Sound reasoning

When I wake in the morning I sometimes react to a noise of something like a small animal scurrying beside my bed– only to re-realize that it’s just the odd metal spring webbing that supports my mattress that makes these rustles.

The cooing carrying through the ventilation shaft to the bathroom is of authentic organic origins, though. There seems to be a group of pidgeons roosting regularly somewhere on the roof. I figure they habitually gather around air vents for the warmth, and their sound carries in strange ways. In the mornings they often sit on the roof outside the kitchen window, sometimes actually staring me down in that somewhat malign but profoundly dumb way they have. For the most part unseen seagulls have taken up their spring-anticipating noisemaking, and trushes sing in the trees, but I have the general impression of not seeing all too many birds. Crows for instance, don’t seem too common, but I might not have been paying attention.

In general my house is more or less transparent to sound. Sitting still is like aquiring superhuman senses of hearing. The tingling of the ringer on a bike rattling past over the cobbled street, people talking, cars and trams trundling by; everything seems to happen within arms reach. You can sense the vibration of passing traffic through the legs of your chair. In the night the people leaving the moroccan water pipe café nearby fill the street with their excited exclamations, that hardly ever seem to lead to real confrontations.

An upside to being in a country where one’s grasp of the language is fleeting at best, is that it is easy to withdraw into a private space while reading in a noisy café, as random snippets of conversation don’t derail your thoughts. Even though some assimilation of flemish has happened, it is still mostly stage whispering to me unless I concentrate hard.

My photographing activity has been rather weak recently; but no week without images.

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This head is situated in the south of Antwerpen, and it strongly reminds me of Yoshitomo Nara, or maybe Kim Simonsson. I couldn’t find any credit tag on it though. It has a certain presence.

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Somehow I find the desicion to put a five-meter high closeup of a five-day stubble guy smooching a baby on the windows of your Christian Community center a tad… unexpected. But that might just be me.

Both the above scenes were encountered on an 8-km ride home from a visit to Tom’s neighbourhood bar in the southern suburbs – it took approximately one hour to find it due to a navigational mishap.

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I took a stroll around the neighbourhood on wednesday and visited the interesting show-store of local fashion baddie Walter van Beirendonck. On this excursion I found a lone survivor of an old guerilla advertising campain (remember those?), and the poste restante lockers, surprisingly situated openly on a small side street. I wonder who get their mail there?

Relating to sound, I happened to re-unearth the eminent vegan weirdo danish hobbit known as Goodiepal / Gaeourdiparl on the internet. He is waging some bizarre war over what constitutes music and music tutoring, with the Royal Music Institute of Denmark – which is stated in an exceedingly surreal mission statement or instruction manual . His theories are, well, interesting, to say the least, so bear with the annoying setting for a while if you decide to check it out. One central theme is that people should communicate with machines (or Alternate Intelligences as he calls them), not by trying to be like machines but to be as people-like as possible. Which means using handwriting and varying accents of speech(!) to train the “alternate intelligences” in the peculiarities of understanding humans.

Besides from having theories, he is also one hell of a tinkerer:

That thing is indeed real if you wonder; I’ve seen it personally at the Avanto festival some years back. If this spiked your curiosity you can get the Pal’s back catalogue here.

Something closer to what most people consider music was Horse Feather’s show in Trix on thursday. If you happen to find delight in, say, Will Oldham’s (Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy), Phosphorescent’s or Bon Iver’s material, you might be set for liking this group. They perform with the somewhat unusual setup of guitar, violin and cello, with an occasional saw and a tambourine or two thrown in. Beautiful pattern balding bearded lumberjack shirt gothic Americana.

After Trix I stopped by an exhibition opening at a place called Logement, where a DJ happened to play more or less my music library. Before, I was the only person I knew that would play DAT Politics, Matthew Dear, new Authechre and M.I.A in the same set.

The sound exercises continued on friday with a workshop on Pure Data organized at Frederik’s place by Lieven from the EMG. This was very interesting, and rather useful, because Pure Data is a piece of software that can be quite challenging to approach un-aided. Fun ensued when we put together a simple step sequencer (below) and some oscillators.

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It does seem to take a fair amount of doggedness to create useful instruments with the program, and there is a ton of small connections that you have to draw by hand. On the other hand it is totally free and completely customizable, and there is a large community tinkering with it. It does seem to be a great way to get understanding of how synthesized music is built up.

On saturday I really regretted leaving the camera at home. I went to an event at Scheld’ Apen, that really was the event to end all events as far as music is concerned. The thing in question was a La Bamba theme night, which meant that this sweet piece of mexicanate music, made especially famous by Los Lobos, was playing all evening, no pardon given. The effect became exceedingly surreal when the song just kept coming, in countless versions. And people were dancing like the lives of a million cute baby animals depended on it – and occasionally performing this apparently well-known ring-dance where one is in the middle and kisses one in the ring to switch places. I had no idea that the song had such a huge number of different versions, but this evening brought that knowledge home with the force of a hamfisted backslap.

The interesting part, though, was the cover bands trying to outstrange each other in takes on the piece. One group did a barely recognizeable drone version, it got a free jazz makeover, a bleepy-silly synth distorted version with moo sounds. To end it all, local music legend Mauro did a nice in-your-face- set performing the tune slowly with a distortion pedal; only to suddently flip into a techno hard with vigorous maracas-shaking and taunting delivery, and then back to the slowness again. “Yo no soy marinero, soy capitán, soy capitán, soy capitán…” – luckily, the song isn’t one that gets played especially often anywhere.

As a delightful end note to the week, I found a simply excellent film rental store right by my place, Video Take Out Depot, that made me believe that the concept can survive. A very eclectic and surprising selection, well stocked with odd films and the space itself a delight of industrial whiteness and simplicity – with the only decorative element being the naked cathode ray tubes of travel televisions stripped of their cases, displaying white noise. If you create an experience, people will come.

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