.com/pdfarranger/pdfarranger
It is    a PDF arranger (shocker)
Platforms    Windows, Linux
Replaces    Adobe Acrobat, various PDF websites

I wish I'd learned about this tool earlier. When I want to edit a PDF file, I usually want to do one of three things: 1) take a selection of pages and dump the rest, 2) rotate the pages (because some people don't know how to scan documents properly), or 3) crop the white edges in a document. PDF Arranger lets you do exactly these things, and in the simplest way possible. No ads, no websites, no millions of redundant options. Also, it preserves all text as text and basically does nothing to your files except what you tell it to. Just lovely.

Zotero

Website    https://www.zotero.org/
It is    a reference manager
Platforms    Windows, macOS, Linux
Replaces    EndNote, RefWorks

If you do any kind of academic writing, a reference manager is almost a necessity. Zotero is easy to use, feature-rich and just happens to be open source as well! It does everything I want it to do, and more. Managing citations – even many hundreds of them – is easy with the nested folder system. Exporting one or multiple sources for in-text citations or a bibliography is a breeze, plus it integrates with LibreOffice Writer and even MS Word (if you're into that kind of thing). It also offers browser extensions, so you can directly import references from web pages.

Standard Notes

Website    https://standardnotes.org/
It is    a note-taking app
Platforms    Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS, web
Replaces    Evernote, Google Keep, OneNote

Hey, it's the program that I'm writing this post in! Standard Notes is perfect for me as a student because it allows me to customise what's important and keep the rest as simple as possible, so that taking notes is distraction-free. It has a bunch of themes (including beautiful dark ones), a ton of different editors for different purposes, and it allows you to organise your notes through folders and sub-folders.

It's not as extensive as something like Evernote, but it focuses on one thing and does it extremely well. Oh, and it also encrypts all your notes by default and syncs them to their servers, so that you can access them anywhere.

Radiotray-ng

Website    https://github.com/ebruck/radiotray-ng#radiotray-ng-an-internet-radio-player-for-linux
It is    a radio streamer
Platform    Linux
Replaces    TuneIn, iHeartRadio, web players

Another tiny application that does one thing perfectly. This program sits in your tray and lets you play radio stations. You add radio stations through web links (.pls or .mp3), and you can group them by genre. The fact that it's a tray application is perfect, because it stays out of your way while always being available at a single click for when you want to change the channel or pause the music.

Also, allow me to plug the excellent SomaFM while I'm at it. Pick a station whose name you like, and you'll probably like the music! It's seriously good and totally ad-free.

LibreOffice Writer

Website    https://www.libreoffice.org/
It is    a word processor
Platforms    Windows, macOS, Linux
Replaces    Microsoft Word, Google Docs

This one might be seen by some as one of these inferior open source copies of proprietary software (mostly MS Word). But I've really come to love it. For me, it doesn't lack a single feature that MS Word offers. It also feels light and easy to handle, and it's very customisable – it even has the ribbon design from Word as an option, if that's your thing. And it supports more filetypes than you'll know what to do with – including .docx files, of course.

LanguageTool

Website    https://languagetool.org/
It is    proofreading software
Platforms    browsers (Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Safari, Opera), word processors (Google Docs, MS Word, OpenOffice, LibreOffice), macOS
Replaces    Grammarly

This program gives you useful writing tips in over 30 languages. It checks both grammar and style, and covers stuff such as sentence length, grammatical errors, old-fashioned or unclear language, false friends and much, much more. Of course, its functionality differs per language, but I can testify to its usefulness in both English and Dutch.

Jitsi

Website    https://meet.jit.si/ (server-hosted); https://jitsi.org/jitsi-meet/ (self-hosted)
It is    video conferencing software
Platforms    Linux, macOS, Windows, Android, iOS, web
Replaces    Zoom, Google Meet, Skype, Microsoft Teams, Facebook Messenger Rooms, Discord

The fact that people massively flocked to a shady proprietary videocall program for their quarantine communication, and that it's not just companies but universities as well, still baffles me. Especially because there's a great open-source and private alternative out there: Jitsi! Their hosted service works great for individual use, and it's more user-friendly (and prettier!) than many of the proprietary alternatives. Seriously, setting up a meeting takes two clicks, it's that simple.

