mercredi, mai 28, 2008

mutek_2008 : Prologue

Well, I haven't posted to this blog since February (for reasons soon to be enumerated), and...well...a lot of shit has gone down since then. Here's the quick and dirty update:

  • A colleague had something of a breakdown / crisis, and I found myself teaching two classes in the Winter and Spring quarters, rather than one; and this additional class was one of those lecture-hall, 50-minute-lecture-with-powerpoint sort of classes.
  • I got Bell's Palsy, which is this bizarre and apparently spontaneous (although stress-related) paralysis of one or both facial nerves. Essentially, the left side of my face has been paralyzed since about April 19, and it'll take about 6 months to heal (if it heals completely).
  • I gave my first paper at IASPM (Int'l Assoc. for the Study of Popular Music) and chaired a panel. This was also my first time attending the conference, so it's somewhat ironic/tragic that the aforementioned Bell's Palsy descended upon me 4 days before the conference. I sent the entire weekend strung out on powerful steroids (as an anti-inflammatory medication), with a droopy face, slobbering out of one side of my mouth like a young Jean Chrétien. I was really sexy.
  • My brother got married just last weekend, which just happens to coincide with the last few weeks of classes (i.e., we're marking papers, preparing exams) and DEMF (the Detroit Electronic Music Festival). I really wanted to go to DEMF this year, since I missed last year while living in Paris, but weddings of immediate family come first (of course; my mom would kill me). Also, I was the best man, so it's not like attendance was ever optional. Anyway, it was fun and I returned back to Chicago exhausted, only to try to recover over 48 hours, teach some classes, and then head off to Montréal!
  • I'll be heading back to Paris next year, so Luis in Paris will be truly Luis in Paris again soon! Of course, I still need to find a place to live, which has been about as difficult and expensive as I had expected.
  • Mostly thanks to the sense of guilt that my suddenly-doubled teaching load engendered among the faculty, I got a grant to spend the summer in Berlin, doing research. I had a terrifying few weeks when I didn't know where I would be staying, but I finally nailed down a room in Berlin (sharing the apartment, alas, but tolerable for 2 months). Viel Spaß!
  • I'm looking for someone to sublet my apartment for the duration of July 2008 - June 2009, while in Berlin and Paris. This has me totally terrified, as I have less than two months to go and I've got nobody to cover the place. I wonder what stress-related illness I'll develop worrying about that?

OK, got all of that? Our story now picks up after the return from the fraternal wedding in London, Ontario, and a 48-hour turn-around in Chicago.

After doing some research on which compact digital cameras had the best sensitivity in low-light situations (i.e., 90% of the photography I do), I discovered that Fujifilm cameras are widely recognized as the best. I did a bit more research and came across the Fujifilm Finepix F100fd, which has the best signal-to-noise ratio for high ISO settings (in other words, you can turn up the light sensitivity really high without getting lots of visual static, which allows you to take non-flash photos in low lighting). I set about trying to find a place in Chicago that had it, but none of them had it in stock. Sure, you could order the camera and maybe get it in few weeks, but nothing immediately available. i really wanted to take the camera with me to Montréal to give the camera a sort of "test-drive;" the camera was pretty expensive, so if I was going to spend almost 2x what I had on my first digital camera (Panasonic LZ-5), I wanted to make sure that it was worth it. I found this place in downtown Chicago, Central Camera,, and the man who answered the phone said that they always carried the F100 in stock. Great! That was Tuesday evening, so I made plans to get up painfully early Wednesday morning (today) to visit their store upon opening (8:30am), so that I could make it to my morning class at 9:30am. So, I drag myself out of bed at some ungodly hour, toss my luggage in the car, and head off to the store, only to find a different person at the counter who said that they had the S100, the Z100, but never the F100. Well thanks, assholes, I just rearranged my day to drop nearly $400 in your store without you needing to convince me of anything, and you can't even keep track of your inventory. This is what I thought in my head, as I stomped out of the store and continued on with my day. Grrr.

