Thursday, May 29, 2008

As if you couldn't see it coming

But honestly, I didn't think it would come from Hollywood.

I was ready for some moron Southern Baptist preacher to start ranting about the will of God and punishment for all them pinko-commies. Either way, this really upsets me.

For one, the policies of a government are not necessarily indicative of the moral fortitude of its people. I can believe that the Chinese government stirs bad blood, but I refuse to believe that the 50,000+ deceased and the 5,000,000+ left homeless did something so wrong as to invoke this supposed wrath of God.

The other thing is that this is just another helping of the same poor image individual Americans are projecting to the world. I'm not too optimistic about your average American, but every now and then it creeps up on you. You see some person in their struggles and you can't help but feel a wave of empathy. This battle we're fighting, it's against a faceless enemy. Individuals aren't necessarily bad, despite their actions. When it comes down to it people hurt and they don't want to. I can't say it enough and this won't be the last time you'll hear me say it, but I'm sure the American salt-of-the-Earth are perfectly capable of getting along with Russian, Iranian, Chinese, or Korean salt-of-the-Earth folks as well.

Regardless, if your logic is reciprocal, Sharon Stone, then your faulty judgment, the exploits of American snipers, our beloved president, and all the evangelists you can fit into a tin can are going to land a meteor right in the center of Oklahoma. That would be karmic.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

New Cold War

On the plane over, I was reading The Economist, which ran a number of articles on Russia last week. Here are a couple of the tag lines: "How bad is Russia's oil industry?" and "Enter, pursued by a new bear." I didn't notice or take issue with the reportage at all - this is, after all, the general tone of most articles on Russia in the Western press. Quasi-totalitarianistic government, corrupt business, hostility towards the west, and bear metaphors: this is about the extent of the nuance afforded to 95% of Russia reporting.

When we were sitting around the apartment a couple days ago, Katya starting reading the magazine and looked over at me: "Why do you guys hate us so much?" Her question made me sit up and take notice to the general journalistic approach taken in regard to Russia in much of the press I read every day. Despite communism being buried close to 20 years now, there is still a lot of fear in the media about this newly-revived global power. Whether it's shady assassinations, government control of media, unrest in Chechnya, problematic political friendships in Georgia, Ukraine, Serbia, or other post-bloc regions, the average American media consumer would be led to believe that Russia is a really scary, threatening place that is out to thwart good old Euro-North American liberalism. Even though the official line is that the leaders of Russia have "good souls" (Bush's often-mocked comment after meeting Putin), they are probably our most feared and reviled "friend" (although lately China might win this distinction). Journalists have never quite gotten over their old Cold War habits, it seems, complete with the same frosty metaphorical language.

I don't want to take too long discussing this, but a few things need to be said. I don't claim to support Putin's policies; I certainly don't want to justify the murders of Anna Politkovskaya and Alexander Litvinenko, which indeed appear to be politically inspired. However, we need to acknowledge that an accepted Western media coverage that is knee-jerk and fear-filled is not just influencing the positions and emotions of Western readers - Russians notice it too, and feel like the West is trying to keep them out of the rich-and-powerful club of nations. From my understanding of the situation, Russia is poised at a critical juncture right now: they supply much of Europe with its energy, their wealth is increasing at a brisk pace, and they have emerged fully formed from the fits, starts, and chaos that defined the era immediately following the collapse of the USSR. But this success is precarious. The oil profits that are fueling this blitzkrieg of growth may start to taper off soon (see current Economist issue); relations with the West are turning chilly. On top of this, a new president just took over, even if he is a puppet of Putin (which is itself a fact that has yet to be seen, despite bellicose proclamations from the Western press).

If people here perceive that the West welcomes them in to the prosperous modern world with open arms, warts and all, I imagine that people will want in all the more; if the media keeps taunting with fear-mongering assessments about interminable problems with the mighty bear, we will have a different geopolitical reality on our hands, or at least a huge PR problem. All of this is to say that Western powers run the distinct risk of alienating an important, fledging nation right during the time of transition to a more Western-friendly system of doing things. This would be a bear-sized pity, indeed.

