decade cadence

During the past couple Decembers, I’ve listed five of my favorite recordings from the preceding year. It’s time to do the same as we resolve to the tonic for the decade:


Michael Tilson Thomas’ recording with the San Francisco Symphony of Charles Ives’ Symphonies 3 and 4 is a music history seminar in one album. I haven’t listened to a lot of Ives, but I found this collection of songs revelatory, with its ample supply of American folk and religious music that underlies Ives’ compositions. One of those albums that moves the composer from furniture music to an object of focused attention.

Esperanza Spalding’s 12 Little Spells was originally released in 2018, but an expanded version came out earlier this year. Some of the new material verges into the Bj√∂rky, especially “Lest We Forget (blood),” still a really great song. But the whole album is a sonic smorgasbord—sometimes within one song, as in the title track—and it only cements Spalding’s upset win over J-Biebs as the crowning Grammy of the decade.

One of my jazz obsessions this year has been pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams, whose early self-titled album (1964) was reprinted on Smithsonian Folkways in 2019. The tracks on this disc appear on her later album Mary Lou Williams Presents Black Christ of the Andes, too. The choral harmonies on tracks like “St. Martin de Porres” and “The Devil” are so rich, flitting between traditional and almost avant-garde, like Duke Ellington and Brian Wilson made an album together.

Speaking of re-issues, a post on old-Internet-bulwark Metafilter sent me to Sora’s Re.sort, a guilty pleasure album of glitchy, collaged beach music originally released on CD in 2003 and re-released this year. Missed it then, happy to have stumbled upon it now. My affinity for this one might be some reflective nostalgia on the aughts, not even this present decade: it’s like an easy collaboration of The Books and Fennesz—the stuff I liked in college.

It’s appropriate, maybe, that one of the last great albums of the 2010s echoes one of the decade’s major losses and obsessively meditates upon a child’s death. That is, Nick Cave’s ambient, Eno-ish Ghosteen sounds like the 2010s have felt: for a lot of people and for a lot of reasons, it has been a long, even grievous ten years. Against that gloomy backdrop, it’s comforting and hopeful to hear repeated “I am beside you / Look for me” as we move into the 2020s—that there’s something good to keep our eyes out for. I wouldn’t call it the album of the decade, but reader, you might still call it your decade’s album.

nuntii omnes imprimendi

My high school counselor was the first of many to bring to my attention Annalisa Quinn’s great write-up on the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae on the front page (!) of today’s New York Times. It documents the nineteenth-century origins of the dictionary project, its durability through political upheaval in the European sphere, and its omnivorous approach to Latin texts:

There is a piece of paper for every surviving piece of writing from the classical period. The words, arranged chronologically, are given in context: they come from poems, prose, recipes, medical texts, receipts, dirty jokes, graffiti, inscriptions, and anything else that survived the vicissitudes of the last two thousand years.

Most Latin students read from the same rarefied canon without much contact with how the language was used in everyday life. But the T.L.L. insists that the anonymous person who insulted an enemy with graffiti on a wall in Pompeii is as valuable a witness to the meaning of a Latin word as a poet or emperor.

Such a delight to see the spotlight on Latin lexicography in America’s paper of record!

Reading about the TLL in the paper today reminded me of the recent shuttering of Finland’s Nuntii Latini, the quirky weekly radio broadcast of international news in that most international of tongues. The last broadcast of Nuntii Latini this past June included reports on trade agreements between Putin and Xi Jinping, some exhortations to sleep more and drink less, and of course, a notice of the program’s end. “To our listeners,” the announcer pronounces, “we give our greatest thanks and wish you well” (Auscultatoribus … gratias quam maximas agimus et valedicimus). Ave atque vale!

Unfortunately, the transcripts of Nuntii Latini won’t make their way into the pages of the TLL—the dictionary’s articles catalog only examples up to the time of Isidore of Seville, more or less, so 2019 would be a stretch. But as one Latin project winds down, another starts up, and others simply keep plugging away, reliably, after 125 years.

upcoming talk on “deep humanities”

I’m presenting a lecture on Nov. 20 at 6pm at Riverside Church (120th St. and Claremont Ave.) entitled “Deep Humanities: Artificial Intelligence and the Ethics of Persuasion.” It’s my first talk on a new research project on the classical antecedents of our contemporary crisis regarding “deepfake” videos, and I argue that we can locate deepfakes in an ancient tradition of using obvious falsehoods in the service of persuasion. At odds with contemporary scientific and analytic approaches to deepfakes, which seek to test their validity by isolating some kind of criterion of authenticity, my rhetorically oriented approach sees deepfakes as examples of character-based persuasion that operate largely outside the considerations of truthfulness and “fact-checking.” I revisit some of the courtroom literature of Cicero, whose use of caricature and impersonation anticipates the strategies underlying deepfakes.

The event is on Riverside Church’s Floor 11, and it is open to the public.