samedi, mai 31, 2008

mutek_2008_Day2: Afternoon & EveningStuff

Experience 2: Street (sm)art

I had been working away at the café at a leisurely pace, thinking that I had until 20h00 that night to get whatever I needed done. However, I eventually realized that there were a bunch of interesting artists performing at the “Expérience” event going on at 17h00 that day. It was already 16h30, so I had no time to go to the hotel and change my backpack for my lighter party bag. So off I went, with my laptop and other paperwork on my back, to the SAT for a bit more dancing.

17h00-18h00: Dafluke

I arrived to the SAT space (where last night’s “Nocturne” had taken place) as Dafluke had just started performing. His set started off sounding rather eclectic, bringing in tracks that sounded like filter-house and Berlin-style minimal techno (see the first two videos below), but it eventually settled into a more straightforward tech-house sound (see the third video).

As I was hanging out and enjoying Dafluke’s set, I had another set of Chicago-related surprises. In total, another 7 people materialized unannounced from the Chicago scene. Yay! Mutek_2008 is turning into something of a Chicago reunion, including several former Chicago folks who are now living elsewhere in the world.

18h00-19h00: Barem

Although Barem’s set was not the one that would finally inspire me to dance despite my backpack and warm scarf, it was still a really good one. The overall sound was one of gradually-shifting minimal techno soundscapes, using pulsing synth tones with rounded envelopes and long, resonant bass kicks (see videos below, from the beginning of the set). As the set progressed, he incorporated more and more high-frequency clicks on off-beats (in the place of usual hi-hats). The overall sound, then, filled the low, middle and high frequency ranges with various layers (resonant bass kics, pulsing synths, syncopated clicks respectively) operating at various pulse levels / speeds (slowest, fastest, medium respectively).

I sould mention that if there was a real “star” of this particular event, it was the video work done by Doma of Argentina. He was responsible for all of the visuals you see in the clips I took of this event, and they totally kicked my ass. I just love his style of bright colours and clean lines, gliding in a very smooth way. Check out the arcs of stars in the backgrounds of the video for Barem.

19h00-20h00: Chic Miniature

Doma’s video for Chic Miniature’s set, however, was fucking awesome. As far as my visual aesthetics are concerned, it hit all of my pleasure receptors: bright colours, flat solid shapes and clean lines, iconic designs, cute creatures, gliding animation, and so on. I tried my best to capture all of this in the photos and video I took of the event, and hopefully you can get an idea of what I loved from the materials below. I was surprised by how much I liked it all.

Of course, it certainly helped that the music this video was accompanying was some of my favorite so far this festival. Chic Miniature is made up of Ernesto Ferreyra and Guillaume Coutu-Dumont, the latter of which was also at one point one half of the duo Egg (whose work I have enthused about before). Their sound was very much in the clickety-microhouse vein that I’ve been fond of for quite a while. The overall rhythmic “feel” was that of house, with a relatively thin texture and an emphasis on intricate high-frequency patterns (i.e., clicky stuff), thumping bass kicks and melodic basslines (as always, check out the video for a few samples).

NOTE: For a while, one of the members of Chic Miniature started improvising on what appeared to be a MIDI controller connected to conga samples. In other words: an electro-conga solo. This in and of itself was kind of amusing and added a certain bright and acidic tang to the set (yes, I'm very taste-driven), but this also inaugurated what some of us would later dub The Mutek of Congas. Also, there were a lot of distant, reverbed mariachi trumpets this weekend, but the ChicMiniature boys didn't go there.

This event was supposed to finish around 20h00, and the next event (another “A\Visions” concert) was going to start at the same time, giving me no chance to go back to the hotel to change and drop off my laptop and such. So, alas, I had to cut short my time with Chic Miniature to get back to the hotel in time. Even with the early departure from this event, I didn’t make the concert until about 20 minutes after the start.