Riddle me this...

Q: Why are the Dutch smarter than the Americans?
A: Because where we can piss off droves of Muslims with an expensive sniper rifle, the Dutch can do it with cartoons alone.

Okay, joking aside, the aim of the Western World is not to offend the Islamic population, at least I hope not. If it is, and I somehow didn't get the memo, I'm moving to Pluto. That *might* be far enough away.

Anyway, reading the news will only cause injuries. I myself sport a concussion from the number of times I've slapped my head in disgust. If you've traveled abroad you've no doubt witnessed the exploits of some Americans perpetuating stereotypes against our... culture. Example, flying back from England to Italy sat me next to a drove of frat boys, one of them running around with a beer bong strapped to his pack. This is the type of person that would try to fondle the Venus de Milo. There's nothing more refreshing than trying to live within and learn about a culture only to have others from your own culture make you look guilty by association. Well, congratulations unnamed Staff Sergeant. Disrespect to cultures of that form does no good whatsoever. The fact is you are ignorant. If you are really that frustrated that you're in the middle of a desert right now you can start shooting at American artifacts. Your government left you there, blame them. Your inability to find any tin cans or cats to shoot at has basically left most intelligent Americans red in the face. A good deal many Muslims too.

That having been said, the Muslims can get over it.

Me personally, not a fan of religion. I think religion is a disgusting social tool that frightens children into becoming model citizens. I think it distracts people from the quintessence of living, generates complacency among global consumers (thus we can destroy the planet, our treasure is in Heaven), and enforces a groupthink mentality (note: I said nothing of spirituality). I have read sections of the Qur'an and I find some of it quite wise. A lot of it is, again, a bunch of domineering judiciary schlock. Shocking how similar it is to the bible and Christianity. The one characteristic that is most prevalent throughout the parts of the Qur'an I have read is the consistent intent and willingness for Allah to dole out punishment. Now, everyone in Middle Eastern countries being good model Muslims obviously have faith in Allah and his willingness to enforce justice. If that's the case why do you need to enact bloody riots over what some heathen American soldier did out of ignorant spite? Is it not enough for you to have faith in your god who has promised many times that this soldier will get his due? Getting offended at the slightest hint of sacrilege anywhere only serves to demonstrate your lack of faith. So please, if you are going to be so devoutly fascist in your beliefs, would you please believe them with enough conviction as to not kill people over what was otherwise an insulting act committed towards an inanimate object?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sights from Central Moscow

Despite the immense scale of the city, the center of Moscow is quite compact and walkable, corresponding to the inner-most of the rings that encircled the settlement in ancient times. Parts of the core have a cosmopolitan, European feel to them, with classical architecture, hip boutiques and eateries; other areas, however, are distinctly Russian. In many ways, the history of Russia is a near-constant vacillation between Europeanization and Russification, sometimes pushing towards and sometimes pulling away from the capitals of the West, and this is seen plainly in the designs of the city. Moscow is not quite European: it comes close, but it is something different altogether.

But more than just the two paradigms of Europe and Russia, I'm learning that the idea of "Russianness" is something altogether complex. The first layer to this world is the Tsarist age, with its luxuriant orthodox churches and walled fortresses. This, of course, is the Russia most Westerners think of - the nation of St.Vassily's Church (above) and the stately Kremlin. But all around there are living relics of the Soviet days, from Cold War-era emblems to massive monuments to the working man to huge apartment blocks. There was no attempt to erase this legacy from Russia's cultural memory - although the Soviet days are over, the 80-some years of communist rule have been sublimated into the modern cityscape and the modern Russian society. Unlike the Tsarist age - which was effectively erased from the map by a group of rabble-rousers led by one Vladimir Lenin (see bottom picture of the Lenin mausoleum) in the wake of the world's first communist revolution - the old USSR has never really died. It fell apart, decayed, and disintegrated - but it didn't die.

