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Alex Carnevale

Features Editor
Mia Nguyen

Senior Editor
Brittany Julious

This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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In Which We Unveil A Genuine Attraction

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.


Do you think that dreams hold any significance? I know it is boring to hear someone recounting their dream, but a few times a month I have the variation of the same dream. 

I am in a foreign city, and I know that my flight will be leaving the next morning. I have to find a gift for my little sister, so I proceed apace into the city center. I don't find the store I am looking for, and eventually I reach the coast where I can see the ocean. Night falls. I make my way back to my hotel. In the morning I have woken up too late and I haven't packed for my trip at all. I realize I am trying to take too many things with me on the return trip, so I must leave some behind. A few I hide in the hotel room, hoping I can return for them someday. 

I keep getting turned back on my way to the airport, but I finally make it there, and the dream ends. Can you discern any meaning from the fact that I keep dreaming the same thing?

Gabriela D.

Dear Gabriela,

I first being researching the nature of dreams after I had a sex fantasy about Eleanor Clift at the age of fifteen. My work  in this field eventually drew me to the Jungian insights of Arnold Mindell, who describes two simultaneous processes that occur. In the primary process, we are filtering in aspects of our experience we can identify with; in the secondary process we encounter things that are hard to identify with and we struggle to make them part of our worldview. 

This two part system is easily applied to your nighttime journey. You are conscientious, wanting to purchase a gift for your sister and make it to your plane on time. You are probably anxious about both these subjects, and disappointing those you love. There is a secondary meaning, which is that there are things holding you back from doing so: and they are all your things. 

But what of your trip to the beach? The beach is a great place for meeting other people, especially if they are playing loud music through headphones or out of a boombox, which makes it simple to approximate whether this is the kind of music you will enjoy throughout the time you are dating. 

Never get too close to anyone, though. Even if you like the same things, you will probably just end up missing everybody.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen. 


I recently got out of a nine month relationship that was really intense and satisfying. Unfortunately she had to move to Seattle for work, and my own job and my family are keeping me here in Boston. We decided we don't want to ruin what we have by trying to make it work at such a long distance. 

A month or two has passed since my ex moved, and she has now been contacting me (we said we wouldn't do this). She is having some trouble making friends in her new city so she frequently calls or texts if she finds herself alone. I don't know how to deal with this: I do still have feelings for her, but I was a bit upset she would want to stop seeing me in the first place - she had a good job here and I wouldn't have done the same thing. 

She is locked into her contract until mid-2017, and I don't know if I really want to go through this until then. There was a reason we decided long distance wouldn't work, right? How should I handle her apparent change of heart?

Joe P.

Dear Joe,

We all make mistakes, although some people are more prone to making them than others. The fact that she put her career before you is no big whoop, since it's not like you sound particularly committed to this woman. If you were, believe me you would be ecstatic, not disappointed to hear from her. 

On the other hand, it sounds like you were hurt in this process and you should take some time to get over that pain before arriving at a firm decision about how you should react to your ex's current behavior. But how to create the space you desperately need to evaluate things dispassionately? Just tell her you lost your phone. 

I am kidding, this is the rare time you will ever hear me advising anyone to tell the truth, which is usually painful and nuncupatory. You will have to expose your true feelings and it is best to request a discrete period of time before reporting your findings. 

In the end, you will probably find that this angry decision is what is best: you can't hang around and be the outlet for your ex's predictable sadsies for the next year. If you want, visit her at some point, have sex, and see if you want to flee back to Boston on the next train. If you don't, maybe it is worth the occasional drunk dial to keep this person in your life.

NB: The intercourse during your reunion should be tender yet opaque. Afterwards, light incense that smells of rosemary and penitent coquettishness.

"The Sky Below" - Shane Alexander (mp3)


In Which The Dark Forest Fills Up By Mid-Afternoon

Garden of Snakes


The Dark Forest
by Cixin Liu
Tor, 400 pp

Luo Ji wakes up from hibernation two hundred years in the future. Mankind lives underground. Above him, a projection of a clear blue sky arranges itself overheard. Wireless power propels cars and taxis through what could be called the atmosphere, but most people ride airbikes which elevate themselves to housing on the leaves of plants. After seventy percent of the world's population has died of starvation, things could not help but get better for the rest of us. 