A\Visions: Machine Music Revisited

Even though I left early from the previous show, I still was late getting back to the concert after my quick detour by the hotel, so I had to enter about halfway through the first performance, by Ben Frost. Although lovely and atmospheric in their own rights, I have to admit that the performances of both Frost and the following artist, Tim Hecker, were unexceptional; that is, I felt like both of their pieces were interchangeable with any other electroaccoustic piece you could find at some conservatory / art school. Having said that, they weren't unpleasant to listen to.

Partially discouraged by these lackluster performances, and partly out of desperate hunger, I ducked out before the final performance, that of Christian Fennesz. Of course, I would later find out that Fennesz's performance was fantastic and the video accompaniment was stunning. Grr.

On the upside, I had dinner in the restaurant attached to the Theâtre du Nouveau Monde, which included mushrooms sautéed in smoked lard and lamb tagine. Mercifully, the portions were small, so I could still dance later that night. As I wrapped up my dinner, the crowd was letting out of the concert, so I caught up with some of the Chicago crew and followed them over to the Métropolis for the main event of the evening.

Oh, and in the interest of full disclosure: I'm pretty sure I saw Marc Leclair a.k.a. Akufen outside smoking after the concert, and it took some serious self-control to not launch myself at him and be a totally annoying fan. I *heart* that guy's work.

vendredi, mai 30, 2008

mutek_2008_Day2: Daytime stuff and dancing

Although I hadn’t been out all that late (I got home around 2h30, I think), I had stayed up another hour or so backing up my data and doing the first round of photo triage (i.e., tossing out the bad ones, trying to clean up the good ones). So I slept in a bit today, then finally got myself cleaned up and dashed off to the first workshop of the day, which was on copyright issues. I skipped breakfast and coffee, figuring that the workshop would have coffee available like they did they day before, but THERE WAS NO COFFEE. For someone like me, this is a major tragedy; I was having trouble imagining how I would make it to lunch.

Panel 3: Copyright vs. Creativity

I’m not sure how I feel about the title of this panel, as it presumes an exclusivity to the two main terms, as if copyright must necessarily prevent creativity (while it certainly often has in practice, the main argument that anti-copyright activists make is that the original legislative philosophy of copyright was to encourage creativity). But all that aside, this panel was a pretty good one. It didn’t present any startlingly new perspectives or approaches to copyright issues, but it provided the enriched detail of personal accounts and such.

I was happy to see Larisa Mann (who I am certain I’ve seen at an ethno/musicology conference recently…), a PhD candidate in Jurisprudence who specializes on music copyright issues. She contributed not only a detailed knowledge of (US) copyright law, but also a handy overview of landmark copyright cases and a conceptual organization of the stakes involved in copyright issues. For example, she pointed out that distinctions between referencing / stealing in music can be made in aesthetic, moral and legal registers, and it’s not uncommon for each register to yield different outcomes (e.g., “that sample they borrowed sounds great there, and they acquired it legally, but it’s morally wrong because the samples are from colonial field archives and the aboriginal groups aren’t going to see a penny”; or “that sample is morally and legally OK, but it sounds like an unimaginative re-hash of the original sound source”). She also made an important historical point, observing that copyright law for most of the 20th century was concerned with infringement at the corporate / manufacturing level, since individuals didn’t have the technology available to make cheap copies of things (which changes drastically with the advent of digital media). As a result, extant copyright law isn’t very good at accounting for the decisions of individuals in private/domestic spheres.

