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Aug. 25th, 2018

My weird brain

A few weeks ago I made a post rating each of the songs Taylor Swift's main albums; this post will eventually be about my brain's relation to it.

The core of that post was the song ratings. As far as my writing went, the main entertainment (such as it is) for any readers would be in recurring quirky themes that my brain latches onto. e.g., I enjoy it when I notice an unstressed syllable falling on a beat, so I'd note the ones that I heard. But because such things don't affect my overall feelings about the song, my ratings could be wildly uncorrelated with my comments. Comedy!

A post on Swift had been idly on my mind for quite a while, and I thought that the semi-systematic approach would be enough to get it all out of my system, perhaps even leading to me broadening my playlists. But it wasn't to be – I kept trawling the Internet for Taylor content, and soon found some more material which I could have used to inform my song comments*. I resolved to leave the LJ post as is, a snapshot of my opinions at the time, rather than a living document.

*In particular, the Making of a Song video for 'I Did Something Bad' shows me that I quite like the song when Taylor's singing over an acoustic guitar, but I dislike the synth bass line in the final version's chorus. I think now that a good chunk of my dislike of Reputation is due to production choices like this. In the songs where she raps, by contrast, I think the problems were more in the conception.

But a little time later I was listening to my playlist of songs rated 8 to 8.9, and I noticed that 'A Perfectly Good Heart' ends in a fade-out. Fade-outs are rare in Swift's catalogue, and because I like them, they were one of the recurring themes in my comments. I checked the post, and I had neglected to note the fade-out in this case.

I don't know how to best describe the emotion I felt on discovering this oversight. In part it felt like a blow to my ego: the post was me*, and I wasn't as perfect as my own idealised self. In part – a larger part, I think – it was fear of embarrassment: what if someone noticed that I hadn't mentioned the fade-out?

*to a much greater extent than, e.g., a Star Wars movie review in which I missed a detail in some scene. I put a lot more effort into the Taylor post.

I must emphasise how incredibly small the expectation value of discomfort this ought to have been. The post gets literally zero hits each day; of those who have clicked (or may click in future?), I suspect many skipped over the individual song reviews in favour of the summary table; even if there were many readers going through each comment song by song, I suspect few would be so familiar with the 2008 re-issue of Swift's debut album to immediately recall that 'A Perfectly Good Heart' ends in a fade-out, and even fewer would notice the incongruity of not remarking on it when I had done so for 'Tied Together With a Smile' half an album earlier.

And, in the worst-case scenario of someone commenting to point out the omitted remark, no-one else would care. I care. The unedited post will live on as a testament to my flawed self.

I'm a little bit over it. Also, the chorus in 'Back to December' goes So this is me swallowing my pride, which has a mis-stressed syllable. Missing this doesn't hurt as much as missing the fade-out though.

Aug. 6th, 2018

Rating some Taylor Swift songs

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May. 26th, 2018



I concluded my second TLJ post by looking ahead to Solo: "I'll go in with low expectations – a fun hour and forty minutes of criminals shooting at each other, but fundamentally uninteresting in the broader SW universe. I don't really care about Star Wars for the smuggling." I could have added that I don't really care about Star Wars because of Han Solo either, the most over-rated character in the original trilogy.

This paragraph is just some more filler in case the intro isn't long enough to shunt any spoilers to below the preview text that will appear in social media links. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet!

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Mar. 30th, 2018

Accents, rhoticity, and Missy Higgins

Rhotic accents in English are those where all the r's are pronounced – caRt instead of caht, etc. Australian accents are non-rhotic, and we mostly associate rhotic accents with North America, but they also exist in Ireland, Scotland, and parts of England (and also not all American accents are rhotic).

Even though we in non-rhotic-land don't pronounce the r at the end of a word like 'failure', we do sort of know that there is an r there, and if the following word starts with a vowel, we'll often pronounce it. So, "FailuRe is the best teacher" has the first r pronounced, and we usually don't say (though we might!) "Failya is the best teacha". This sort of r sound is called 'linking r'.

But perhaps we're not so good at knowing that 'failure' has an r at the end of it. 'Australia' doesn't, but that doesn't stop most of us from throwing one in there anyway if we have to say something like "Australia(r) is a big country". This is called an 'intrusive r', and it's basically the same phenomenon as linking r, just not quiiite as common because there are some people who pay careful attention to how words are written and have trained themselves to cut out of a lot of potential intrusive r's. (Rhotic speakers typically do not have intrusive r's in their speech – their brains know very well that 'failure' always ends in an r and 'Australia' never does, regardless of what sound follows the word.)

Intrusive r's in song give me a little hit of amusement when I hear them. I suspect they're rarer in singing than in speech, but I haven't done any sort of study on the subject (nor tried to look up if someone else has). Missy Higgins has a clear example in the chorus of Angela – "Aaangelaaa(r) Aaangelaaa" (first example at 0:37).

One immediately noticeable feature of Higgins is that she sings with an accent that's quite Australian. It's not as Australian as John Williamson's singing (or as English as Sophie Ellis-Bextor's), but it's clearly not the sort of generic pop singing accent that Australians would probably call American if asked to describe it, and IMO it gives her songs an extra earthy realness that they might not otherwise have.

One consequence (I think?) of identifying the generic singing accent as American is that non-rhotic speakers will often sing rhotically. Surprisingly enough, Americans often sing non-rhotically. For example, have a listen to Billy Joel in Piano Man: "It's nine o'clock on a Satuhday, the regulah crowd shuffles in." He pronounces a couple of rhotic r's but mostly omits them.

I don't want to suggest that this is a general rule of American singing voices! There are also singers like Billy Joel, whose Uptown Girl is 100% rhotic.

One feature of non-rhotic speakers imitating rhotic accents is that they often get the r's wrong, and become hyper-rhotic. The words 'pasta' and 'pastor' are non-rhotic homophones, as are 'sauce' and 'source', and it's very easy to imagine that Americans might therefore talk about pastar sources.

Before starting to write this post I vaguely recalled there being a famous example of the Beatles with an intrusive r or something, and it turned out to be a hyper-correction of this form. The song is a cover of Till There Was You, and Paul sings (0:40) "I never sore them winging". Somewhat remarkably, I'm either so bad at concentrating on song lyrics or so unattuned to hyper-rhoticity that, despite knowing the line I was listening for, I didn't hear it on the first listen and had to go back to verify.

This whole post was prompted by Rhythmbox shuffling onto Missy Higgins' They Weren't There, when I was paying enough attention to hear (1:28) "where any preconceived idears were blown away".

I was tempted to conclude by adapting the lyrics to the chorus of Scar, but I decided it'd be too forced.

Dec. 24th, 2017

The Last Jedi, bis

(Spoilers.) Since writing my TLJ review I've watched the film another two times, and have more thoughts. My last two viewings were back to back (a 40min break in between), and I'm glad that Reading apparently turns a profit with $12.50 tickets. Probably the popcorn's expensive. One aspect of the experience that I enjoy is that I go there to see big space battles on a giant screen with thundering speakers surrounding me, but before it starts I get to see and hear the same screen and speakers advertising a dentist up the road and a cafe on the other side of the carpark. My heart's really not in these filler sentences that I'm typing just to push the spoilers out of any link-preview text.

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