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December 15, 2002

Flags, Music, Memories

Dan McDowell sent me the link to Technical Difficulties, a Flash composition that puts in quiet words a lot of what makes me angry these days. Take a look, and pass it on to your friends.

The Technical Difficulties site includes the national anthem in the background, and that reminds me of one of my favorite pieces by my favorite composer. Back in 1974 for the three weeks that I owned a color TV before it got stolen, my roommates and I used to stay up late just to watch WGBH in Boston sign off. They always played Variations on America by Charles Ives, a short clip of which you can hear from this CD.

What made it memorable was that the music was accompanied by wild patterns swooping across the screen thanks to "video synthesis", a wacky analog process that involved feeding a video signal back on itself (like aiming a camera at the monitor) and tweaking and colorizing the wavy noise that resulted. This was long before computers could do such things so the effect was mesmerizing. Today, it would be outclassed by any cheesy screensaver but in the twilight weeks of the Nixon Administration, it was quite a wow. I've got the Ives music on my hard drive now, and whenever I hear it I'm back in Worcester, I'm 26, and the country is purging itself of an outlaw president. I associate the music with legitimate patriotic pride and with New England. Amazing how music triggers memories.