Friday, November 27, 2009

ggachee bap

This is called 까치밥 (ggachee bap), which means "magpie rice". During autumn, persimmon trees become LOADED down with persimmons. They almost look comical when this happens because all their leaves fall, leaving them as barren tree skeletons, filled with countless sweet bright orange spheres. When they are harvested, one persimmon, or a few persimmons, are left on the trees as a symbolic (and very practical) gesture to the magpies. It's a really nice sentiment, I think, to consider the magpies. They're probably my favorite bird in Korea. They're the first bird I noticed when I arrived, and whenever they land on a branch for a moment, or a do a fly-by they always seem like they're just on their way to do something really important.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I almost forgot about The Disentegration Loops

"I started a joke, which started the whole world crying
but I didn't see that the joke was on me...oh no...
I started to cry, which started the whole world laughing
oh, if I'd only seen that the joke was on me..."

William Basinski was trying to preserve some of his old tape loops from 20 years ago and realized that the safety window had been long past and it was too late. The magnetic material on the tapes began to flake away as they played and the sound began to fade away and decay with the tapes and change drastically in character as the tapes were played over and over again. So he just let them play over and over again, until the sound decayed into almost nothing and recorded this process. These recordings are so beautiful because the slowly escalating destruction of the sound, as it plays out, changes the loop each time it repeats itself, making what would be identical cycles become constantly (d)evolving ones. The sound of the disintegration of the music creates a fascinating music itself. I've never sat and listened to the process of a physical/analog recording disintegrating into nothing before, but I'd do it again any day. This is the sound of music dying in the physical world and making its transition into the digital one. It can never go back.

Here's a cool review on Pitchfork.
And you can get the whole thing here.

Ballen, Roger

Get the flash player here:

I happened upon a few of these images by a random link through an unremembered chain of connections, and then, mystified, I had to research their origin and felt compelled to know more. There's not many composed/staged photographs that really hit me viscerally, but some of these definitely do. They appear obviously set-up as you look at them, but then after a while they also seem loose and free-formed and there's some tense spontaneity about them. The black and white tones bring me back to Weegee and Diane Arbus and photographs from the Great Depression. The square format, the shadows and lack of them from the harsh flash, the degradation of people and animals hiding amidst the surroundings, the flattening of space, the sometimes beautiful arrangement of objects, and the one word titles that stick in my memory and bring out an interesting interplay of ideas when paired with the metaphors going on in the pictures.

What's crazy is that the place in these photographs actually exists:

"Eventually we reach the crux of the matter, upon learning from the text that this quite extraordinary place which Ballen has felt compelled to photograph over the last few years and calls the Boarding House, far from being a figment of his imagination, really does exist. Very remote and hidden amongst enormous tailings from gold mines near Johannesburg, it is in actual fact a three-storey warehouse building which has become a neighbourhood unto itself. The interior is crowded with the poor: entire families of workers, transients, criminals hiding from the law, even witchdoctors who attend to the many diseases within this unsanitary and overcrowded environment. Few rooms are separated by walls, most of the spaces, as in a shantytown, being partitioned by rugs, blankets or metal sheeting, and each being self-contained. There are no visible windows or open doors. Each doorway, although closed, seems to lead to an inner sanctum. One, surrounded by a giraffe hide, belongs to a sangoma, or South African witchdoctor. Another, with a picture of Mary and the infant Jesus, leads to a makeshift church. A third, more ominous doorway is the entrance to the Ghost Room, where long ago the managers of gold mines were reputed to have violently punished recalcitrant miners, sometimes even starving then to death. This lawless yet strangely enthralling location has served as the focus of Ballen’s photographic work over the last four years." --Richard Pinsent

There's a lot more of his photographs at his website.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Oceanic frequency

Also, a side note I learned about the sound of ocean waves: they have a frequency of about 12 cycles per minute which is coincidentally about the same frequency of the sound of a sleeping human. So ocean waves have the undeniable resonance of rest. That's probably part of the reason it's so easy to be sucked into them, like a camp fire.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Casting the die down the coast

I played another aleatoric photographic game this past weekend. This time the rules were simple: drive in one direction (south), and roll a die to see how far you drive before stopping to make a photograph (each dot on the die stands for 3km). The element of chance defines the points of stillness carved out from the trajectory where light is recorded.

