samedi, janvier 10, 2009

Gas-gettin' and music-makin'

Etude 004: SCIENCE! Lab edition

After finally getting a good night’s sleep, I started today with the realization that I had no cooking gas, and that I would need to lug the butane keg down all 6 flights of stairs, over to the guy who refills them, and then back up those same 6 flights of stairs. Perhaps understandably, I procrastinated a bit and took some time to eat a quasi-breakfast at a leisurely pace; but my need to make a pot of tea overcame me and I finally put myself together and headed downstairs with the butane keg. The whole thing did indeed suck a whole lot, but at least it was done.

I went out again to get some ingredients for a soup stock, and then got some sushi to-go from a nearby restaurant for lunch. After eating my sushi at home and checking up on my emails, I started making soup. The plan was to use the frozen carcass of the duck we ate for Christmas Eve dinner and simmer it with soup-stock vegetables for several hours. Then the plan was to strain the stock and throw in a couple of handfuls of rice to make congee, my favourite Chinese comfort food (yes, it’s rice-based gruel; stop looking at me like that). The stock came out fantastically, partially thanks to the sheer amount of vegetable cuttings I put in there, but also I think partially due to the turnip that I put in there, which seemed to dissolve and thicken the soup a bit.

Anyway, aside from spending the whole day cooking, I also spent a large part of the day putting together another “etude” track using field recordings from a science lab (downloaded from the generous folks at FoundSound, again). Yay, productive weekend!

Oh wait…right; my dissertation.

vendredi, janvier 09, 2009

Meet the Downstairs Neighbor

The majority of my day isn’t really worth much comment: I got up only two hours after I had fallen asleep to go and accompany a group of students to Chartres for a day of touring. I got back to Paris, exhausted, cancelled my dinner plans and spent the night at home.

The one significant thing that happened was just as I was heading out of my apartment. As I got to the next floor below mine, a guy jumped out of his apartment, wearing only a pair of jeans. I smiled bemusedly and wished him a good morning, but he stopped me and told me that there was a “big problem.” Apparently, he’s my downstairs neighbor and he claims that it sounds like I’m moving furniture around when I get up in the morning. I told him that I do no such thing and that I actually wear flip-flops around the house to avoid making noise, but he insisted that the noise was unbearable. He admitted that the noise was probably easier for him to hear because he sleeps on a loft bed near the ceiling, which is probably a significant part of the problem. I told him that I would do my best to avoid making noise in the mornings, but that I was already doing every reasonable thing to avoid making noise.

I don’t know if he’s going to keep complaining or what, but I’m a bit worried if he thinks that the sound of my stocking feet in the morning is as loud as “moving furniture.” French property law makes it very difficult for tenants to be evicted for pretty much any reason, so I can probably presume that if he really decides to pursue legal complaints about the noise, I’ll probably have left Paris by then anyway. Nonetheless, that doesn’t bode well for whenever I have friends over. I’m actually sort of surprised that he didn’t throw a hissy fit when I had nearly 20 people in my apartment in October for my Peruvian food party. Huh.

jeudi, janvier 08, 2009

Party Friends and Touch-Negotiation

Today was one of those days that was going to be uneventful and ended up being really busy. My work day was pretty full but unexciting, but then I got a text message from a friend from Chicago who was in Paris for the day. He was going to go to Le Rex tonight for the Oslo record label show, and since Fantômette was already planning to go as well, I decided to go, too.

A bit later in the afternoon, I get a text message from Fantômette, saying that she’s having people over to her place around 22h00 for some drinks before going out to the Rex. In the meanwhile, I hear from my friend from Chicago, saying that he’d be up for a drink in the evening at some point. After checking with Fantômette, I decide to take him with me to Fantô’s place.

At 15h00, I had a meeting with the doctoral workshop here at the UC Paris center, which was the usual parade of academic cock-swinging. A friend of mine had been presenting a chapter from his dissertation at the workshop, so a few of us needed to go out with him for a few drinks to soothe his nerves after a couple of hours of defending his ideas to a pack of ravenous scholars. We headed over to a kitschy but surprisingly non-lame “English Pub” in the area and had a pitcher of beer, and then went our separate ways by about 19h00.

I called my friend from Chicago, who told me that he had to head by his old restaurant (he’s a cook) to say hi to his co-workers and pick up some documents around 20h30, so I took advantage of the break in the evening to head home and take a moment to unwind. By about 22h00, I got a call from him, and we made plans to meet at Châtelet, near Fantômette’s place.