Jumping over the post-collapse, Yeltsin years, the third Moscow is really only about 8 years old, ever since the economy started booming. Moscow now has more billionaires than any other city in the world, and crossing the streets one is confronted with a wall of BMWs, Mercedes, and Jaguars; there are more chic sushi bars here than in any other area I've been to save Japan. Intruding upon both the Soviet and the Tsarist cultural legacy is the sleek world of moneyed European modernism - these days, the balance seems to be tilting back towards Peter the Great, although this might not be clear from the Western media's coverage of Russia. (more on this in another post)

More to come.. Also, to include more of our readership, we've prepared a brief summary in Russian and Japanese.

Красная площадь. Собор Василия Блаженного. И - самое важное - мавзолей Ленина. А еше толпы народа, жара и супер-обворожительная, сверх-замечательная Катерина. И борщ, конечно.

クラースナヤ スクアーヤとソボルバシリヤブラズエノボ。でも一番面白い所がレニンの墓だです。この所が本当に込んでいたけど、天気が暖かかったしすばらしかった ー でも一番すごいことがカタヤという友達です。後ボルシーというスープもすごいです。

Monday, May 19, 2008

Genuinely Progressive President

This article struck a chord with me today. Granted, it is a relatively minor piece of campaign news. It is notable because for this is the first time in a long while in which I actually thought the trend of media consolidation might actually be reversed.

The trend towards greater and greater media consolidation has been going on basically my entire life. It is one of those things I sometimes think about, which bothers me sometimes, but which I basically take as an inevitable fact of life. Clearly there are other battles to be fought, and most people don't really care about media consolidation.

More generally, when I read this article it hit me that issues of media consolidation are beside the point. What struck me was that in my entire lifetime we have never had a genuinely progressive president. Hell, we have only had two terms of a democrat in the office, as compared to five repulican terms. Obama (or Clinton) might not just get their way on media consolidation. They might get their way on the entire progressive agenda.

Now Clinton was a good president, but he was no progressive. Even as a moderate most of his more progressive agenda was blocked by a republican controlled congress. If Obama (or Clinton) is elected this November, we'll have a progressive president with a democratic congress for the first time in 28 years. That is pretty damn exciting, if you ask me.

Now, I'm a firm believer in political moderation. Too much power in one party's hands is bound to produce abuses. I think that the back and forth between political forces, rather than being destructive, is actually a good thing. Generally speaking we get nice gradual change as the country's mood oscillates between liberal and conservative. The trouble, though, is that the pendulum has been on the far right for a long time now. One party rule has produced abuses. So perhaps a little one party rule on the other side might be a good thing. Maybe we'll shift the political spectrum back towards the middle, instead of having as our options right and far-right policies.

This time around, it looks like it could happen, too.

From Russia with Love

Flying into Moscow's Sheremetovo Airport, I could see why the country is referred to by its denizens as "Mother Russia." In the vast, hilly expanse, all you can see is lush forest dotted with lakes - the city of Moscow itself (Europe's biggest) looks like just a human lake in the middle of an endless forest. My first impression was one of overwhelming fecundity, although I concede that a December landing would have yielded an entirely different impression.

Like the land around it, Moscow is a city of mammoth proportions. The avenues can be 10 lanes wide, the parks the size of Liechtenstein, the palaces and churches monumental. The only place I've personally experienced with the same degree of space and overwhelming vastness is Beijing. But unlike New York, which pushes upwards towards the clouds, Moscow is a relatively earth-bound city, with a few towers but most buildings not exceeding 15 stories or so. Also unlike New York, you get the distinct impression that the primeval forests circling the city seep into the cracks at every available opportunity: Moscow is a surprising green city, with huge old trees lining every street and avenue. Each apartment block, therefore, is transformed into a kind of park, ringed with woods and approached by a network of trails through the trees.

