Through being cool.

So I came across the Spotify “Coolness Spiral of Death” dataviz last week and thought that it was clever and well-conceived, but I didn’t pay much attention otherwise. Then I queued up Rdio, half-heartedly thumbed through their recommendations, and settled into the new Blur album. While I’m really enjoying it – “Ong Ong” is a fun single with a kind of Vampire Weekend ragged playfulness about it – I’m also basically admitting that Spotify’s hypothesis is true.

From the blog post:

Two factors drive this transition away from popular music.

First, listeners discover less-familiar music genres that they didn’t hear on FM radio as early teens, from artists with a lower popularity rank. Second, listeners are returning to the music that was popular when they were coming of age — but which has since phased out of popularity.

I agree with both of these points, especially vis-a-vis my undying fondness for Britpop.

Also in there somewhere: the words taste freeze to describe the phenomenon, which sounds delicious.

I have to wonder: would 21-year-old me have been into The Magic Whip as much as I was 13 or even Think Tank? Would their newest album have have appealed to me in college, or have Blur aged as much as I have – do musicians and artists also calcify as they get older and have children, therefore always predisposed to producing new material in lockstep with the tastes of their original fans?

Who knows. Anyway, I’ve also been coming back to Oasis recently, specifically the mournful “I’m Outta Time” – it came on the house Sonos while Josh was in town and when he started mouthing the chorus, I was surprised that he knew the song too. We agreed it was by far the best song on a mixed bag of an album – and easily their best song of the 21st century.

Given my tastes, who’s to say I ever was in the center of the so-called coolness death spiral, even in my youth. (At that time, I also admired people whose musical tastes went farther afield than mine.) It’s entirely possible I’m closer to the center now – pop and rap are now parts of my musical diet in a way they weren’t in my early twenties. But it’s true I’ve gotten more sure in my knowledge of what I’ll enjoy.

Another way to look at it: I know what I like, and I know my safe harbors more than I ever did before. And those aren’t bad things, per se. Besides, at my minimum weight and maximum hairline, being cool is quite thoroughly through with me.

Landscapes, nights, and summer feelings.

I’ve been back stateside for ten days after a three-country, six-flight tour of Europe. Christina and I have seen the sun set on rivers in Lisbon and Paris; we’re sated like it’s our birthright.

When I reminisce about the trip, thoughts of Brussels humidity, Roquefort Carles, and ceramic tiles are accompanied as much by a palette of flavors as they are by clear, consistent melodies.

Iceland

Björk – Jóga

We were slated to spend just four hours total in the country of Iceland, so I opted to download Homogenic to my phone while we taxied at JFK. Only Hunter finished downloading before takeoff.

On our way to the gate, quotes from Icelandic writers were printed on circular windows, over views of the runways and hills in the far distance. Next to our gate, Björk. I took a picture of Christina with that window:

Brussels

Kool and the Gang – Ladies Night

We were in Brussels only for Ky Vinh’s wedding, barely enough time to see the Grand Place at night and have a cone of frites from a stand near the tourist quarter (waffles and mussels next time).

At the reception, a table of Ky Vinh’s boorish old friends, matched in red satin ties, punctuated the evening with rowdy chants. Sometimes they cheered the Red Devils. Mostly, they just sang – with pronounced Belgian accents – the end of this song:

Tonight. Is gonna be. Your night! Everything is gonna be. All right!

It stuck in our heads. I kept thinking Heavy D. But he was sampling Kool and the Gang.

The temperature and humidity in Brussels that Saturday both reached the high 80s; the air conditioning in the dining room at Kasteel Gravenhof couldn’t cool the room of 150 guests. The reception capped a day that started at 7:30 am and comprised three ceremonies (Vietnamese, Belgian, and Filipino). I’d had a few drinks.

Christina and I retreated to our air-conditioned room upstairs in the castle after dinner, and we took naps while friends and family of the couple lauded them in French.

The next afternoon at the flat in Brussels – while everyone packed for Lisbon and recovered from the previous night’s revelry – Ky Vinh’s mother put a half-finished magnum of champagne back on ice. When the bottle cooled, she offered it around to us: Christina first. She accepted. I raised an eyebrow.

Lisbon

Getz/Gilberto – Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars (Corcovado)

The wedding was followed by a trip with the newlyweds and two other couples to Lisbon for a “pre-honeymoon.” We shared an architect’s house.

