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Friday, September 5, 2003

++ Pre-language

++ Barcelona — Lately, it seems, the most striking moments in my life — perhaps, the most important as well — happen when I'm not thinking with words in mind, or at least not with the attention of composing words on a page, as craft. Maybe it's always been this way, and I just never noticed. But recently the minor revelations happen in the wee hours, when I'm light with beer and porro, and my thoughts cut a quiet line straight to the heart of the din wrapping me in its throbbing arms.

Or perhaps they come first thing in the morning (well, it may be early afternoon, but it's still morning for me), when showering and coffee-making alike seem impossible tasks to be tackled only much later, once clarity has descended, and I simply stand at the edge of my patio, eyes grazing over the tumbledown improvisation of a city block below, hanging between dream space and the new day.

This morning I caught myself speaking aloud — "it's an absolutely beautiful day," a phrase so banal it surprised me that my lips had bothered birthing it here, to the benefit of no one (and isn't it strange that even the most basic thoughts run through our minds in full sentences? What queer animals we humans are, caught up in abstraction from the get-go, linguistic to our very core, to the bottom of our most basic desires). And a moment after I spoke I realized I was reading the horizon for signs — how clear was the air, what greyness in the light signified humidity, did that mean it was hotter than I thought it already was, what must the temperature be on the streets, and would there be no wind at the beach? — an inspection that was purely instinctual, animal in nature, pre-linguistic, even though it crashed into language mere nanoseconds later.

I'm not, usually, one of those writers with a notebook in his or her back pocket, though I should be — the only time I actually remember anything from a show or a night out is when I have brought a notebook along, and jot down even the most rudimentary of phrases, words, hastily scribbled characters almost pictographic in nature, the way they bloom in the dark of a club. (Kelefa Sanneh has just what I need, a neat slim notebook about three inches wide and six inches tall that opens vertically... "Straight from the New York Times supply closet," he quipped, filling me with a dark envy. Are these things not available to freelance peons?) Sometimes I worry about my memory. I fail to remember dreams, names of artists, names of friends. Is this normal? Is 32 too young to be exhibiting signs of Alzheimer's? (Last week I actually had a shocking five minutes in which I thought that I was actually 33, and worried myself into knots trying to figure out the math. I was, it turned out, only 32, and as far as I can tell, I still am, plus or minus a few days.)

++ My moments of clarity, these days, seem to come not from listening to records, much less with engaging with other critics on them. As much as I'm enjoying the rapidly multiplying debate on rockism vs pop-ism, I find I have little to add to the discussion; I can appreciate Timberlake but it feels, above all, like music made for someone else. But in moments of immediacy, of pure presence, of being in the world, in the street. I'm leery of admitting this, because the lapsed theoretical in me suspects I'm conforming to some specious divide between thinking and being, critique and experience, but there you have it.

++ With a traveler's classic wide-eyed apprehension of the world, my perceptions these days come in sliver-wide shocks: the spray of water off an air-conditioning unit that I pass under every day, and that every day I forget to sidestep until too late. The trapezoids of late sun bouncing off the walls of the back alley. The sound of my upstairs neighbor pissing, bouncing down my airwell in a rude awakening (not as rude, perhaps, as his daily paroxysms as his lungs turn inside out, expelling the remnants of the previous day's cigar, which ring like alarms through the house.) The Botero sculpture sitting in the plaza a few blocks from my house, an enormous, inflated bronze cat, testes and all, impassive and Cheshire-grinning no matter how many youngsters clamber up his slick, bulbous torso. My days are collages of objects; my reactions are often less analyses than simple affirmations, delight at the fact that I am allowed to inhabit their world.

++ Monday night I played records at the Moog, a smallish club in Barcelona. It was, hands down, among my best experiences behind the decks ever; after a rocky start on the clumsiest mixer I've ever played, I found my groove, and played exactly the set I wanted to play to a packed, sweating, screaming floor. I traded off, hour by hour, with Omar, my housemate and a resident at the club, and then we finished off with an hour-and-change of tag-team (or, as they say here, "ping pong"), two records each — to my mind, the perfect format for tag-team sessions, just enough continuity to stretch out and enjoy yourself, and just enough flux to keep you on your toes.

I was lucky with Omar, because we've spent countless nights sitting up listening to records, so that by now we know well each others' tastes and record collection. Tag-teaming became a game, a collaborative battle, a sly egotistical challenge to follow the leader, and we both raced to keep up. I wanted to remember the track listing, the changes — there were moments when mixing that the crowd was actually screaming, certainly my first experience of that. But by the morning after, when we sat up until 8 a.m., coming down and then reawakening, playing first Television records and then Creation and then slow I:Cube and then Villalobos' "Easy Lee" and "Dexter" and finally, fuck it, the same enormous house tunes we'd spun just hours earlier, sorry neighbors, I'd forgotten everything, all but the haziest recollections.

I finished with Carl Craig's mix of Blaze's "Lovelee Day," how could I forget that — the club lights on and the bar staff grimacing at the still-full floor, strobes burning through the fluorescents and making the line "...and the sun is shining" feel less like cheating, bodies moving, slower, slower, as the filters burned the edge off the track and ballooning delay put the final ellipsis on the night. Before that, in some order, there had been Closer Musik's "Maria," and something similarly anthemic before it. Omar had elicited screams (including my own) with Octave One's "Blackwater"; both Villalobos tunes had utterly triumphed, as had a recent Ada track from Areal. Marc Ushmi and Stephen Galloway's blinding "What's on my plate? Die Solitaritate" had worked as well as I'd hoped, as had Anderson Noise's huge techno banger "Copacabana" on Noise Music. Other highlights, digging back through hastily sleeved records, reveal themselves: Mathias Schaffhäuser's "Minimal Garage Mix" of Telescope's "So Bad" (Combination) turned out to be bigger than I'd ever expected, as did Eedio's "Speaking Remix" of Agoria's "Sky Is Clear" (which I prefer to Michael Mayer's mix of "Kofea"). The Mayer/Thomas remix of Tonetraeger's "Welcome Back, Kotter" sounded far better on the Moog's system than on MP3; Soul Designer's "Woualaï" remix (F Comm) was as glorious as I'd ever imagined it, tribal chant with no time for kitsch.

++ But all these moments are reconstructed, mere imitations of memories. The real thing was the sheer enormity of the experience, the moment of sweat stinging my eyes and being unsure whether I was crying or not. I don't think I was, but memory is unreliable, and at that moment, anything was possible. In the asynchronous world, the parallel plane where "Lovelee Day" hasn't yet billowed into nothingness over a sticky floor bristling with broken cups and cigarette butts, it still is.


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