Signal

Website    https://signal.org/en/
It is    a messaging app
Platforms    Android, iOS, Windows, macOS, Linux
Replaces    WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, fax

Another app that's so good that you wonder why everyone still uses the crappy one. Signal is, in many ways, a WhatsApp clone. The irony here is that WhatsApp actually uses Signal's messaging protocol, because it's so damn secure. WhatsApp, though, is owned by Facebook, who promised a few years ago that they wouldn't use WhatsApp's data for their advertising activities, and who are now doing exactly that. Signal, on the other hand, is as private as it gets. On top of that, they have a desktop app that works independently of the phone app, and it can double as an SMS app!

It's good: Gnod & João Pais Filipe – Faca de Fogo

What a beautiful, hypnotic, crushing album. This is 4 tracks, 44 minutes of droning, pounding and at times grooving noise rock. Though 'noise rock' doesn't really cover the kaleidoscopic range that this album has. It constantly shifts before your eyes (ears?), it refuses to be pinned down, which is terrible to write about but lovely to listen to. (I refuse to list all the genres that this album pulls from. You listen and figure it out for yourself.) Percussionist and 'sound sculptor' João Pais Filipe seems to really add a lot to these tracks, which sound like true collaborations and are bursting with sponteneity and passion.

This album is highly contemporary in its experimentation, bleakness and lack of convention, but at the same time it deeply embodies the timeless spirit of music-making.

It's good: Electric Wizard – Dopethrone

Jeez, what is there to say about this album other than that it slaps so freaking hard? Listening to this album means being crushed by riff after riff after riff, each of them heavier than the last. The production is perfectly dirty without getting muddy. The vocals are frantic and buried in the mix, as if the singer himself is struggling to overcome the gargantuan wall of guitars and bass and drums. And honestly, if anyone can find a song with better, more crushing, more groovy riffs than Funeralopolis, they should contact me immediately.

It's good: Torche – Harmonicraft

Ah, the incomparable joy of finding out that an album you loved years ago is still great! The infectious joy and energy of Torche's Harmonicraft hasn't diminished at all over the years. So, I guess this is, like, poppy sludge punk? They sound like the perfect band to see live, which makes me a bit sad that I haven't.

This album is also consistently good, it really doesn't let up. Every single song takes its ideas in interesting directions, and most of them are fantastic sing-along songs as well. The last two songs are somewhat outlier-y, being hypnotic almost kraut rocky and doom metal-inspired respectively, but they still fit with the sound that the band establishes with the rest of the album. I really love this sound, and the way they execute it here is just spot-on.

It's good: Névoa – Towards Belief

There's no shortage of bands that claim a combination of metal and jazz, but so very few pull it off as well as this Portugese band does.

Often, metal bands playing jazzy musical segments – or even calmer passages in general – lack the nuance to make them sound good. But Névoa absolutely has the skill to pull off the dynamic changes on this record.

And it's not just that they actually play both the metal and jazz parts exceptionally well. It's also how they manage to have their very own sound apart from the standard metal/jazz vocabulary. They're dark, very dark, mostly pulling from atmospheric black metal, and their more jazzy passages are moody and smokey. They let their segments play out for as long as needed, but they're also good at shifting gears. This makes their music feel less monolithic than your typical black metal record, and much more like a musical adventure. And it doesn't feel hokey either: they're still heavy and doomy, and I'd definitely recommend this for fans of both doom and black metal. But this is for the more musically curious as well!

