Friday, November 20, 2009

The Sklansky Minute and John Cage’s Indeterminacy

Our buds Special K and Falstaff have a new podcast, peoples. It’s called the Gambling Tales Podcast and Episode No. 1 is now available. I’ve been up to my eyeballs with work, but am going to be listening to this sucker (finally) in the car this morning.

I’m reading that there is some November Nine talk in there -- some pre-final table predictions, I believe, so we can listen and admire their accuracy, or goof on their folly. There’s a tale about the origins of gambling. And there’s a conversation with Bad Blood. Check it out!

The Two Plus Two PokercastSpeaking of podcasts, one of my favorites is still the Two Plus Two Pokercast, which remains one of the most consistently good ones for news, interviews, and the occasional strategy stuff. Of course, I’ve been a fan of Mike Johnson and Adam Schwartz (the hosts) since their earlier show -- called Rounders, the Poker Show -- which they began way back in the spring of 2005. That one followed a similar format at the TwoPlusTwo show, other than usually running about an hour or so (if I recall) rather than the two-plus hours they normally go with this one.

The TwoPlusTwo show began in January 2008, and is now approaching its 100th episode. A regular feature of the show is something called the “Sklansky Minute” in which the highly regarded poker author, David Sklansky, offers strategy advice, theoretical broodings on human behavior, or perhaps a Zen koan.

I’m joking about the Zen koans, of course. Or maybe not. Here’s the beginning of a Sklansky Minute, this one from Episode 88 (the one with Tommy Angelo):

“Major tournaments have gone to great lengths nowadays to -- for lack of a better word -- prevent ‘hanky-panky.’ [Pause.] But there is one thing that they allow to this day that is an invitation to cheat. [Pause.] I speak of making change with your neighbor, a transaction that is rarely watched closely....”

And so forth. Those of you who have heard the segments are familiar with the Sklansky’s very deliberate, almost cautious-sounding style of speech. Not sure if he reads from a script or not, but the effect is the same regardless.

John Cage and David Tudor, 'Indeterminacy' (1959)Anyhow, I had sort of a strange association come to me as I was listening to a recent Sklansky Minute, one which actually might help explain the “Zen koan”-like feel the segments sometimes have for me. While listening I was contemplating how there must be 60 or 70 of these little segments by now, and suddenly I found myself thinking of the avant-garde composer John Cage, in particular his work Indeterminacy, a Folkways recording of which was made (with David Tudor) in 1959.

The work has a long, interesting history which I’m not going to rehearse here. If you are curious, you can check out the website “About Indeterminacy” for more. The work is structured around a series of very short anecdotes or stories or musings or what have you that Cage wrote. On the recording, he reads 90 of them, while David Tudor provides random musical accompaniment on the piano (and various other noise-makers).

The pieces are of different lengths, yet all are read so as to fill one minute exactly. That means some are read quickly, while others contain lengthy pauses. To give you an idea of what a “Cage Minute” is like, here’s an example, the second one on the recording:

“You probably know the one about the two monks, but I’ll tell it anyway. They were walking one day when they came to a stream where a young lady was waiting, hoping that someone would help her across. Without hesitating, one of the monks picked her up and carried her across, putting her down safely on the other side. The two monks continued walking along, and after some time, the second one, unable to restrain himself, said to the first, ‘You know we’re not allowed to touch women. Why did you carry that woman across the stream?’ The first monk replied, ‘Put her down. I did two hours ago.’”

If you want to hear Cage reading them (and Tudor’s accompaniment), here is a YouTube clip featuring the first ten stories from Indeterminacy:

As I say, a few more weeks and Sklansky probably will have 90 of his “Minutes” to string together. Perhaps he should hire Tommy Angelo to provide musical accompaniment and make his own avant-garde recording?

Of course, maybe the prospect of listening to a long sequence of Sklansky Minutes doesn’t sound too thrilling. In which case, let me share another one of Cage’s stories from Indeterminacy:

“In Zen they say: If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, try it for eight, sixteen, thirty-two, and so on. Eventually one discovers that it’s not boring at all, but very interesting.”

(EDIT [added 12/4/09]: Shortly after this post, Sklansky contributed an especially idiosyncratic Minute to an episode of the Pokercast, prompting a thread on the forums about the segment. Eventually *TT* posted a list of all of the Sklansky Minutes -- about forty of them, which you can see here.)

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Blogger bastinptc said...

Just picked up that Cage work last weekend. Haven't listened yet,but thanks for priming my mind.

11/20/2009 1:16 PM  

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