For those born in democracies, science fiction has always taken on a cloistered, narrow futurism reflective of the political values we know and cherish. Advances in technology in a free society proceed at the pace of its most industrious citizens. Recently some private engineers launched and returned a spacecraft to the surface of the earth. It is unclear who even works at NASA or what they might be doing with their time.

In the China depicted by Cixin Liu in The Dark Forest, government is the only means of communication with the universe at large. An antenna built at Red Coast Base northwest of Beijing broadcasts a message to other galaxies. It receives a response: "Don't answer! Don't answer!! Don't answer!!!" Disgusted by the state of Chinese society during the cultural revolution, Ye Wenjie decides it would be prudent to summon an alien force that might eliminate humanity. 

It is not a lot harder thinking of an American who wants to destroy America, so Wenjie finds the disenchanted son of a oil mangnate who possesses a dog-eared copy of Peter Singer's Animal Liberation. He contacts the aliens, who call themselves Trisolarans because their world contains three suns, and makes plans for Earth's destruction. 

There are few European or American characters in Cixin Liu's imagining of first contact. Those that do penetrate the narrative are emotionally weak and disconnected from both society and faith. It is not really in Liu's vocabulary to imagine how a Christian or Jew might address these events; most everyone in The Dark Forest is a determined atheist, and the story of the Garden of Eden is mocked as an anti-science fable, albeit a strategically useful one.

When the aliens hear about this Bible tale, they immediately imagine humanity as the snake. It is Earthers who teach Trisolarans how to lie, since deception is not really a part of a culture who has no language beyond the transmission of thought. What the aliens do possess is overwhelming force, and the world plunges itself into cycles of despair and hope as the Trisolarans travel towards Earth at a hundredth of the speed of light.

The Dark Forest was preceded by The Three-Body Problem, which also served as a brief history of science - recounting advances in computing, space travel, astronomy and physics - from the perspective of a man outside the West. This was also a basic introduction for his native readers to the most basic of scientific concepts created by white men. In a virtual game devised to convert humans to the Trisolaran cause, avatars of Einstein, Copernicus, von Neumann, Newton and Galileo subvert Chinese values.

There is an underlying feeling of Chinese triumphalism in Liu's story of the future, but the translation by Joel Martinsen gives the term a sonorously positive quality. It is really more like patriotism elevated to a personal edict — the only way of coping against the onslaught of technology which consumes and eliminates the need for humanity.

As a scientist himself, Liu balances this fear of the future with broadsides in favor of technological advancement. He is an advocate for China to be the leader of every field, since he believes that technology is a kind of freedom that allows the eradication of the state. This subtle message in The Dark Forest is the most subversive portion of the text.

Liu's greatest skill is not his scientific expertise and imagination, although both are impressive. He shifts into the mind of a large cast of characters, never burdening us with excessive exposition. His psychological insight into how humanity regards itself is what has made his Three Body trilogy such a phenomenon here and abroad, as the spate of coming film adaptations attest.

Looking to Liu's finale to the series set to be published in English later this year, Death's End is likely to take as large a chronological and technological step as each of its predecessors. "I've always felt that extraterrestrial intelligence will be the greatest source of uncertainty for humanity's future," Liu proclaims in his afterword to The Three-Body Problem.

If that is true, than perhaps we need as many different national psychologies, and even types of people, as it is possible to create. One world culture is more vulnerable to disease, indoctrination and inflexible thinking than a diverse set of peoples and places. The worse thing we could be is united.

Ethan Peterson is a contributor to This Recording. This is his first appearance in these pages.