On our first night in Lisbon, we barbecued. The kitchen was bare so we went to Pingo Doce immediately after landing to buy meats, batatas fritas, olive oil, charcoal briquets, red wine, Super Bock, and this unspeakably amazing condiment I’ve taken to calling Portuguese sriracha that apparently should only be used in small doses because it’s really salty but we didn’t heed this advice because we translated this page only after we got back to New York and sought out what the hell it was we bought that night and put several spoonfuls of on all our food.

Anyhow. We bought too much food.

On our last night in Lisbon, we aimed to finish as much of our leftovers as we could. Christina and I wrote our postcards in the living room.

We opened a bottle of red wine and ate large bowls of mango sorbet. I did laundry. Ky Vinh perused the CDs in the living room and found Getz/Gilberto. We played that album three times that night.

Paris

Jonathan Richman – That Summer Feeling

We spent 3 days in Paris. Booked an apartment in Montmartre, found a solid fromagerie and boulangerie on Rue des Abbesses a short walk away.

Compared Pierre Hermé and Ladurée macarons on the Champ du Mars. Bought books at Shakespeare & Company and had them stamped. Visited the catacombs.

On our last night, we made a trip to the Canal Saint-Martin (where Amelie skipped stones). In the neighborhood, we visited Artazart.

Jonathan Richman songs played in the store. “I’m a Little Dinosaur” captured our attention immediately, but “That Summer Feeling” lingered for me.

I looked it up when I got back: James Murphy says it’s one of the saddest songs he’s ever heard. Robert Christgau seems to read it differently.

At the shop, Christina bought me a book on radishes.

Afterwards, we tried to catch the Metro at Republique only to find it closed by the gendarmerie.

Gendarmerie

We wanted to get to Lafayette Gourmet. We walked through the Marais to another Metro station. In the diversion, we passed another half-dozen blocks we wanted to explore further if only we had another day (next time: perhaps a coffee at Slow Galerie, a pastry and caramels at Jacques Genin). With each footfall, we watched near-dusk light reflect on Lutetian limestone façades.

At Lafayette Gourmet, we bought pasalubong and supplies for our last dinner in Paris, a picnic on the Île de la Cité, on the bank of the Seine.

Last meal

I can say with certainty I’ll remember that slice of four-cheese quiche. It was a slice of a quiche that was maybe a couple feet in diameter. We bought it at a counter at Lafayette Gourmet after exchanges of pidgin French and pidgin English and lots of euros.

When it was time to eat, the quiche was lukewarm. Our only utensil was a plastic fork we picked up with lunch at Monoprix earlier, so we took turns eating the quiche.

What I learned that night is that when the French say “four-cheese quiche,” they mean four fucking cheeses. (Also, they probably actually say “quiche aux quatre fromages.”) It’s possible that there were several smaller wheels of cheese in that massive, eggy disc. What chevres and gruyeres and comtés and whateverelses made that quiche their final resting place can take pride in their demise.

The quiche was too rich to finish there, so we took some of it back to New York. It was even better warm.

NRT.

Ten years ago, as I left Narita Airport on an express train for Tokyo, I loaded A Love Supreme into my Discman. What I understood then to be the outskirts of Tokyo unfolded as a diorama just beyond my window as “Acknowledgement” churned into its motif.

I didn’t know that album very well at the time; I was just an aspiring 20-year-old aesthete who wanted to incorporate it into my cultural arsenal. And it lodged itself firmly there as it became the theme song for the things that I don’t yet understand but desperately want to.

That trip to Japan in the summer 2003 (as the guest of a former client and beneficiary of a moment of largesse I’ve yet to pay forward) was the first time that I had been fully disarmed of my ability to communicate. It scared me immensely to be at once surrounded by people and in a void.

I was overwhelmed at the time, not very well-off, somewhat primitive in many respects. I wasn’t sure that I’d ever return.

Looking back, it was essential to my development as a person, immersed in that situation in early adulthood where my only recourse was to observe and communicate using only the most rudimentary of terms. But it’s a situation I’ve learned to recognize and relish, and even sought again.

After that trip, I continued to Manila for an 8-week stay. That summer happened to be the same time Lost in Translation came out, and when I watched it upon my return, it too (however literally) occupied that thematic space with John Coltrane’s modernist jazz.