Also interesting was the contribution of Jordan Wynnychuk, of Jimmy Proximity, a media company that has been developing an online service / software tool that allows users to remix copyrighted materials. Essentially, his company lands blanket copyright agreements by “closing the pipe” (his words) on certain uses of these recordings, thus helping control illegal copying. When pressed for details, Wynnychuk said that the software, Relab, doesn’t allow users to to upload their own sounds into the system or export the copyrighted materials or the resulting remixes into copiable audio files. Instead, the user downloads “remixable songs,” which are recordings in a proprietary format that only works with Relab software. On the upside, this format also gives access to individual layers of a recording—something most grey-market remixers could only dream of—but on the downside, your use of the materials is strongly limited, and the fruits of your own remixing labours are unavailable to you in a distributable format. The Relab service offers an online streaming option for distribution (e.g., like YouTube) if you want to share your remix with friends, and apparently if your remix is especially popular, there’s the possibility of distribution on other mediums…but that distribution is up to the people at Jimmy Proximity (i.e., they manage the rights too your remixes). And, it should go without saying, this system includes tracking software that allows Jimmy Proximity to monitor and report all use of the copyrighted materials.

In many ways, Wynnychuk’s project is an example of the kinds of partial solutions that are possible from within the extant copyright framework and in collaboration with large recording corporations. While this is certainly a compromise (and the subjection to surveillance is probably more than many remixers would tolerate), this sort of thing seems like an important intermediate step in the transformation of the recording industry and copyright that is pretty much inevitable. Nonetheless, Wynnychuk wasn’t really ready to speak about his project with the sort of pragmatic forthrightness that was called for, and so he came off sounding like the lame apologist for corporate copyright interests. The tone and phrasing of questions posed to him as the panel progressed placed him more and more into the category of “sell-out” or corporate huckster. It was sad but unsurprising that someone who is apparently trying to build some non-antagonistic bridges between the recording industry and the remix / mashup scene should be pushed into the position of corporate spokesperson.

[Note: upon seeing the picture he included in his mutek profile, I'm suddenly feeling less charitable toward him. It's funny how gestures of self-presentation can alter our levels of critique.]

Lunch and Such

Anyway, the panel was otherwise pretty interesting, but I still hadn’t had anything approaching breakfast and it was already lunchtime. I did a bit of research into the location of a well-recommended poutine diner, Patati-Patata (here's another review of the place) and headed off in that direction. That required me to climb several blocks of rue St.-Laurent uphill, but I at least got a good look at the Main disctrict of Montréal, to the east of McGill and the Mont-Royal (the main hill that gives Montréal it’s name). The strip was a mix of Queen Street West and College Street West, with a series of rather upscale modern bistros and cafés, followed by a series of more “alternative” boutiques, followed by what appeared to be a large portion of a Jewish neighborhood. I passed Schwartz’s Delicatessen, which is apparently THE place to get the typical Montreal Smoked Meat. The line-up was nearly half a block long to get a sandwich, so I made a note to check it out at some later time.

About half an hour after leaving the festival, I got to Patati-Patata and had myself a fantastic poutine with roast beef (and beer, of course). This makes three poutiness in the three meals that I’ve had since landing in Montréal! Clearly, I need to take a break tonight. Nonetheless, I enjoyed scarfing down the poutine at the bar while marking some student work that I had brought along (oh yes, this is a “working” trip).

Coming out of lunch, I realized that had still not had a drop of caffeine all day. The carb-and-protein-and-fat punch of poutine certainly helped me out, but I was still in desperate need of chemical assistance. So off I went back down rue St.-Laurent until I got to one of a clearly popular chain of coffee shops called Café Dêpot, which offered free WiFi. I set up camp there with a coffee and an electrical outlet and got to work writing up last night’s outings and preparing audio and video.

jeudi, mai 29, 2008

mutek_2008_Day1 : Nighttime concerts/parties

The mutek festival is organized into four layers of events: DIGI_SECTION, panels and workshops in the morning and early afternoon; EXPERIENCE, studio performances by artists in the early evening (17-19h); A\Visions concert performances by audio and video artists, usually of the more noisy, ambient and abstract sort—coming very close to “academic” electroaccoustic genres (20h-23h); and NOCTURNE club performances, almost exclusively in the form of live P.A., by the sorts of artists one is more likely to find at clubs and “Techno” events.