We eventually made our way to Fantô’s place by 23h30, where we hung out and had a few drinks and chatted. Among the group gathered there were my companions from the Epic Berlin New Year’s, so a lot of our conversation was dedicated to reminiscing over that night. My friend from Chicago is himself French and lived for about five years in Paris, and since he was very active in the techno scene (and also an emerging DJ) part of our conversation was also spent figuring out which friends we had in common and so on. I don’t know if this would be a universal definition, but it certainly seems that part of what makes a scene a scene is this ritual of tracing out connections and placing yourself into a social web of other “scenesters.”

We also had an interesting discussion about “party friends.” What’s interesting about party friends is that they are “superficial” friendships in one sense, and yet intensely close in another sense. Or maybe they’re both superficial and close…or at least intense. What I mean by “superficial” is that party friends are people that you see only in one context, and it’s a context where social norms encourage you to avoid serious, “heavy” or generally non-fun situations. Club life tends to be seen as unfolding in a different plane than daily life—“real life”—and so friendships based on night life are seen to be somehow less real. It seems to be partially about knowledge, too: if the only aspect of someone that I know is their nocturnal aspect, this is seen as not really knowing them—or at least not knowing them enough to be a true friend. On the other hand, the time you spend together in the night-world can be much more intense than in daily life, and in a way we risk more, expose ourselves more, and ultimately do more together in those few hours we share once or twice a week. And so it is that you can have friends that are something like intense acquaintances or distant friends; you might only see them once in a while, and yet you share an important part of your life with them. Hmm, there’s probably more to say about this…

Anyway, by 1h00 we realized that we were running a bit behind and risked missing the headliner’s live set, so we started a very, very brisk walk in the freezing cold to get to the Rex. It was only a Thursday night, so there was no long lineup and no cover at the door. The coat check was a bit of a mess, mind you. There were a couple of rowdy teenagers behind us in line, being endlessly annoying and pretty rude. In typical “French service industry” style, we commiserated with the coat-check girl about how annoying drunk young clubbers are for nearly 5 minutes while they waited behind us, and nobody seemed to find this worthy of any complaint.

We dispersed for a little while, as we made the rounds of people we knew at the club. This was our first night at Le Rex since the new year (as we pointed out to each other several times), so we had to make a point of wishing everyone we knew a happy new year. My friend from Chicago knows a lot of folks in the scene as well, so he was gone for a long while, visiting with everyone.

There seemed to be a back-to-back DJ set going on as we arrived on the dancefloor, but none of us could figure out who they were before the set ended. By about 2h30 or so, Johnny D, the headliner, was doing a live set over in the corner to the right of the DJ booth. Both the DJ set before and Johnny D’s live set were really great; they were stylistically more minimal house than minimal techno, with an emphasis on acoustic-sounding percussion, flexible rhythmic patterns, funk-inspired melodic snippets and the occasional vocal element. The whole texture was a bit heavier and more pounding than what I usually prefer, but the sets were still great.

At some point during the set, I felt a hand grip the back of my neck gently and stay there. Since I’m pretty tactile with my friend from Chicago, I was expecting it to be him, but instead I turned around to find that it was another friend. It was actually a guy that I would consider more an acquaintance than a friend, so the casual physical affection caught me off guard. In an odd sort of way, that gesture caused me to “update” how I saw our relationship from “occasional buddy” to “friend.” In Paris, a city where many forms of physical contact are much more restrained than where I come from, these kinds of moments confuse and then re-organize my boundaries of touch with a friend. By venturing to touch me in a way that casual male acquaintances usually don’t, he created an opening for us to develop our own norms of touch—an opening that I accepted by wrapping an arm around his waist. It seems like a lot of my more tactile relationships in Paris have developed this way: we start by avoiding casual touch beyond the traditional kiss of greeting and farewell, but then at some point someone ventures a bit more and suddenly we’re a lot less timid about handling each other. At least some of it has to do with affordability and risk, methinks. Signaling that you’re flexible or open about touch reduces the perceived stakes of physical contact, and this makes tactile intimacy a risk worth taking.

So the rest of the night was a lot of fun, but I had to go home relatively early. I had to accompany some students to Chartres the next day, and that meant I had to be up at 6h30 in the morning. So at 4h00 I headed back home and got a couple of hours of sleep.

mercredi, janvier 07, 2009

It's Gettin' Cold in Here...

" put on all your clothes!" Who remembers that Nelly single?

Etude 003: Presets Only!

Good god damn, it’s cold out here. I know, looking at the forecasts and the reported temperatures, that I regularly live through much worse in Chicago and Toronto, but the buildings here are not at all prepared for this kind of cold, so even on subway platforms and in office buildings, it’s freaking cold. Don’t even ask me about my apartment.