I return to that space with some frequency now, populating it with new songs to remember other thrilling encounters with my language’s permeable membrane, itself an advancing and evolving boundary. Elitism starts where the limits of your understanding begin, I’d believed long before that and held fast since.

And today, I’m going back.

Turtles all the way down.

Last Saturday, Christina and I watched a reading of “Manahatta” by Mary Kathryn Nagle at the Public as part of their New Work Now! 2013 series. It’s a delightfully arch production, structured as a series of scenes between two time periods (17th-century Manahatta and late-2000s Wall Street, with dramatic overlaps) like Stoppard’s “Arcadia,” worth watching if you’re a New Yorker, care about Native American issues, or the peculiar interplay of indigenous people and ambitious conquerors and its long-term consequences. Its structure lends itself to juxtapositions, and even if they sometimes overreach in this play, they’re intriguing enough to merit proper staging. A scene depicting the infamous $24 real-estate deal successfully elicited a knowing, sympathetic cringe. History repeats throbs just under the surface like a subwoofer through drywall.

From all the clever chronological cross-referencing, among the more incisive and memorable fulcra was Nagle’s use of the word speak. In “Manahatta,” it means more than merely uttering words: it means a presence in the consequential moments of one’s own history. To lose the ability to speak, to have it beaten out of you, or to arrive at a consequential moment with neither the necessary language nor immediate skill to translate is pretty much terminal for one’s culture and way of life.

In both time periods, characters tell the Lenape story of the origins of life on earth: a turtle rose from the water, a tree grew from its back and sprouted a man, the tree bent over to touch the ground again and sprouted a woman. I like this story because it’s the foundation of one of my favorite cosmological epigrams.

And “Manahatta” is a rich story well-told, but a staging with sets and costumes will undoubtedly change the effect of the words (to say nothing of the stresses of syllables from show-to-show). Unlike so much of what I consume, this is explicitly a work in progress, something put forth as something that will potentially be quite different in the future (and I feel invested enough to return).

Related: I watched “Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play” in its premiere run at Woolly Mamoth last year and would recommend it to interested friends in New York who’ve ever compulsively quoted the Simpsons. I am interested to find out how too this has changed since it made its way up the 95.

Since last time: I wrapped a project in Pennsylvania with a design presentation and delivery of a pair of PDFs for functional specifications. Took a day off to take delivery of a new dresser, a vintage stainless-steel number not unrelated to tanker desks and barrister bookcases I have loved.

This weekend in theater, literature, and music: “Matilda” tonight, back to the Public on Saturday for “All The Faces of the Moon”, and the Brooklyn Book Festival and Chvrches in concert on Sunday.

Next week: a new project in Michigan opens with two days of interviews bookended by late-night flights with layovers. And before that, drinking about wireframes at the Brooklyn UX happy hour in Gowanus.

Finally: these are some awesome pictures of goats.

You are listening to Los Angeles.

You are listening to Los Angeles is an astounding single-serving site. Technically, it’s a cloud-leveraged mashup of a SoundCloud file, LAPD streaming audio, Cabin typeface, and a Flickr photo. As an experience, it’s not unlike a Pandora station started by a fan of Heat.

Self-described in metadata as Ambient music and live LAPD police radio. What’s not to like? It could also work with the Jurassic Park theme slowed down 1000%.

(via BLDGBLOG)

Also, New York takes a less literal approach.

Not much else.

…certain brands, and bands, can so glammer the market that a mere 10 percent share is nothing short of ubiquitous. Apple is that good, Radiohead is, and not much else.
The Apple Of Rock

While I don’t buy the build-up completely, the payoff is astute. While there may be “not much else,” surely there is something seemingly ubiquitous, operating beyond its milieu, at a grander level of aesthetic criticism.

There is, right?

I fell in love once and it was completely.


via This Isn’t Happiness

I watched the White Stripes in concert at the El Rey in 2002. It was game 6 or 7 of the Lakers-Kings series. Mikey, Eric, and I waited outside the venue before doors, listening to passers-by comment on the game.

Brendan Benson and The Well-Fed Boys opened for them, as did Whirlwind Heat, though I wish I’d forgotten that fact. “Fell In Love With A Girl” was getting regular airplay, and the music video was pre-meme viral. Whether the El Rey was at capacity was not question. Mikey, less than a week off an appendectomy, opted to break from the section in the pit where Eric and I had a clear line of sight to Jack White’s pale, veiny arms. Mikey spent the set at the side of the stage, and by his account, a short distance from Heather Graham. Jack spent the set incoherent but radiant, the encore with a burning cigarette tucked into the bridge of his guitar.