It's good: Huntsmen – Mandala of Fear

Not often does a band that's rooted in stoner, doom and post-whatever capture my attention like this. This album is incredibly diverse, and it does everything it attempts very well. Its 'basic' sound is indeed stoner-influenced (I hear Intronaut and Baroness and Mastodon in there) but this album is a ride that goes much further than that. It has blistering passages of rage that are not only heavy, but also quite unlike anything the abovementioned bands have ever put out; it has calm, soothing sections with amazing female vocals (more of that in metal, please); it has melodic passages that are total prog... With every single thing this band does, it sounds like that's the kind of band it is: 'this is a death metal band', 'this is an atmospheric folk band', 'this is a prog rock band', etc. Except it's all the same band!

The album as a whole flows wonderfully, with all of its songs (ranging from 2,5 to almost 11 minutes) having a certain purpose in the musical arc of the album. Just a rich and rewarding musical experience!

It's good: Kyros – Celexa Dreams

There's nothing quite so satisfying as musical surprises. And this album is full of them. The backbone of this album is super-nostalgic 80's powerprog, at times so cheesy it borders on homage. But this band brings in a truckload of modern influences, popping up where you least expect them. The heavy passages especially caught me off-guard, not only because they contrast so strongly with the rest of the music, but also because they turn out to fit perfectly, and are executed with great finesse. All too often a not-so-metal band will attempt to sound 'heavy' only to end up sounding brittle, but Kyros pulls off every single element of their sound.

This is really fun, colorful music that is both nostalgic and truly progressive.

It's good: Melted Bodies – Enjoy Yourself

If you ever feel like you're living in a ridiculous dystopian hellscape, then this album will be immensely satisfying for you. Their sarcastic takes on the state of the world are as funny as they are painful.

I could describe their sound as a mix of System of a Down and avant-garde stuff like Dog Fashion Disco and Stolen Babies, but they really have their very own thing going on. They even have moments of truly heavy, un-ironicised death metal. The whole thing is pretty crazy, I guess is my point.

It's good: NEPTUNIAN MAXIMALISM – Éons

I'm gonna be honest, I didn't even finish this album yet. I just really want to write about it so I don't forget how I feel.

I like to think of music, especially heavy music, in terms of scratching an itch. Some music scratches a particular shallow itch really well, even violently. Some ultra-heavy music can scratch such an itch until it hurts. (I wonder how this all sounds to someone who isn't into heavy music... inviting, no?)

NEPTUNIAN MAXIMALISM also is in the business of itch-scratching, but the itch it targets is deep. As such, it can never fully be scratched. Satisfaction can never be reached. Because the itch is a spiritual one, and in order to scratch it, the music has to transport you to a different world. Once there, you'll want to stay there, however turbulent and violent this world is. There's something true about this world; it feels truer than our own world. So when the album is over (which takes some time, mind you), you're left wanting to go back to this wonderfully hideous spiritual world that's so much like our own and yet nothing like it. When I see the ugly ugliness of the real world, I miss the beautiful ugliness of this album.

It's good: King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – K.G.

This is a vibe album, as most King Gizzard albums are. In the same way that some movies are vibe movies: your enjoyment will largely depend on the extent to which you can vibe with it. And I can vibe with K.G.

They dragged out their microtonal instruments again, and they definitely experiment to get some interesting tunes out of them. This might be a sequel to their 2017 album Flying Microtonal Banana, it's definitely not a redo. The band has clearly evolved in the 3½ years (and 6 studio albums) since then.

What I especially love is the sheer fun that shines through their music. Some songs even sound like they started out as jokes, before they got turned into well-produced songs. On top of that, the microtonality adds a lot of flavour to the music, without making it too hard to listen to.

It's good: Underworld & The Necks – Appleshine Continuum

Damn. The pure joy of two artists that you love coming together and making something beautiful. And it's even more lovely when these two artists don't seem to fit together at all.

Underworld is a legendary (but also kind of underground) electronic music group, mostly known for their song Born Slippy. The Necks is an obscure jazz band with a truly unique sound (think ambient, minimalism, improvisation).

These two groups came together for a single 47-minute track that weaves these two textures together beautifully. It drifts from pulsating trance to hypnotic jazz and back, and although the electronics are always present, the structure feels like pure The Necks: organic and improvisational.

It's just really beautiful and hypnotic, and perfect for studying to as well.