It's a sea change--yes, the network really is the computer."
John Doerr in The Red Herring

How all the people everywhere who have watched, amazed, as computers took sons and daughters, mothers and fathers through a sea change, into something rich and strange... The phrase sea change in todays usage refers to something more than just an ordinary transformation. You might think the word is written as C-change since a C is a 180 degree curve and wouldn't a person be making a C change if they went from liberal to conservative, Republican to Democrat? But that's hardly the case. It does seem to be a political buzzword among the pundits today. What it really means is a change into something finer or richer. Shakespeare employed the earliest known use of the term in Ariel's song from The Tempest:

    "Full fathom five thy father lies;
    Of his bones are coral made:
    Those pearls that were his eyes;
    Nothing of him that doth fade,
    But doth suffer a sea-change
    Into something rich and strange."
With his depiction of the original sense of the term and for its remarkable and eerie beauty: Shakespeare has quite literally changed the corpse of Ferdinand's father into something else or a change has been wrought by the sea. Scholars can't determine positively if he did in fact coin the term but the usage of the term has evolved to focus more upon the extent of the metamorphosis, as opposed to the cause of the change. A metaphor along the lines of fundamental and radical changes that would be brought about after a prolonged submersion under the sea. Perhaps it was from the scriptures that Shakespeare struck upon his idea of a sea change as the divine spirit, one that alters and ultimately destroys the force of the lower motivations of the mortal self. Deriving the concept from the figurative power of God as rebuking the sea and smiting the sea, even confounding the sea.

Perhaps The Old Man and the Sea suffers a sea change in the Hemingway's mind. A sea change typically occurs in the perception of the nature of reality, an elevation of the collective consciousness of mankind, a new paradigm, the dawning of a new age one that is as dramatic as that of the Renaissance exploding forth in the fourteenth century to mark the end of the Middle Ages. As usage for the term for example, when the English language was imported to the New World one could say it under went a sea change as it gained new words and idioms becoming "something rich and strange"

"We are what we eat, particularly in the realm of rhetoric", says Sean Gullette in his Talk American column in The Silicon Valley Reporter (1998),"where ideology and metaphysics are metabolized with every metaphor......

    A sea change washed over American English with World War II. In 1940, regional American remained largely intact, and a Louisianan and a Vermonter might well have done some gawking and gesturing to share what they meant by "infare days" (honeymoon) or "Juneteenth" (Emancipation Day). A decade of newsreels, war headlines and television sets later, millions of people shared a nationalized hybrid vocabulary of military acronyms and radio jargon; TV show catchphrases, and presidential propaganda metaphors. Everyone knew, or thought they knew, what a Jerry, a Jap Zero, a Cattle Car, a $64,000 question, an A-4, a B-52 and a V-2 were.

    There's no way to prove it, but the trickle down effect of American English's post-war jingoistic confusion was a Cold War's worth of Sunday Afternoon Football-inspired foreign policy and Hail Mary corporate quarterbacking. All this new jargon was such fun that America barely noticed a new world order being established, and survived in blissful ignorance the romantic idea of a nuclear bomb being a sort of grand slam home run.

    By 1969, the Cajun, the Yankee and the Lovechild now had V-6 engines, V-8 juice, and "bomb shelters," but the terms "nuclear winter," "radioactive half-life," or "mutually assured destruction" were not as yet classified for public use. That year--leap with me--the Department of Defense wired together Arpanet, a new kind of information machine borne of punchcard dreams and atomic nightmares, which would insure that even if the other team hit a homer, we would still have our computer files because, incredibly--like, um, an electron, or the leadership of a Maoist cell!--they'd always be in more than one place at one time. It would take 30 years for the true nature of this paradigm shift to sink in.

    Then, one morning in the early 1990s, Rip Van Windows woke up and the Internet was there. The reconditioned idioms of this handy and undemanding medium seemed easy enough to pick up--"virus, digital information, feedback, network." The encrypted metaphysics which came with the new codes were not. Do these words simply describe the components of a new world, or are they, in fact, the DNA from which one will be born?"

How would Shakespeare's poetic term for something that abides a transformation spawning and aberrant be applied today? Terrorism has undergone a sea change in the aftermath of September 11th.


The Red Sea:

Take Our Word for It: Letter S:

Sea Change (Geffen Records, 2002) is the fifth major label album by Beck. It is his second album to be produced by Nigel Godrich (who previously produced Beck's Mutations and Radiohead's OK Computer). As with Mutations, it was recorded with Beck's touring band (with string arrangements handled by Beck's father, David Campbell), but this is where the similarities end. Whereas Mutations was a collection of older songs being recorded for the first time, with a couple of quickly-constructed jams thrown in, Sea Change is made up of new songs (with the exception of 'It's All in Your Mind') written in the wake of Beck's break-up with long-time partner Leigh Limon. The resulting album is a collection of slow, sad songs which document Beck's feelings on this subject directly. Through this context, Sea Change also addresses, possibly unintentionally, the criticism leveled at Beck's earlier work that it was lacking in conviction (most notably Midnite Vultures, which was seen by some as too overtly ironic, featuring as it did a tongue-in-cheek 'homage' to Prince among other somewhat calculated party pieces).

Musically, the songs draw on 1970's folk, with simple arrangements led by acoustic guitar. This framework is fleshed out with strings and synth atmospherics that keep the listener engaged without ever becoming imposing. The most striking thing about the record's sound is Beck's voice- there is much more emotion in the delivery than on anything he has done before. On the opening track (The Golden Age) this is immediately apparent, a desperate keening cutting through the normal laconic drone. Lyrically the record is also something of a departure, with the trademark skewed imagery and cut-up largely dispensed with. Sea Change's lyrics are more conventional, and could even be said to veer towards cliché in places.

As the title suggests, Sea Change gives the impression of foundations shifting, lamenting what has ended and looking towards a new and uncertain future. Even though it is relentlessly dour, it never descends into whining self-pity - there is a mood of resignation, that dwelling on negativity is a waste of time. At the end of all the introspection, there is an heartening anthem (Little One) and a quiet, refreshing number in closing (Side of the Road) where it sounds as if some resolution has been reached.

I highly recommend this record. It may be Beck's best album to date, and probably one with broader appeal than his 1990's stuff. (That said, I hope that we'll see another freaked-out Dust Brothers collaboration one day.)

Track Listing

  1. The Golden Age
  2. Paper Tiger
  3. Guess I'm Doing Fine
  4. Lonesome Tears
  5. Lost Cause
  6. End of The Day
  7. It's All in Your Mind
  8. Round The Bend
  9. Already Dead
  10. Sunday Sun
  11. Little One
  12. Side of the Road
  13. Ship in a Bottle (Japan-only bonus track)

The CD is available with four different covers.

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