Mercifully, one of my TAs was teaching my morning lecture today, so I only had to worry about my Intro to World Music class. We were reading a chapter from Joe Scholss’s book, Making Beats (the chapter on live instrumentation and aesthetics) and his 2006 article in Ethnomusicology on the b-boy musical canon. There was actually a lot of interesting stuff to get out of the two articles on canons, but I was a bit disappointed in the relative silence of the class today. I’ve often called on students to re-articulate what they’ve posted to the class’ discussion board before class—just to get discussion started—but I hadn’t had time to read the board today, so I had to just hope they would rise to the occasion. I managed to get a couple of them to summarize the basic argument of the essays, a skill which I have discovered that many of them need to develop; while some of my students arrive to class ready to discuss out of / away from the article, many haven’t grasped the arguments of the article itself and need some review. Anyway, with that review out of the way, the students were pretty taciturn today, which left me lecturing more than I usually like. Nonetheless, there were some important points to be made about canons and cultural capital and so on, so I managed to fill the time as necessary. Nonetheless, I need to work on being more comfortable with silence; I know that a lot of students need time to gather their thoughts before speaking, since they’re too timid to just launch into and sustain a half-formed thought (which is what graduate-level discussion is all about).

OK, enough about pedagogy.

I wrapped up a few administrative things on campus and then started back toward my car, which was parked all the way up on Ingleside and 54th. On the way, I passed by Lauren and Peter’s place and heard someone yell “HEY HOTTIE!!” As it turns out, Lauren and Peter were home. After spending a bit of time hanging out with them and trying out their new WiiFit (awesome but also totally shaming) I headed off to my car. I was already packed and had my luggage in the trunk, so I just needed to grab some lunch, some last-minute purchases (ear plugs…important for EDM festivals!) and then head off to the airport.

Of course, it’s never that easy. I left Hyde Park around 2:45pm, and I had a flight at 7:35, which meant I should be there around 5:30. So I had almost 2.5 hours to get to O’Hare. All was going well until I hit the 90-94 north of the Loop, where things came to a screeching halt. It was stop-and-go traffic the rest of the way, and I didn’t get to the airport until almost 5pm. I tried something new this time: I parked at the “Park ‘n’ Ride” parking lot at Cumberland (2 blue-line stops away from the airport) and took the blue line from there. While I had been stuck in traffic, I kept thinking to myself, “If I had just taken the blue line, it would probably be faster than this.” This would be true, if the CTA trains ran with anything approximating efficiency. When I got on the blue line at Cumberland to ride the train for those last two stops, the trip took longer than it would have to keep driving those last few kilometers in traffic, find parking at the airport, and take the shuttle to the terminal. As the train pulled out of the station, a high-pitched buzzer would sound, then the train would slow to a near stop. Then it would slowly accelerate again. About 10 seconds later, just as it was about to hit normal operating speed, the buzzer would sound again and the train would nearly stop. Like this, over and over, for the entire trip between Cumberland and the airport. As much as I am usually a proponent of public transport, this little moment explained why I’ve gone to the trouble of owning a car in Chicago. This sort of bullshit was intolerable for two stations; I can’t imagine running the entire line from Hyde Park to O’Hare. Gah.

Checking in and taking my flight was totally unremarkable, except for the moment when I got up to look for some food and I left one of my carry-on bags. I realized it in about 60 seconds and headed back, only to be greeted by a cloud of Concerned Citizens worrying about what sort of terrorist would have left this piece of luggage. I reclaimed the bag sheepishly, trying to look as non-terrorist as possible (of course, I hadn’t shaved that day and I already look pretty Mediterranean/near-eastern).

I spent almost the entire flight playing Penny-Arcade’s (link) new game, On the Rainslick Precipice of Darkness, which is pretty much a demonstration of all of the gaming conventions and absurdities that the authors of that online comic make fun of on a regular basis. Very funny, and surprisingly good gameplay.

Upon arriving in Montréal, I grabbed a taxi to my hotel. Apparently, there was some sort of “perfect storm” of construction and road maintenance in the downtown area, which made our route to the hotel dizzyingly circuitous. It was, apparently, maddening to my cab driver, who became more and more incensed and spouted increasingly obscene and inventive curses in Quebecois French. At one point, he nearly ran over a construction worker out of frustration. I tipped him heavily—partially out of respect for his dedication to getting me to my hotel at any (mortal) cost, but also partially out of fear.

There was the first night-time event of mutek (link) that night, but I just couldn’t do it. I got to my hotel around 11:40pm, my contact lenses were dried out, and I was dead tired. I decided that I would get up bright and early go collect my weekend pass the next morning.

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