I had just finished attending the events connected to this first layer (DIGI_SECTION), and I was tired, had a ton of notes to summarize and turn into blog material, and my computer’s battery was again nearly dead. So I decided to skip the EXPERIENCE event that afternoon and go back to the hotel. Besides, the events later tonight promised some partying, and I wasn’t going to do that with a backpack full of stuff and a laptop.

A\Visions: Cinematic Spirits

I spent some time writing notes, backing up my data on my new, super-hot 1-TeraByte external hard drive (a WD MyBook, which is a stupid name, but it’s totally awesome), and taking a brief nap. Once I was in somewhat better condition—and after grabbing yet more poutine at La Belle Province—I headed off to the concert event that evening (A\Visions), which was dubbed “Cinematic Spirits.” As you might expect, the entire concert involved combinations of audio and video performances (sometimes by the same person, but usually by a duo of artists).

The first act (link to mutek profile) was a duo of Nokami (a.k.a. Eric Filion) and Sans Soleil (a.k.a. Michael Trommer), both Canadian artists. The work they presented was called Semiosis, which sort of produced an involuntary groan in me, as I feel like collage-based “media art” that riffs on notions from the field of semiotics is so played out these days. Nonetheless, despite the “Look! Layers and layers of visual and audio elements represent the endless chain of signification!” the sound and video were quite nice in their own rights. The video was mostly in black-and-white, making use of multiple layers of images that shifted and rotated at varying speeds and angles. There was also heavy use of “morphing” software, with x-rays of bones morphing into each other or photos of (what appeared to be) Cambodian prisoners blurring into each other. The music reflected this, using what sounded like lots of gradual layering to create slow-moving masses of textured sound.

The next act (mutek profile), Freida Abtan (from Canada as well), presented a solo video called The Hands of the Dancer. This was probably my favourite performance of the evening, although I had to slip on ear plugs halfway through it. The video was in very lush, over-saturated colour, showing dancers whose movement is represented by a series of frames blurred into each other. As the piece progresses, the video focuses more and more on the sinuous hand and arm movements of a female dancer (often duplicated across the screen into a crowd). At this point, a lot of the blurring turns into distortions of the sort that turn the screen into a shimmering oil slick. The audio part of the performance took a different tack on “shimmering,” focusing on a mixture of layered voices in miasmic clouds and metallic scrapings and other “glitchy” sounds. Although a bit abrasive at times, the overall performance was really lovely (click on the mutek profile above to hear an excerpt from the piece).

The performance of the third act, Németh & Hess, from Austria / USA, bored me to tears. The piece, entitled simply FILM, involved everything but: one performer was on an acoustic drum kit, while the other performer was on a table covered with sound-synthesis gear (notably, what looked like some analogue devices). The piece took the form of a series of episodes, each one 5-10 minutes long, where the person working the electronic stuff would generate a set of sounds, upon which the percussionist would elaborate. I found the whole piece far too slow-moving—and I’m a fan of minimalism, so I have a high tolerance for these sorts of things. The artists spent too much time dwelling on each sound-idea that they introduced, and they didn’t develop these ideas in a way that went anywhere. It felt like a series of near-random gestures.

The final performance (mutek profile) of the event was by Rechenzentrum, from Germany, who presented a piece called Silence. The piece started as the sort of “gentle” layering of atmospheric sounds found in the first piece of the evening, but by 10 minutes into the piece, things began to pick up. This duo was probably the only act to use loops of beats as part of their performance, which created a dynamic contrast with their more atmospheric sections. The video for their performance remained mostly in black and white (with one substantial exception), starting with shifting images of forests, which quickly became more abstract. As with the other artists mentioned here, you can go to their profile on mutek to hear some samples of what they do.

Although I refrained from taking pictures (so many people were using flash during the first act, the management actually made an announcement about it before the next one), I did manage to take a bit of stealthy video of Rechenzentrum’s act, which captures some of their visuals as well as audio. You have to imagine a very resonant bass in the place of the weak thumping captured by the camera.

