In 24 hours I will be on a plane to Buenos Aires via Houston. Pictured above are a few of my unique travel accessories. Almost everyone who travels, or just lives their daily lives (of a certain band of socio-economic class) predictably carries and uses certain items: clothes, food, phone/music player, toiletries, books/information/means of reading. These substances are inextricably part of most peoples’ daily lives. Like everyone else, I bring them with me when I travel, but I also bring some other items that provide an encapsulation of my essence, those material items most dear to me because they somehow enable my particular strand of activities and use of time on this Earth.
Here are mine, which I think may be a bit different than most travelers:

1) Martial arts dogi, for practicing at aikido dojos. When I traveled across Europe 10 years ago, I periodically dropped in on different dojos all over the place, in just plain clothes. This led to some of my most interesting local experiences and info, a common bond and passion between people I could sometimes not even linguistically communicate with.

This warmth I experienced ranged from a Sensei in Granada telling me in halting English, after practice, “Whenever you come here, this is your home,” to a Copenhagen Sensei nonchalantly instructing at the beginning of a class, “Today we have a visitor from America, so I’m going to teach in English.”

Now that I’m a black belt (not pictured–already packed), I find it a bit unseemly to just show up in sweats, so I don’t mind packing one of my lightweight uniforms.

2) Tea pots, cups, and leaves: Anyone who has spent a bit of time with me knows I am a tea, and specifically, pu-er afficianado. While my depth of knowledge still can’t hold a candle to innumerable old Chinese men and seasoned bloggers like The Half-Dipper and Marshal N, it’s still astonishing for most people in most of the world to see me whip out these tiny ceramics and strange leaves all because this particular brand of ceremony and qi is so valuable to me.

3) Digital recorder: It boggles my mind to think I lumbered across Europe for 6 months with a huge guitar in the past. When I traveled through Japan 2 years ago, I decided I didn’t want to mess with that anymore and satisfied myself with occasionally playing guitars of various qualities (usually crappy to mediocre) that I came across and temporarily bottling my musical urges into other pursuits. After thinking about it for several years, I finally acquired a digital recorder this year, which I’ve been using to capture musical ideas, ambient sounds, and aiding me in my own music production. I hope to use this as part of my documentation and impromptu jam sessions on the streets and mountains of Argentina and Bolivia.

It’s liberating to be a backpacker because it forces you to carry everything that is useful or holds value for you. Make no mistake, I still prefer having access to my multiples gis and wooden weapons, my guitar, bass, synthesizer, and computer, and bings and bags of semi-aged pu-er, but it’s a worthwhile experience to encapsulate these traits and possessions while on the road.

Going to a club is a rare enough of an event for me that it warrants some writing. Last Friday I went to Public Works in SF to see Max Cooper. Despite feeling already sleepy by the time I got there (past 11, as he wasn’t slated to start until 11:30), I managed to hold on for a couple hours. I had been there once before. I’ve been to many clubs all over Europe and beyond, and most just copy cliched motifs: the gated line, dispassionate bouncers, thick walls and too much bass–this effect permeates to the visitors–the sleekly dressed but apparently unhappy, disinterested women, overly bro-ish guys, sticky floors and feigned conversations, all for the supposed effort of maintaining a “scene.”

I had no such expectations; I came merely to hear some music by a producer (as much as I despise that word) of electronic music I enjoy. I felt happy.
I started talking to the young guy next to me in line, who was nervously checking his phone.
Asking him about his interest in Max Cooper, he admitted he had never heard him before and was there only for a birthday party.
“I think it’s house.”
“I wouldn’t say he’s house,” I retorted, “more like melodic techno with some IDM influences.”
“Yeah, huh, we’ll see,” he said, going back to checking his phone.

Inside: plenty of people, but not too many. The volume was enough that I was glad I brought my earplugs–the degree of bass which interferes with my heartbeat, when I start seeing the sleeves of my shirt vibrating, I find particularly unsettling, causing me to move to the periphery. The first guy playing was very much house, which is what I think Public Works and their sound system is optimally designed towards. I found myself unconsciously dancing, as I hadn’t heard the music before; on the other hand, hearing some of the familiar Max Cooper tunes later on, even as they were more abstract, I felt no such inclination, as I had plenty of internal, psychic movement. Which has led me to the conclusion, as a musician and listener, that I now largely feel the urge to dance perhaps as a way of understanding unfamiliar [rhythmic] music, but if I know the tune, I don’t need to, or feel the urge.

Max came on and people cheered. The weird “4-D” esque visuals appeared, very much what I’d think of as 90s esque IDM-UK videos: geometric shapes, arterial passageways moving with objects, traversing the realms of space. Has any piece of genuine music ever been truly enhanced by these meandering animations? It wasn’t unpleasant, but would the show be less without it? I don’t think so.