"Echo" - Eliza Hardy Jones (mp3)


In Which Charlie Kaufman Never Met A Voice Actor He Liked

Being Michael Stone


dir. Charle Kaufman & Duke Johnson
86 minutes

Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is the sort of asshole who smokes indoors. He is addicted to nicotine, which he consumes every hour or so, as well as alcohol, which he introduces into his system every night. He is completely unsympathetic in every single way, which makes him the perfect Charlie Kaufman protagonist. Kaufman has made a career of finding imaginary humans with no real positive qualities and twisting their lives into something redemptive.

Aesthetically, Anomalisa is an animation triumph. Every scene is gorgeously lit and manufactured, with a bevy of details that are barely ever approximated by reality. In his depiction of a nice hotel in Cincinnati, Kaufman revels in the weird silences and moments that are almost never represented in any medium.

Michael meets up with an old flame in the bar of a hotel in this utterly dull American city. She asks him why he abandoned their relationship. He explains that he feels like he has been running for a long time. She is very angry with him. Like all the people in Michael's world, from the cab driver who takes him to hotel, to his wife and son, this woman is voiced by Kaufman's favorite voice actor, the egregiously talented Tom Noonan.

It's about the time that we see Michael's 3-D printed penis that Anomalisa begins to feel like masturbation, a state of being hinted at when Michael observes a man pleasuring himself from a hotel window.

The act of voyeurism usually precedes a revelation in Kaufman's work. One dull person observes another and wonders why he is not allowed to do what the other does so casually. This is an illusion that Kaufman enjoys creating, a theme that strongly implies all of his manipulations of reality have the same point of origin: that the only inspiration in existence comes out of a merciless, all-consuming boredom.

Adapted from Kaufman's audio play, Anomalisa takes place over the course of a single day. This theatrical length suits Kaufman's writing, which can become a bit repetitive over time. Despite containing some of the best animation ever seen in the medium, Anomalisa is more in tune with a disconcerting reality than most of Kaufman's cinematic fantasies.

Eventually Michael meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) whose voice is different, emerging from a weakened, screeching pulp of a diaphragm. He searches the building to find her as soon as he recognizes she does not sound like every one person in his drama. Michael climbs on top of her and offers to kiss her beneath her skirt. He last about four minutes during sex, and then informs her, "I don't want to lose you. I lose everyone."

With actual actors, Anomalisa would have fallen quite flat. The story of a white man in town for one night, cheating on his wife, represents a rather painful routine at this point. (I believe Neil LaBute made a terrible film on the subject in the last year.) The visual style infects the trope with a sincere vulnerability that could never be approached by fleshy actors who are too much themselves to be so prancing and straightforward. Kaufman's co-director Duke Johnson can only make this familiar story real through his fastidious attention to detail and the accompanying voice work. 

Some of jokes based off the aural resonance of the actors' staccato dialogue are lost in the adaptation, but the superb animation creates another, separate enjoyment within Anomalisa. It is humorous to see the clay-like bodies pressing against one another, but the fun really comes when we view Michael's flushed face during sex or surprise. He must live only for the moment, since he wholly despises the rest of his life.

The worst part of Anomalisa is the nightmare Michael has after he sleeps with Jennifer Jason Leigh's character. He experiences an encounter with all the different voices who sound identical to his wife and child. They tell him that they love him and he runs away, back to his room, knocking over a hotel staffer bringing his breakfast. The fantasy world is Kaufman's usual world-within-a-world, but here it retards our suspension of disbelief. Anomalisa depends on its adherence to what we perceive as real. We can learn nothing from dreams that do not hew closely enough to our own reality.

Unlike Kaufman's other films, Anomalisa has no relentlessly optimistic message underlying its apparent cynicism. It is no criticism to state that the film renders itself a bit emotionally hollow, since that is Kaufman's desired effect: the feeling that we accomplish nothing by knocking on every door, by pursuing every single possible invitation. This is not intimacy, and we should have known better. 

If you live on the surface of a bullseye, the analogy goes, you can surmise that the laws of physics regularly govern the creation of holes in your world. In Charlie Kaufman's universe, the only immutable law is the sadness that establishes itself as a contagious disease, a virulent strain. Yet no one individual in his world can be held responsible for their fate. Only God can.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Got A Little Bit Of Love" - Katy Carr (mp3)