All posts by Durkin

The cat / beard question, answered


Via the amazing Erin Dollar, a study of feline reactions to bearded men.

It is eminently quotable in numerous places:

Norquist (1988) performed a series of experiments in which cats were exposed to photographs of Robert Bork[1] (not pictured here), a man whose beard is confined largely to the underside of the jaw. After viewing the Bork photograph, 26% of the cats exhibited paralysis of the legs and body, including the neck. An additional 31% of the cats exposed to the Bork photograph showed other types of severe neurological and/or pulmocardial distress and/or exhibited extremely violent behavior. Because of this, we did not include a photograph of this type of bearded man in our study.

While each cat was viewing the photographs, it was held by a laboratory assistant. To ensure that the cats were not influenced by stroking or other unconscious cues from the assistant, the assistant was anesthetized prior to each session. The cats’ reactions were assessed for changes in pulse rate, respiration, eye dilation, fur shed rate, and qualitative behavior.


Cats do not like men with long beards, especially long dark beards.
Cats are indifferent to men with shorter beards.
Cats are confused and/or disturbed by men with beards that are incomplete (e.g., Bork) and to a lesser degree by men whose beards have missing parts (e.g., Crafts).

You’re welcome.

The bandcamp bandwagon, part two


So, as you know if you’ve been reading this blog for at least a few days, I recently uploaded the first Industrial Jazz Group album, Hardcore (now out of print), to Bandcamp, the most elegant, well-designed digital independent music distribution service I’ve yet come across.

But I have a question. Why on earth does a site that sharp lack a filter?

I only know of a handful of jazz (or jazz-inflected) Bandcampers — I’ve already mentioned Jason Parker, Sunna Gunnlaugs, and the Atmos Trio, and could add John Goldsby, Neil Alexander and NAIL, and Steve Lawson to that list — and I found about their Bandcamp releases exclusively through Twitter.

But that’s only because all of these folks are on Twitter, and were kind enough to tell me about their releases.

Nothing wrong with that, of course. We already know that one of the new skill-sets for a 21st-century musician is self-promotion. (Actually, that’s not a “new” skill-set. Though arguably it has never been as necessary as it is now.)

But what if I want to explore the recordings of the many other jazz or jazz-inflected artists who are now on the site? I could theoretically discover some great new music that way, right? Especially given that one of the beauties of BC is that it makes audio streaming (the easiest way to “sample” an unknown artist) pretty much idiot-proof.

And yet if I try browsing via the Bandcamp homepage, I quickly discover that not only is there no easy way to find other jazz artists, there is not even a “search” function. Only an easily-overlooked “many artists” link, which leads to a page on which the entire Bandcamp catalog can be sorted by one of two parameters: the date on which a given recording was uploaded, or an artist’s name. And that’s it.

Now, philosophically, I truly appreciate the statement this makes. What better critique of the admittedly problematic human habit of categorizing every damned thing to the nth degree? Just make one big alphabetical list and let other people worry about genre and all that.

But as a music consumer, I look at this and feel overwhelmed. Further: I decide there is very little chance I am going to use Bandcamp as a music discovery tool.

And that’s ironic, I think, because apparently the impetus for the creation of Bandcamp was an experience that many of us have had — coming across a brilliant but unknown band, wanting to give that band money (so as to aid them in their quest for world domination), and discovering that even generosity can sometimes be a royal pain in the ass:

[H]ere’s a relatively unknown band that deserves all the success in the world, made the admirable decision to do an entirely independent release, yet was tripped up by the sorts of aggravating technical issues familiar to anyone who’s ever tried to build out their own website.

In other words, Bandcamp’s goal is to make online transactions easier, from all points of view. But what good is it to make a transaction easy if the thing you’re selling is hard to find?

One of the grandparents of Music 2.0, CDBaby, which also traffics primarily in independent music, always excelled in the area of filters, and is an instructive model, I think. CD Baby offers multiple search options, including multi-tiered genre searches (e.g., some 50+ different kinds of jazz), searches based on “sounds like” queries, and even searches based on random adjectives like “sultry” or “twisted” (something not even does). They also allow for user reviews, artist cross-referencing, and all of the other stuff that has more or less become standard in online retail over the last ten years.

Why not Bandcamp?

Well, it may be that the good folks at BC have no interest in these issues. It may be that they don’t want to take on any additional technical challenges at the moment. It may be that they are mostly interested in doing one very limited thing well.

Fair enough. I can respect that.

But in that case, here’s my open plea to the Internets: somewhere there must be a smart, enterprising kid with enough design savvy and free time to just up and build a filter that can work as a third-party interface for Bandcamp.

If there is, it would be an impressive first step in a programming career. If there isn’t, I fear that a lot of the music that lives at the site will remain undiscovered by a wider audience for some time to come.

The bandcamp bandwagon

ground zero

Happy new year, everyone.

Did you know that 2010 will be the 10 year anniversary of when I started the IJG?

Ten years ago, I was visiting Houston with my wife (though she was not yet my wife). She had an apartment there because of her job, and though I had an apartment in LA because of mine (I was still in academia at that point), the plan was that I would be relocating to Houston too, once the school year was over. I can still remember that winter break like it was yesterday. I had a great time playing piano in the rehearsal rooms at Rice University.

As it turned out, Daphne’s employer cancelled her Houston contract, so she ended up returning to LA that Spring. Which meant that I stayed in LA too. Which meant that I started the IJG.

Ain’t life funny sometimes?

The process of creating that initial version of the group is described in some detail here. But I’ve been hoping to find a more interesting way to commemorate this particular milestone. How’s this: our first album, Hardcore, is not technically ten years old yet — it was released in 2001 — but it was recorded in 2000. Why not offer it up for free (or whatever) on the increasingly appealing site?

(I learned about Bandcamp shortly after it launched — but it wasn’t until I saw it put to good use by folks like Jason Parker, Sunna Gunnlaugs, and the Atmos Trio that I thought I would give it a try for myself.)

So: here you go, in all its rough-hewn glory: the first Industrial Jazz Group album, Hardcore. It was a different era (this album was recorded on 2-inch tape!), and we were in a much more straight-ahead vibe — though all of the tunes on this record are Durkin originals, which I suppose lends a certain quirkiness to the proceedings. Evan Francis (who, along with yours truly, is the only surviving member of the original group) really shines on this set, turning in some particularly stellar solos on “Daphne’s Dream City,” “Cozy ‘n Tooty,” and “Art & Commerce.”


[Photo: Industrial Jazz Group circa 2000, live at Ground Zero Coffeehouse, on the USC campus. Mike Dodge (tenor), Evan Francis (alto), Andrew Durkin (piano), Aaron Kohen (bass), Drew Hemwall (drums). Photo by Daphne Robinson.]