Anyway, my day was pretty unexceptional again. I was productive at work, had a decent English class in the evening, and then came home and plugged out a pretty decent “étude” track. After spending hours last night pulling samples from field recordings and trying to clean them up for use in Ableton Live, I decided today to only use pre-set instruments and effects, so that I could spend more time building loops and a longer track. The results were pretty decent, methinks.

I noticed today in the subway (yes, I’m not getting on a bike again until the ice on the roads is gone) that the “soldes” season has started today. France has some pretty strict rules about when stores can have sales. Unlike in the States or Canada, there is no “sales rack” at the back of the store. The whole store goes on sale for about a month after the Xmas season, and then again in the summer. Generally speaking the “soldes” in January are a massive shopping frenzy, but reports are suggesting already that this year’s traffic will be lower. As a result, a lot of stores are marking down their stock to 70%, 80% and even 90% down. So I clearly need to go out this weekend and shop with money I don’t have…

mardi, janvier 06, 2009


Etude 002 — Kitchen Edition!

You know how, at the end of my last blog post, I mentioned that it was snowing and Paris? And how it was probably going to freeze overnight? Yeah, it totally froze overnight.

I, stubbornly and a bit stupidly, left my apartment this morning and decided that, since it wasn’t snowing at that precise moment, it would be a good idea to bike to work. I made it there alive, but it involved biking really, really slow. Really slow. My options were to bike along the main roads with the cars, who barely knew what to do with icy roads but at least most of the roads had been melted down by traffic, OR take the dedicated bike lanes, which had not been cleaned and had frozen into various ridges and funnels. What was I thinking?

Anyway, the rest of my day was busy but largely uneventful. After work and then teaching English in the evening, I hit the Monoprix in my neighborhood on the way home to get some groceries and then got home and made some food. I made the MOST AWESOME HOMESTYLE BABA GHANNOUJ EVER. I don’t even know if it counts as a recipe, it was so easy (note, it probably isn’t the proper recipe, either). Here’s what I did:

  1. Take two large eggplants (in this case, “graffiti” eggplants), split them down the middle and place them in a grilling pan, cut sides up. Salt liberally and wait for the surfaces to turn wet with leeched-out moisture.
  2. In the meanwhile, take a whole head of garlic and, without peeling anything, just cut across the crown of the head, so that most of the cloves are exposed at the top. Pull off any papery skin that is getting in the way, place it on a square of aluminum foil, add a bit of olive oil, then wrap as tightly as possible. Add to the pan.
  3. Take two onions, cut off the tops and bottoms, peel, and then cut in half across the rings. Place them, cut sides up, on the pan as well.
  4. Place the whole pan in a low-head oven and walk away.
  5. When the whole place smells of roasted garlic, pull the garlic out and squeeze it lightly to make sure that it’s totally soft. Unwrap and leave on counter.
  6. Turn up the heat in the oven to medium and wait for the smell of the onions to become sweet and caramel-like.
  7. Turn on the broiler and char the surfaces of the eggplants and onions
  8. Pull out the eggplants, take a fork, and scrape out the meat of the eggplant into a bowl.
  9. Take the onions and chop roughly and add to bowl.
  10. Take the cooled head of garlic and start squeezing each clove, which should come out like a soft paste.
  11. With your fork, mix all of these together vigorously. If you have a stick blender, this is a good time to use the stick blender.
  12. Eat!

lundi, janvier 05, 2009

Luis Makes Music! Sort of.

Etude 001: Look ma! I made something!

In keeping with resolution # 6 from my list of New Years Resolutions, I’m starting a series of “études”. That is, from now on, I’ll be posting every day or two a new short minimal/techni/glitch track, which I’ll be posting to this blog over here. Like a proper étude, these compositions will be primarily pedagogical; each one will involve me focusing on a particular aspect of the musical technology I’m working with (mostly Ableton Live) and making something with a limited set of materials.

So, anyway, be sure to check that out. For the next few days, I’ll be putting a link to the “Etude of the day” at the top of each post here.

My day was very hectic today, as it was the first day of the winter quarter and, for the first time, we have a full complement of 75 students in the center. It was pretty much non-stop work all day, although I’ll admit that wasn’t unpleasant. Most of the students this quarter seem to be nice kids. Seem to be. Check back with me in a couple weeks.

Also, it’s snowing! I woke up this morning to see snow on the skylight above my head. Although I love me some snow from time to time (especially since it tends to bring sunlight with it), Paris is not a city that is prepared for sustained snowfall, so the sidewalks were a treacherous mess today, and I’m pretty certain it’s going to freeze over tonight. Hooray!

dimanche, janvier 04, 2009

Not yet a day of rest

Nothing much to report! I had spent most of the day inside, catching up on blogging, answering emails, and finally reading the comments sent to me by 2/3 of my committee (ahem, Travis). Also, it was fucking cold tonight.