The huge scale of the city was brought home on my first full day, when Katya (Mirth and Matter's "Zorro") and I took a walk to Moscow State University (see picture). The main building of the university was constructed right after WWII as a monument to victory in the new, triumphalist Soviet style. Interestingly to a Westerner, all the old accoutrement of the Soviet area were left on the building's facade, from a large red star dotting the spire to the "CCCP" and hammer and sickle emblem. Katya tells me that when the Soviet Union collapses, these symbols were simply transformed from representations of a living political system into an important part of Russian history - there was no attempt at all to erase this legacy, and statues of Lenin still dot the city. Aside from the political aspects of the structure, however, I was amazed by its vastness - in America, the only structures of similar awe found on a university campus are the sports arenas. In Russia, academic learning is elevated to the same level of cultural importance accorded to football in the states. This orientation may be a clue as to why a nation with a relatively low GDP has been such a major player on the global stage for so long.

When we returned from our 3-hour, probably close to 6-mile walk, Katya inquired whether I enjoyed our "short walk." It is a testament to the scale of this place that what I consider to be a hike is in fact a "short walk" to a Muscovite.

More to come...

Friday, May 16, 2008

Who's the human rights criminal now?

It should be noted that, while China's recent disaster has a ground zero nearly the size of our country, that their president has done infinitely more to help his people then George W. Bush did amidst hurricane Katrina. Instead of taking an extended vacation President Hu Jintao flew to the epicenter of China's recent 7.8 earthquake in the Sichuan province. Instead of delaying the mobilization of relief and aid, he dispatched forces immediately, deploying more and more troops as necessary. Of course, it should be noted that China has the troops, they're not off fighting a bloody oil war.

A lot of you know my views by now. People don't need a government. One day people will start to realize that. However, if one exists, it is absolutely mandatory that said government serve its people. That is the ONLY goal of government. At least in this circumstance they're fulfilling their promise.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Hmm... the possibility of an Obama/Edwards ticket for November?

First of all, how likely is an Obama/Clinton ticket? Some people call it the dream ticket, but I'm not sure I buy it. I read awhile back that it's a risky venture amidst an uncertainty that a democratic gambit is necessary to defeat McCain. Yes, there's the dual impact of electing our first black and female White House, however there's also the inherited stigma from people who don't believe an African American should hold office and that a female doesn't have the "chutzpah" to do so either. Another consideration is how long we've drawn out Clinton vs. Obama. In my personal and non-biased opinion there have been a lot fewer blatant digs against Hillary by Obama, where in retrospect Hillary's campaign has been quite hateful and bitter, adorned now and then with silly pledges to enforce party solidarity and to support whoever wins. I think that yes, there is the prospect of some people who say "I like this about Obama, I like that about Clinton, together they're unstoppable!" There is also the prospect of "I DIDN'T like this about Obama and I DIDN'T like this about Hillary, what does this McCain feller have to offer?" That and it's a radical idea. Two political minorities in one presidential bid? Yes, it's the 21st century, but there are a lot of undereducated hick wackos out there that just won't buy it.

Now, it is still feasible, although not very likely, that Hillary can secure the nomination. The one thing that the media outlets have been very proper in doing is demonstrating the pure MATHEMATICS of the equation. Meaning that numbers dictate an incredible unlikelihood that Hillary has a chance of winning. These are the same statistical prognosticators who call the race after 15% of the votes have been tallied, and usually they're not wrong. A Hillary nomination would likely mean and most certainly suggest foul play (unless for some odd reason Barack starts walking around with a sandwich board reading "Kill Whitey"). That scenario all but assures John McCain the White House.

