Archive for May, 2015

Steven Pinker on ‘that’ vs. ‘which’

May 23, 2015

A recurrent theme for many writers (of English), particularly non-native speakers and especially me, is whether to use ‘that’ or ‘which’. Here is Steven Pinker:

The real decision is not whether to use that or which but whether to use a restrictive or a nonrestrictive clause. If a phrase which expresses a comment about a noun can be omitted without substantially changing the meaning, and if it would be pronounced after a slight pause and with its own intonation contour, then be sure to set it off with commas (or dashes or parentheses): The Cambridge restaurant, which had failed to clean its grease trap, was infested with roaches. Having done so, you don’t have to worry about whether to use that or which, because if you’re tempted to use that it means either that you are more than two hundred years old or that your ear for the English language is so mistuned that the choice of that and which is the least of your worries. [Steven Pinker, The Sense of Style, Allen Lane, 2014.]

I am not two hundred years old, so that or which is the least of my worries; good to know!

Swans in Bergen

May 8, 2015

Friends have been talking about Swans for years, but I haven’t paid attention. Yesterday, however, Swans had my full attention when they played at USF Verftet in Bergen, and it was a grand time. Gira (frontman and protagonist) is the kind of guy that says ‘Let’s play the same chord for ten minutes and see if anything happens.’ And something happens, ofcourse (he ain’t stupid). Parts were magic. And loud. If you happen to be deaf, no worries; Swans made sure to feed the music directly into your spine (unless you are an invertebrate). Otherwise, the stuff is difficult to describe. Not strange, perhaps, with a young Gandalf on guitar, a long-haired Viggo Mortensen on percussion, gong, pipes, trombone, various strings, including a stringed wooden beam that looked like it once washed up on a beach in Transylvania, Francis Begbie on steel, and a hard-working and surprisingly normal-looking comp. Gira himself looks like a forgotten cousin of Mr. Sandman. Dynamic and prog-like avantgarde-drone-jam stuff with a physical presence. In other words, exactly the kind of music I would have made if I was a musician (read one of my research papers; the parallell is obvious; creativity takes many guises). Swans played for two and a half hours, they played perhaps six ‘songs’ (who’s counting, anyway?). The final number lasted more than thirty minutes, including a ten minute noise wall. When we came out, the rain had stopped.