Lindsey and I rented a car and winded our way through the long narrow valley down the mountain, and then down the east coast with the ocean to our left. We drove through squid towns, where squid lined the sides of the road like fences, their drying bodies being hung up by the elderly and covering countless rows of metal bars. Squid was hanging on rooftops and on drying racks originally intended for the drying of clothes, and the sun was glinting through transluscent squid flesh so it appeared luminescent. We drove through crab towns, where restaurant after restaurant served nothing but crab, where overflowing aquarium tanks were bulging full of large crabs with their spiky bodies trapped together like jigsaw puzzles, and where restaurant owners physically jumped out in front of our car and shouted at us while gesturing with their white gloves to pull into their parking garages to eat their overpriced crabs. There was a crab bridge and crab cartoon mascots on the light posts and a small harbor side park with crab benches and crab statues.

We stopped for Chinese food and their kimchi tasted like apricots.

We drove inland, and got stuck in Daegu because cities aren't in grids here and roads align themselves devoutly on Nietzsche's writings on the concept of eternal return.

We stayed at a love motel in Changpyeong next to a freshly sliced half-mountain and a road that was less than 20 ft long and led to mounds of dirt and heavy machinery at it's unfinished end up a hill. The town seemed dreary and incomplete and slightly unwelcoming. All of the motel options had parking areas without lights and seemed set up for illicit transactions of money to occur within the rooms. We ate at a small gimbap restaurant where they gave me a plate of rice covered with ketchup. They asked me if it was delicious as we were leaving. When it became day again in the morning the town didn't look that bad. It was just the darkness and being lost for two hours in Daegu and hunger and fatigue that mostly led to our bad impression of the place.

Our final destination was the largest swamp in Korea. It seemed like we were spotted driving in, and the director appeared in the parking lot by the side of our car before we even had time to step outside(they don't see too many foreigners apparently). He gave us a short private guided tour of the wetlands information museum. He was a really nice person and showed us a TPR (total physical response) dance move for how we should remember that a wetland is classified as a large body of water less than 6 meters in depth. He showed us another dance move for remembering how the four seasons are "absolutely...DIFFERENT!" They gave us some malfuntioning 3D glasses and were told to watch a wetlands animation which was mostly incomprehensible because it was all in Korean without subtitles.

I noticed the water in the small fountain there was thinly iced over, and I could shatter it with my knuckle and watch beautiful formations of shadows develop underneath it across the dirty sky blue tiles as the light shined across the edges of the cracks I made in the ice.

The place was peaceful and there were large amounts of ducks and snowy white egrets and magpies and other migrating birds hanging out.

We ate a sweet and spicy Prussian carp stew that had the very slightly sour and tangy flavor of lemon grass. I'm not sure if it actually was lemon grass or just some fresh mountain herb they collected in the area, but it was delicious and reminded me of the flavors of Vietnamese food, which is awesome because Korean food never has those flavors. They threw in two whole fish (who were moments ago swimming around in an aquarium tank), heads and all, in the stew pan which was set on a portable butane burner in front of us on the table, which boiled with the broth and the onions and radish chunks and the greens, so the sharp tiny bones spread profusely throughout and gouged the roof of my mouth frequently and one got stuck in Lindsey's throat for maybe half the meal. I think there's something to be said for food that is dangerous, or food that you have to work for. But I could've handled the absence of those needle-like bones.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Thomson, John

Get the flash player here:

John Thomson was a Scottish photographer who worked during the later 19th and early 20th century. He interests me a lot because he was one of the first photographers to live and travel in Southeast Asia and China. He's also considered to be one of the first social documentary photographers. I was thinking about his photographs a lot when I was travelling through the Cambodian countryside. I remember being struck with the realization that most of the houses and roads and landscapes look, today, exactly like they do in Thomson's photographs of that part of the world, which were made over a hundred years ago. The only difference was the occasional piece of delapidated farm equipment or motobike sitting around. Besides that, it was as deep and complete of a timewarp as I've ever experienced.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Guatemala, Kenya, Colombia, Panama - It dawned on me the other day that every morning I drink a little bit of the third world out of my cup.