So, what it comes down to is that if or when Obama secures the nomination how will he choose a running mate? I saw a CNN analysis last night suggesting the impact a running mate will have on swing states. John Edwards will likely bring with him a large demographic of the state of North Carolina. This, however, is a state that Obama did very well in just a few weeks ago. What other assets would he bring to the table? It was suggested on this same broadcast that an Obama/Richardson ticket will greatly influence voters in southwestern states close to John McCain's home turf. I'm sure there are a lot of statistical analysts who are crunching numbers and figuring scenarios right now in an attempt to find the most likely person to be the vice presidential nominee. Me personally? I think Edwards is a fine idea. Like other Mirth and Matter writers have said, Edwards was their choice due to his willingness to engage in crucial issues during the debates, issues that were not otherwise contest points until he stepped up to debate them. Edwards also has the benefit of having been on a lot of ballots due to his quasi-successful campaigning during the first few months (success judged in context of the other democratic drop-outs and not in context of the Hillary/Obama touring act). That indicates that his name is in the minds of a lot of voters yet is not soaked in the bad blood that Hillary's been bathing in her entire campaign. Then again, Edwards has already been a running mate on an unsuccessful ticket. Can that really be blamed on him though? Conspiracy theorists love to point out the ties between the Kerry and Bush families, but that aside, Kerry just flat out handed it over. He did a poor job of campaigning and still managed to come up with nearly half of the votes. As was proven in 2006, America wasn't voting for John Kerry, they were voting against the Republicans. In that regard it's still entirely possible, given the complete failure of our economy and military campaigns that anti-Republican voting will continue, in which case you could put Michael J. Fox and Elmo on the ticket and still have an assured November victory.

A few postscripts:
1. It may sound like political catchphrase, but Obama's right, a McCain presidency really is as bad as a 3rd Bush term.
2. CNN, you greatly overestimate John McCain's chances in Oregon. Oregon has voted blue every year for the last 24. If we vote red I'm leaving. I will not breathe air amongst people who vote for McCain.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Avenue Q Review

Several weeks ago I went to the musical “Avenue Q” with some friends. I had heard it was a musical with puppets, kind of like Sesame Street. These really weren’t big selling points for me. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have even gone and seen it had I not gotten discounted tickets through my university. Anyway, I did go and see it, and I was very pleasantly surprised.

First of all, despite the rough homage paid to Sesame Street, the musical couldn’t have been more adult oriented, unless it had been pornography. Which part of it was, by the way, -(at least of the puppet variety). But it actually addressed some really serious societal issues, and was by far the most modern, youthful musical I’ve ever seen. Parts of it actually blew me away a little bit merely through their sheer unabashed honesty. Parts of it were almost like the message of Barack Obama’s recent speech about race and politics performed by a bunch of bawdy, singing puppets. With songs such as “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”, “Schadenfreude”, “The Internet is for Porn”, and “The More You Love Someone, the More You Want to Kill Them”, it was easy to be a bit surprised. However, “Avenue Q” was incredibly funny and entertaining the whole way through.

I won’t bore you with the details of the plot and all the characters, as there are a lot of both. But basically, it’s about young, just-graduated-from-college puppets who move to Avenue Q seeking jobs and cheap rent. The main character is a young guy (puppet) moving in as a wide-eyed recent graduate who learns a lot about life, love, and bills along the course of the musical. The puppets are carried and animated by real people walking around the stage, but surprisingly, they do such a good job giving life to the puppets that you can forget they’re there most of the time. At least in the production I saw in Boston, the voices and choreography were wonderfully done, particularly since there was a remarkable amount of interplay between the characters popping out of windows, running around, and so forth. Some of the puppets were even controlled by two people at once, and several times the person singing/playing the part of a particular puppet was not the person moving it.

All of the characters were funny and well played. Two of the most memorable characters were the Bad Idea Bears, who looked ultra cute and cuddly, like a puppet Anime version of the Snuggle Fabric Softener bear in the old advertisements, but they would happily recommend buying way too much beer before a job interview or providing things like a noose when a character said he was feeling depressed. There were also a few fully human characters that balanced out the puppets, such as a Gary Coleman impersonator playing the landlord.