I don’t remember the set list, not that I could discern it half the time. I remember he played “Jolene.” I wouldn’t feel this expression of woozy energy again until I discovered scotch. It was perhaps the fourth concert I’d watched as a young music fan. It remains, hundreds later, among the best live musical performances I have witnessed. Every rock show I’ve attended – and perhaps every shot of brown liquor I’ve taken – since has been held up against the light of that night.

I sit down at rock shows, take a digital camera. I sip my scotch now, now I can afford sippable stuff. I take my bourbon with ice. It doesn’t burn so much now. I prefer it that way, most of the time.

While I am writing.

As I start thesis writing in earnest, my priorities are shifting to the production of documents necessary to the academic ritual: the proposal, annotated bibliographies, review of related literature, and chapters of primary research. I am writing on the form of the web browser and its social effects, investigating how browsers were shaped through distributed processes of software architecture and improvised linguistics into an infrastructure upon which we google people to find their Facebook profile and Twitter feed. The part of me that’s been doing this shit for years is a singular candidate for the task, the academic come-lately (part-time, at that) within approaches with some apprehension, and the friend known to you dreads that as we are a postcard’s reach apart, it’s more likely that postcards are all that will pass between us.

It’s become obvious practices that once defined me have suffered as I’ve travelled different social and professional avenues and consequently developed new practices. And it’s difficult for me to admit that my creative output has not dropped as much as I sometimes feel; there are analogues. Where I was once defined by semi-annual meticulously crafted mix CDs, I now with similar frequency and attention assemble brunch for 20 in my one-bedroom apartment. Books with starred reviews are Goodyear-welted shoes, late-night drives are late-night walks, weekly benders are personal training appointments. I am led to believe this is normal for my age.

Similarly, I’m learning not to mistake change in the form of my output for a drop in my ability to “leave my mark.” Blog posts, mix CDs, portfolio/gallery websites, cityscapes, sketchbooks, AIM statuses, long-winded and vain email newsletters – each has come and go as my preferred medium, and who knows when if ever I’ll resume any of these with the same zeal, let alone skill. For the foreseeable future, my blog’s purposes as an outpost for commentary on current events, meme participation, telling of my new favorite earworms, and nudging and winking (and hyperlinking) in the direction of funny shit have been distributed to the lower-maintenance domains of my Facebook profile, Twitter feed, Flickr photostream, Hype Machine loves, and Pinterest boards. I’ll probably write occasionally to float wacky ideas that likely wouldn’t float with my thesis committee, and 140 characters isn’t enough for all the wonderful things and weird shit I want to share.

(Like, I mean, have you seen Marwencol? My esteem for it grows every time I think of it, and I now doubt I’ll see a better movie released this year. It’s a documentary about Mark Hogancamp, who survives a beating but loses motor skills and memories, and a discussion of the role of photography and memory, the role of sincerity in art, and the role of art in therapy. It goes into Charlie Kaufman territory (recursion, specifically, and not as a storytelling technique employed by the filmmakers so much as a consequence of the documentary process (and the subject being documented)) and is so terrifically distinct from anything I consider my experience of the world it’s easy to forget its foundation in real events. Oh, and Hogancamp – who is still getting by on disability checks – takes a cut of sales of related merchandise (maybe some box-office receipts?), so patronage includes a nugget of charity.)

(So there’s that.)

Part of me now chafes at a not-much-younger version of me that exercised writing not because writing is not something to be exercised but because I/he believed that it was through a systematic exploration and exploitation of syntax and diction that one improved as a writer. Improved and writer now seem insubstantial, even laughable, just as there was once a me that thought a feeble configuration of magnets and arrows and dials the ideal of compass. At 25, I probably couldn’t make a better mix CD or write a better blog post than when I was 22, but that realization took almost three more years to reconcile comfortably. I still believe that getting prolific is a step towards getting good, but that better bears a troublesome resemblance to analysis paralysis and all that. As I’m steady working and ringing up debts in pages and accounting in chapters for at least the next eight months, that reconciliation arrives at a fruitful moment.