Nocturne 2: Modern Hypnotists

As the concert let out, I ran into a handful of people from the Chicago scene, which was a pleasant surprise. I had only known of about 2 or 3 people who were going to be here this weekend, and already I was seeing more and more of my Chicago crew in Montréal. I wandered over to Métropolis, thinking that tonight’s club event would be in the same place as all the other ones, but it was in fact at the SAT tonight; in other words, I nearly wandered into some corporate dinner at Métropolis before I took a closer look at my ticket. Thankfully, both locations are within one block of each other.

23h00-23h50: artificiel.process ("Martin.Tétrault")

This opening act had just started when I arrived to the venue. As far as I could tell, the act consisted of one guy (Martin Tétrault, I believe) using and abusing playback devices while another guy (of the art collective, artificiel) recorded both audio and video of the acts and turned them into a sort of A/V collage. Tétrault had this awesome mutant phonograph with 4 tonearms (i.e., 4 needles) and a series of materials (plywood, felt, rough metals) cut into the shape of LPs. He would run the tonearms over these surfaces, often scratching the “records” and even bashing the tonearms onto the surfaces or into each other.

The resulting sounds were mostly noisy and percussive, so the collage that resulted tended toward the stuttering, chaotic “breakcore” genre. Rhythmic gestures would emerge in fits and starts, but they would never really coalesce into metric patterns.

Overall, I liked the concept of the performance a lot, and the quality and texture of the sounds were intriguing at first, but it stopped being interesting about 5 minutes later, as the entire theme of the performance seemed to be “Hey look at this thing I’m doing here! Isn’t it wild?”

23h50-0h50: Christian Vogel

There was definitely a sort of arc to the evening, beginning with more experimental (read: undanceable) music and migrating toward a more dancefloor-friendly sound. Christian Vogel’s set was definitely somewhere in the middle; he used (relatively) conventional sound synthesis and sampling (via laptop) to create a sound texture that first sounded a lot like what I had heard earlier in the “A\Visions” concert, but then transitioned to a looping, metric organization more similar to dance music. The tempo remained at a somewhat awkward pace for dancing, and his use of bass percussion tended to be more of a bass rumble then a well-articulated pattern that would give a dancer something to work with. Overall, the set was good (see video below), although I wasn’t really inspired to do anything more than drink beer and stand there. Having said that, I got the impression that the point wasn’t necessarily to encourage anybody to dance.

Instead, what I mostly ended up doing was wandering around the place with a beer in my hand, admiring the lovely exposed-wall warehouse feel of the place and running into yet more Chicago people.

0h50-2h00: Sleeparchive

Alas, my camera ran out of batteries halfway through the Vogel set, which is really tragic, because Sleeparchive’s set was really great. It started off in a atmospheric / beatless sound-world similar to Vogel and Rechenzentrum, but after about 20 minutes it shifted suddenly into rather bass-heavy minimal techno. Although there were occasional moments of breaks (i.e., asymmetrical bass kick patterns), he mostly cleaved to a 4x4 pattern and really got the crowd moving.

By the end of the evening, as they killed the sound and turned up the lights, some of the Chicago crew were still looking to party (Serena? I’m looking at you), but I was dead tired from getting up early that morning. I wandered back home through the “colourful” stretch of Ste.-Cathrine and back to my wonderfully ghetto hotel.

mutek_2008_Day1 : Daytime workshops and panels


I got up rather early, put myself together, and then headed out the door to the main mutek site, SAT (Société des arts téchnologiques), to pick up my weekend pass. The breakfast service was apparently just finishing in my hotel, which is just as well, since it appeared to be a collection of stale croissants and bad coffee.

The trip to the SAT took far less time than I had expected, so I actually arrived there before they had opened the box office. They were nice enough to give me my tickets, although I would have to come back later to get my photo-pass. I wandered around the neighborhood, discovering the Complexe Desjardins, which is just one part of the mammoth underground network of shopping malls in downtown Montréal, as well as the various sex shops and strip joints on the nearby rue Ste.-Catherine. Classy!