It may all sound a bit over the top, and it is, but it was a thoroughly entertaining and even insightful look at the personal hang-ups and challenges facing young adults in modern times. Unfortunately, the music isn’t anything particularly daring or ground breaking; the songs are perfectly fine to listen to, but I wouldn’t recommend this musical to someone who really wants to experience well-crafted songs adapted for theater. However, if you live in an area where Avenue Q is or will be playing, I definitely recommend checking it out. The songs are available on iTunes for those who can’t see the play or who would prefer smaller doses of bawdiness.

The Musical Ecosystem

***5/9: This post has been updated based on the comments discussion.***

This is a reply to Zach's post on Radiohead earlier today. But since I wanted to include a picture, I had to put it into a new post! For context, read the previous discussion.

Zach, your comment that music is cyclical, and never "totally new" is well taken. I agree that that is a better description of what happens. I was trying to think of a metaphor that describes some of the nuance of multiple stages a musical style goes through over time, which I think looks roughly like the following:

1) gestation,
2) development,
3) extreme development
4) disintegration and upheaval
5) return to gestation/reinvention

The first thing that came to mind was the earth's water cycle, which describes as "continuous movement of water on, above, and below the surface of the Earth" ("Water Cycle"). I think the five stages are comparable (where water = musical aesthetic trends):

1) storage of water in the earth (gestation)

2) evaporation of water into the sky (i.e. development of the basic matter "up" to new heights)

3) condensation (this is the extreme development of a tradition where complexity increases)

4) precipitation (this is the disintegration and upheaval of a style's given aesthetic traits), which, like raindrops, return to the first stage of "matter for future development")

5) return of water to storage (aesthetic traits, like raindrops, return to the first stage, to be used as future gestation matter, these same molecules to be inevitably reformed in new and interesting structures.)

Forgive the rough-and-ready nature of the comparison—this idea is only a half-hour old. I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts/criticisms of the metaphor.

Radiohead @ West Palm Beach, May 5

The British rock outfit Radiohead occupies a singular place in today's popular music environment. With a huge global fan base that embraces them with quasi-religious fervor, it would be easy to assume that they make music "for the masses," a sort of Justin Timberlake with an accent. However, their massive popularity belies the fact that Radiohead is really 1/2 rock band and 1/2 experimental music ensemble. Indeed, the miracle of the band is that they've gotten the world to swallow the sometimes bitter pill of electronic experimentation, noise, advanced harmonies, and asymmetrical rhythmic patterns. The only comparable act on the world stage is Björk.

As critic Alex Ross and musicologist Robert Fink have pointed out in their work, the world of classical music is currently experiencing a crisis of cultural authority. Unlike back in the 1950s, when kids knew that Beethoven was "high" art even though they might prefer Perry Como, today the classics aren't just losing audience members (the plight of the American symphony is a often-bemoaned topic) - they are losing authority. Not only are people electing to listen to indie rock or hip-hop or jazz over classical music, they don't even recognize that a chasm of "Artistic value" exists between them. Classical music, to many young people today, is simply irrelevant.

But the aesthetics of the concert hall symphonic tradition are far from dead, and Radiohead is the perfect example of the cultural transformation above at work. Indeed, audiences flock to the band the same way adoring fans idolized Beethoven in the 19th century: with an almost cult-like passion. And just like Beethoven and Coltrane, both of whom developed more zealous supporters as they advanced in their careers and created more and more "difficult" music, it seems that Radiohead has captivated larger audiences as they have traveled further and further down the rabbit-hole of the avant-garde. Back in the mid-90s when the young band released Pablo Honey and The Bends, they were simply a rock band; now, five albums later, they are a cultural phenomenon. The more experimental they've grown, the more "serious" they've become, and audiences have responded by, well, taking them more seriously. If there is an equivalent to Beethoven the brooding Romantic Genius today, it is probably Radiohead. Although classical music may have fallen off its pedestal, audiences still equate music complexity to musical value.