To those who know (and the present tense feels so tenuous here) me as a blogger, mix maker, enfant terrible (increasingly sans enfant), I leave you with this: While I am writing – the usual 79 minutes and change in one 95 MB file – to remember me as a friend. I worry I only have so many words, and they are needed elsewhere. Till the next postcard, know you’re invited to – and missed at – brunch.

Raised by wolves.

1. Rome is a city that stirs the blood, maddens and inspires. There are a few lasting achievements of art and architecture that seemingly happen but once a century (or two) in the course of human history, and Rome hosts an alarming concentration of them (for one, Pantheon).

Among the ephemera, that a bang-on shot of espresso is available at every level of food service from slouchy snack bar to white-tablecloth restaurant is as much a factor of training and equipment as cultural reinforcement; that even for those who can only spare 80 cents the quality of their coffee is not spared. Restaurant menus indicate when a dish includes an ingredient that has been frozen, implying that the remainder of the spread is fresh.

There are perhaps more marble statues, frescoed ceilings, and gelato shops per capita in Rome than anywhere else in the world, and while there’s more to the place than art and food, they’re a fine way through which to experience the city.

2. A worthwhile thing to do in Rome that no guidebook or blog told us was taking in the sunset from Giardino degli Aranci (Garden of Oranges). It is, true to its name, an orange grove on Aventine Hill (about a kilometer uphill from Piramide station) with a stone (marble?) balcony tacked on at the end. That balcony faces west.

When in Florence, order a steak.

3. Travelling in the 21st century continues to amaze me. Though supersonic air travel has been relegated to 20th-century antiquity, the Schengen Agreement, Euro currency, and global networks of cash machines, credit cards, and mobile telephony have all but eliminated logistical hassles for Americans touring much of Europe. I am not taking this stuff for granted.

4. My undergraduate Italian held up surprisingly well, and I still consider it a minor miracle that I was able to correct my error when booking our return trip to Rome from Florence at the S.M.N. ticket office without the use of English or incurring an additional charge. While at the post office, a clerk seemingly eager to speak some English bridged the language gap to scrounge up 25 stamps for international postcards. Occasionally, a combination of ambient English guided tours and Wikipedia on my BlackBerry enhanced our experience of a place.

5. As a meta note, this trip was my first vacation in a new place in over two years. The degree to which my creative output has fallen in that time has surprised and saddens me. I think it’s mostly a byproduct of being enrolled in school and in a relationship where someone else’s time is to be considered in equal measure as my own, but part of me also thinks that it’s because I haven’t been anywhere new to me in too long.

6. There is no number 6.

7. My failure to sell or even give away my tickets to The National concert on Sunday prompted me to attend the show on limited sleep immediately upon arrival in Washington. It turned out to be a wise play, as the show was spectacular and my sleep schedule was tuned perfectly the morning after. The first time I saw them, I was standing for the whole show and aside from the band and their instruments and equipment I remember the stage was bare. This time I was seated and there were lights and horns.

If there is a band for whom the placement of a grand oak tree on stage is aesthetically consistent with their music, it would be The National.

8. The use of clean as an aesthetic judgment bothers me. Cleanliness is distinct from organization, and that mere organization often presents itself as cleanliness is a given and the judgment provides little in the way of compliment or critique. Some alternatives are minimal, which reflects a position within art history, and simple, which indicates a composition with few moving parts or even one that has been inadequately considered.

9. I’m also growing increasingly wary of interesting as an adjective, mostly because it is subjective and also because it tends to describe things that really ought not be beyond the threshold of known vocabulary. I want to know how that interesting thing actually held interest, whether it engaged, stupefied, inspired, saddened. If all you can muster is interesting, either learn some new words or experience some new things.

10. Christina and I are planning our trip to Cuernavaca for Carlos and Ana’s wedding in July, so I can safely say that two years will not pass before my next vacation in a new place. However, my high-school Spanish is dustier than my college Italian, so negotiating the language gap could get, well, frustrating, with a high chance of gesticulation.

In the meantime, we will watch The New Pornographers, Passion Pit, and Tokyo Police Club in concert. And I will be starting at NavigationArts on 21 June, which is also the date of my 5th anniversary in Washington. And given I’m sentimental and wish to commemorate that event, I hope to publish another piece of writing – perhaps a list – on that date.

11. And therein lies an exotic destination, experiences of live music, and a pair of personal milestones to commemorate – creative inputs and motivation. I think I can keep this up.

Originally published 11 June 2010.