Among other things, I got these excellent photos of storefronts on rue Ste.-Catherine. Note that “dépanneur” is something like a convenience store.

Workshop 1: Introducting the Tenori-On

While waiting for the workshop to start, I played with one of the Tenori-Ons on display in the café-bar area, and it certainly seems like a fun and potentially powerful tool. I like the hands-on interface, using a 16x16 square of buttons to control almost everything.

The workshop itself was pretty interesting. The speaker gave a historical overview of electronic instruments, including a few devices that I hadn’t heard of. After that, he went into a more nuts-and-bolts introduction of the instrument itself, showing how to use its various compositional modes and then how to make it work with Ableton Live and MaxMSP through the magic of MIDI signals.

Although I would probably need more time with this instrument to develop a deeper assessment of the object, it certainly is the kind of geek-porn that music nerds love, and it appears to offer a lot of creative opportunities that other devices don’t. Also, the fact that all you need to know to use its basic functionalities is the ability to recognize spatial patterns makes it really attractive for those without formal musical training.

I’m not going into detail about the function and use of the Tenori-On, since Yamaha already has a really sexy website that features everything you need to know. Apparently, the instrument will only be available by mail order for the foreseeable future. Huh.


Guess which restaurant is in the Complexe Desjardins, just two blocks from the main hub of mutek? St. Hubert.

Guess what St. Hubert serves? Poutine (and lots of chicken)

Guess what goes well with poutine? Beer.

Guess what else was available right next to my table? An electriclal outlet.

This last one might not seem so exciting, but I had exhausted all of the power in my laptop’s batteries during the morning session by surreptitiously recording the entire workshop through the internal microphone of my laptop while I was taking notes. The results were mediocre and tinny, but good enough to serve as an archive for later reference. The program I used for the recording (Audacity) worked fine, although I had problems during the afternoon session.

Anyway, I parked myself at St. Hubert in the “resto-bar” section, near an outlet, and re-charged my laptop while eating a delicious poutine with chicken in it. No doubt there is better poutine to be had in town, but that totally hit the spot.

Panel 2: The Ecology of Festivals: Beyond Filling Venues

This panel featured a collection of people tied to music festivals—mostly electronic music festivals—who were trying to talk about some of the more intangible / qualitative goals of music festivals, like public awareness, legitimacy, social organizing, etc.

The panel itself started off well enough, with an introduction by each speaker about their organization, why their organization started in the first place, and how their present work corresponds to those original goals. Some of the most interesting stuff in this part of the discussion centered around the sorts of entanglements that these groups found themselves in with public funding bodies, institutions, politics and so on. Mat Schulz, from the Unsound Festival based in Krakow, Poland, talked about taking advantage of the E.U.’s political interests in Belarus to accumulate funding for a “satellite” music festival in Minsk. Leo de Boisgisson, based in Beijing, talked about the unique history of youth culture and music in late-20th-century China and told a story about being forced to organize events in collaboration with state cultural apparatchiks and even the army.

But the panel soon shifted into a sort of self-congratulatory pity-party / love-in, organized around their heroic efforts to champion “experimental” electronic music to a largely unappreciative / undereducated public. The underlying assumption among most of the panelists is that “bad” popular music like “mainstream” EDM or pop is popular because people aren’t aware of the aesthetic goldmine that is “experimental” electronic music; if they only had the opportunity to experience it—say, through a music festival—the proverbial scales would fall from their eyes they would be freed from stupefying grip of mass culture.

Clearly, what I’m recounting here is a familiar form of cultural/class elitism, using the management of aesthetic taste as a sort of social hygiene. I only need to change a few terms to make this indistinguishable from the Massen/Kulturkritik of Adorno and other commentators participating in the Frankfurt School. The panelists never went as far as to articulate their desires and disappointments in these terms, but instead mobilized vocabularies of curatorial practice and pedagogy, gesturing toward an under-defined “commercial” music industry as the source of the feeling of urgency around this project of public edification.