The melodic piano in many of Max’s tracks came across poorly in the bass-heavy sound system, sounding somewhat muddled. There were his trademark songs, and I enjoyed them, but they were mostly very familiar, with few changes (that I could discern), which leads me to the larger question: what is the point of a DJ? If you are not improvising your own music, or mixing it in with other tunes, then what are you doing on the stage? I like Max’s work, but this is a general sentiment I have of the nature of most modern DJing (if it can even be called that), even for someone more experimental and innovative like him.
Amidst the waving signals to and fro, that were not exactly conducive to the foot stompers and gyrators, I saw lone people, like myself, sitting or standing, bobbing their heads slowly, eyes open or closed, immersed in the music, and I felt a kinship, a shared sense of beauty. In quieter circumstances, I would have attempted to chat them up..but how can you? How can anyone have a conversation in a place like this? It’s just too loud. So I was content to smile on my own, and wonder about these odd people, and if there was anything that might bind us if we met in other circumstances.
I became sleepier and wanted a reprieve from the thick walls and the sound, especially as the tempo ratcheted up. I went outside to the gated pen which one must stay in (or else you have left the club and NO RE-ENTRY!), like a herd of cattle, looking at the cloudy sky, surrounded by gaggles of smokers and loose talkers. I panned around, but no one stayed alone for long. Packs of young guys drinking together and being introduced to girls, an angsty looking denim girl–smoking, a pair of pink-purple haired girls with pants to match–smoking.
“..Marco is from Barcelona, it’s a sister city of SF..”
“..Yeah, how many times you been to the burn? The 2nd time is when..”
Frivolous conversation for a sober unattached soul. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from traveling it’s how not to linger.
On the bus ride back home, someone had left a bag of opened marshmallows.
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Wonderful interview with Keth Jarrett: http://dothemath.typepad.com/dtm/interview-with-keith-jarrett.html

One day a few months before that trip to Japan to record Radiance, I had a strong experience of playing something and thinking, “I liked that sound, and I don’t like it anymore, but I’m still playing it as if I like it, so what’s going on?” So the only way to answer the question was: stop playing it. If I find myself doing that I just stop. And I just sat there for a minute and then started again; and if that kind of thing happened again I’d stop again.

EI: Historically, you’re probably the first person that is as comfortable playing in a completely atonal context as well as on just a D Major triad for twenty minutes. I think it’s wonderful that the atonal side is so forthright on these last records.

KJ: I would call it “multi-tonal.” I mean, in a very strange way, there’s no such thing as “atonal.” It’s like when you’re listening to a bad speaker system, your ear makes up for what you’re missing. If you know the recording, you know what’s on it. Even if you don’t know the recording, and you live with this little speaker system, you gotta get something from it. At Berklee, I had this lunchbox-sized record player. The record was bigger than the box. But I wasn’t missing anything!

I started to realize the universe actually requires all sounds, in a way. And so if you want to be anthropomorphic or whatever that is, there is no such thing as atonality. You’re either putting more colors together, or you are putting less. Or you’re choosing. So tonality is a choice. But even in the concerts you haven’t heard, there’s more and more of this.

When I did the Carnegie Hall concert, somebody came up to me who I knew, who I hadn’t seen for a while, and they said, “Oh, I love those little atonal interludes between the things.” And I said, “You know, thank you for saying that!” There’s two things: One is, I wish they could go on forever. No one will ever hear this in concert, because I would be asking so much from the audience. But in my studio, that happens for thirty minutes at a time, and maybe it could go on forever.

Originally posted on Do you want to see my spaceship?:

But indeed, I think, we all belong to any countries. And perhaps this habit of much travel, and the engendering of scattered friendships, may prepare the euthanasia of ancient nations.

— Robert Louis Stevenson ‘Silverado Squatters’

When somebody assures you that ‘third world’ is not a derogatory term but a scientific/economic/development one, I call bullshit.

I spoke to several travellers from various countries around the world who live on a less ‘popular’ third-world passport and even try to travel with one. Hey wait, I am one of them!

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Statistics

There are rankings somewhere on the internet that grade world passports according to their ‘power’, depending on how many countries you can enter without a visa, with a stamp on arrival, or even with your national ID instead of the passport. On GoEuro website Scandinavia is winning, with Sweden and Finland occupying the top 2 positions. The GoEuro ranking is…

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Originally posted on Do you want to see my spaceship?:

I am not sure what’s happening in Nepal these past couple of weeks. It seems like the Vogons decided to build an intergalactic highway and ordered to demolish that rock we are all living on, starting with its magnificent rooftop, Mt Everest, and everything that lies beneath it. Or perhaps a Balrog is trying to crawl out from under the ground and is banging on the Earth crust from inside. Or perhaps it’s the Nazis awoken from deep slumber inside the hollow earth, 70 years after their defeat.

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I was in Nepal 5 years ago, after the most memorable trip of my life, Tibet. It was memorable not just because I almost passed out into a coma of altitude sickness and was revived by some really gross butter salt tea, but because I honestly believe that Tibet is the ultimate rooftop of the world and has the most beautiful people…

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Originally posted on Do you want to see my spaceship?:

When I feel down and disillusioned, when the world is gray, unicorns stop pooping skittles, the future seems uncertain and all I do feels lame, I travel to Rwanda. In my head. Gasp, you may say, Rwanda – the land of genocide, gorillas and god knows what. In this region, Rwanda is known as the land of thousand hills.

It will probably take Rwanda at least an extra decade to shake off the genocide connotations, because future generations will not learn much history at school about people with machetes who ran around and slaughtered their neighbours. But after all, the genocide memorial in Kigali will stand there forever, reminder of the times of sorrow, and the horrors of genocide will echo in the art of Rwandan creative crowd for a couple of generations to come.

For such a small country, Rwanda has an unbelievable amount of art galleries. If you…

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A few pictures from my trip to Zion and Bryce Canyon, Northern AZ/Antelope Canyon&Grand Canyon. Utah is a real weird state. Returning to the abundance and contrasts of the bay area is both welcoming and dissonant. Being away from it all reminds me both of all the things I hate about civilizations and all the things I love about it. Now to continue subtractive synthesis!

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