The British group is Romantic in more ways than just their labyrinthine musical structures. On today's pop scene, they stand apart as being one of the only non-ironic groups I can think of. In an era defined by throwbackism, snotty sarcasm, and a postmodern sense of irony, Radiohead actually mean what they say. They are dead serious, and they clearly believe in the transformative power of their music. Humor is a rare ingredient in a Radiohead song. Similarly, in live settings - like the concert I saw earlier this week in West Palm Beach - they are aloof performers, never stooping to the act of hamming up the crowd, giving shout outs to the locale, or any other activity associated with an arena rock concert. Thom Yorke did his manic, twitchy dance a few times, and he managed to say "hello" and "thank you" occasionally, but that was about all. The stage was loaded with a Baroque array of instruments, from a towering mellotron to all sorts of percussion, computers, and even an ondes martenot (an early French electronic keyboard used extensively in the work of Olivier Messiaen). What the audience witnessed was a group of musician/scientists rushing about their sound lab. We were there to behold their creative process; they weren't here to convince us we're having a good time.

The show was packed with people filling a huge outdoor arena. When the band entered the stage, everyone stood and began screaming, which is what you'd expect from such a context, but instead of opening with a crowd-pleasing burner, the musicians sat down at their instruments and played a moody, melancholy, and quiet tune from their recent album. This gesture illustrates the seriousness of Radiohead's place in the pop music world beautifully; like Miles Davis turning his back on audiences, the band made it clear from the beginning that the concert would be on their terms. The mammoth stage setup included a couple dozen long cylindrical light columns that the band used to twinkle in a multi-colored kaleidescope and dazzle the stoned; but when they weren't on, they resembled the pipes of a huge church organ; this augmented the sense that many members of the audience had made a religious pilgrimage to see their favorite band.

A few things really struck me as I watched the show. First off, I was reminded once again of the extreme economy of Yorke's lyrics. I've never been a huge fan of the lyrical content of Radiohead songs - they rarely seem to tell a story to me - but watching them live made me realize that the core lyrical concept Yorke works with it the idea of taking short, simple phrases (like "they will spit you out / they will spit you out") and repeating them in an incantatory fashion until they lose their meaning and simply become a rhythm or a texture or a melody, devoid of linguistic meaning. Furthermore, Yorke often sings with more of a focus on the vocal line itself than on the words. The words of most Radiohead songs (to me) only tell the story of the tune proximally: the primary narrative device is musical, and the arena Radiohead excels at most here is harmony.

Besides the electronic, textural effects that have come to a Radiohead signature since 2001's Kid A, harmonic experimentation is an important component to the band's sound. Almost every tune has some truly unpredictable harmonic ideas in it, even to us experienced and cross-generic listeners. I'm not going to geek out on the theory here, but suffice it to say that Radiohead's harmonic language is of a considerably degree of sophistication. It is interesting to note that the guitarist Johnny Greenwood is a concert music composer of great talent (he did the soundtrack to the recent PT Anderson movie There Will Be Blood) as well as one of the world's few certified masters of the ondes martenot: you can hear the influence of a pantheon of top 20th (and 19th) century composers in Radiohead's harmonies. Indeed, to many audience members, such harmonies are probably only ever encountered in Radiohead - these are totally new chords and key relationships heard nowhere else in pop. The fact that these five men can conjure such distinctive sounds must only increase the perception that they are a group of magi.

A revealing moment came towards the end of the show, when they opened one of their songs from Kid A with a 2-3 minute montage of electronic bleeps and blorps. We really might as well have been listening to Stockhausen, so dense was this sonic collage. But all around me, thousands of people stood in rapt attention. They were transfixed listening to the swirl of sound onstage. To me, this is Radiohead's greatest victory: they are opening up the ears of the world to new sounds. My concert-going partner Nolan and I discussed whether any of these people might be turned on to 20th century classical music as a result of their passion for Radiohead, and we couldn't come to any solid theories; nevertheless, Radiohead is opening people up to more extreme, complex music in much the way that Dylan and the Beatles opened people up to the idea that rock could be art.