There are ethical complexities around using a pedagogical model for public/social organizing, not least among them being the fact that a pedagogical relation assumes an individual or group who knows more (or knows better), and another individual or group who needs to learn (for their own good—read: sometimes against their will). What seems like a benign desire to “raise awareness” or expand horizons can slide into a sort of condescending elitism that is rarely well-received or effective. This is substantially different from a model of community-building, profit-making, preservation of tradition, or pleasure/fun (all of which have their advantages and disadvantages).

What is ironic/depressing about this is that most of these panelists bemoaned, in the same breath, the of marginalization of Electronic Dance Music at the hands of The Academy (i.e., academic institutions). “Academic” music-making (especially post-tonal compositions) have used labels and poetics of the avant-garde and modernism to justify the exclusion of most popular musics while explaining their own relative lack of mass appeal. Indeed, the lack of mass popularity became a mark of distinction through often explicit elitism: if the public (read: working class) doesn’t like it, it must be Art. So it was disappointing for me to see the re-appearance of these discourses within the EDM community, using “experimental” in the place of “avant-garde” to divide us into cultural haves and have-nots.

Part of what facilitated this blind spot around practices of elitism, I think, was a concomitant blind spot around the interpenetration of “academic” and “commercial” spheres in the world of EDM. Jan Rohlf (representing Transmediale), for example, opened his comments on his organization in Berlin by stating that there is a music scene in Berlin that sat uncomfortably between the “academic” and “commercial” spheres. When answering a later question about collaboration with institutions, Rohlf expressed resistance to the idea, raising the spectre of cultural misappropriation by exploitative outsiders. This resonated with an entirely-unquestioned idea about what (and who) lies outside of EDM communities: the academics can never understand, the corporations can never have good intentions. This supposition of completely separate (and antagonistic) worlds fails to account for the increasing number of EDM fans and participants who have entered into academic institutions to make sense of their own lives within EDM scenes (like me). Similarly, those people in the EDM scenes who have moved into large-scale promotion and above-ground media production—in the interest of developing a scene to which they belong—are entirely left out of this account. Furthermore, to fail to recognize that many EDM artists are art-school- or university-trained (although perhaps not in music) is simply disingenuous, as is the presumption that electronic music, dance music, and electronic dance music were every completely separate from sites of commerce and capital.

[To be fair to Rohlf, he was also the person on the panel who came closest to expressing a desire for music festivals that build communities of care and intimacy.]

So, as you can tell, this annoyed me a bit. I was too self-conscious about my facial disfigurement to really ask a question (having half your face paralyzed makes speaking uncomfortable and continually embarrassing), and I was disappointed to see everyone on the panel and in the audience in such unquestioning agreement: “We, exempt from the stigma of intellectualism and commercialism, need to defend/promulgate our tastes against mass culture, and we deserve support for our projects (preferably in the form of grants or ticket sales).”

Anyway, with this depressive moment over, I headed out of the panel, said hi to a frew folks from the Chicago scene who had recently arrived, and then headed back to my hotel to work on my notes. Alas, My audio application, Audacity, had crashed halfway through the second panel, and when I re-started it, the program started recording the latter half of the panel on top of the previous recording. At the end of the panel, when I tried to at least save the last half of the panel, Audacity somehow deleted everything and left me with nothing. Fantastic. Ah well, at least I took meticulous notes.

Dear Inappropriately-Dressed Woman:

You are totally awesome. In a brisk Montréal morning, you were wearing a bright-red Che Guevara t-shirt stretched over your ample frame, black shiny stretch-shorts that stopped just above the knee, black-and-red-striped socks just below the knee, and clunkly black boots. The fact that you were totally unremarkable to your compatriots on the street gives me a comfort that is hard to describe.

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.