Monday, November 16, 2009

By the way: my dream is happening (at least a little bit)

Well, it's not exactly the same thing, but Nouvelle Vague made a cover of that Joy Division song Love Will Tear Us Apart with a Brazilian singer in a bossa nova vein.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


This is the new find for me: folk and pop music from Sumatra. Listen to the vocals and the reverb and how the sound overlaps and mashes into itself and floats beautiful. This music is crane.

I guess what grabs me about this type of music is that it breaks so many of the rules and formats and production sensibilities and scales and melodies and patterns and rhythms of contemporary music, but without being conscious of trying to do so. The music breaks the rules and sounds experimental only because it comes out of an entirely different tradition. No experimental music that consciously breaks all the rules can ever sound as experimental for that reason alone.

I put together a new mix yesterday. It's called THERE WILL BE DOING AND PEELS.


get it:
part 1
part 2

The title comes from an instant message I received on my computer from the vice principal of the elementary school I work for. Right after I arrived in Taebaek last year, the school put me up in a motel while they prepared my apartment. The day it was ready to move in, I received this bizarre instant message that I was convinced the vice principal had just inserted his Korean into babelfish and sent me exactly what came out. The beginning said "Korea does a moving in party" which made sense, but then the last part I'll never forget: "There will be doing and peels." I looked up after I read it, because the vice principal sits directly across the room from me in the staff room, but usually his face is hidden by the back of his computer monitor. When I looked up, I noticed he was peeking at me around the side of his monitor and nodding rapidly with the most beaming and excited expression, and it was so beaming and excited that I felt like I had to pretend I understood what was going to transpire that evening after work. I know we ate barbecued duck and the teachers brought me gifts for my new apartment, but I still don't have any idea what "doing and peels" was supposed to mean, and I think it's better that way. It's interesting that bizarre translations and things people say that I mishear stick out in my memory more than straight normal communication.

There are a bunch of highlights on this one, most of them, I have to say are tracks I pulled from various Sublime Frequencies compilations. I really have to give it up to those guys because they've been blowing my mind for a good while now. There's a couple of tracks from their compilations of folk and pop music from Sumatra, a track of slidy Bollywood steel guitar, some guitar music from the Western Sahara, and a song from Ethnic minority peoples of northeast Cambodia. There's also two really interesting cuts from one of John Zorn's Naked City albums. The thing I like most about them is that they are actually able to replicate, by playing live, the sound of turning the nob and switching stations on the radio -- short bursts of different types of songs and rhythms played in quick succession.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Here's a mini-mix which is a soundtrack to my dream. Here's a link to download it so that perhaps you will be listening to it at the same time I am, or even while I am dreaming it: LINK

I had the strangest dream last night that the metal band Slayer put out an album with an unmistakable tropicalia feel to it. They were able to seamlessly blend the sounds of speeed-thrash metal with mellowed out tropicalia and samba grooves from 1960's and 70's Brazil. In the dream I thought this was so brilliant that I was urged into action by moral pressure to catch a flight to see their latest live show in a different country. But then when I actually saw them playing the music, I was horrified and ashamed for them because their fashion sense and faces looked just as serious and demoniacal as when they were playing their hardcore speed-thrash metal music. It just made it too comical to be good, and I was a little sad about it, because during the dream, I was building up in my mind for the next big thing in music: a collective revival of hardcore metal bands from the late 80's and 90's shifting to tropicalia. I was initially so excited for a comeback of bands like Megadeth, Exodus, Anthrax, Kreator, Sepultura, Celtic Frost, or especially Exit 13, Primus, and Nocturnus, and they would all be bringing a new intensity to Brazilian jams and the tropicalia fad in indie rock. Now that I'm awake and thinking about it, it actually sounds like a pretty good idea. At least one album of metal bands playing tropicalia adaptations and covers is in order, I think. The song flow above mixes and matches these two styles of music, so you can hear their interplay. Oddly enough, some of the thrash metal tracks really seem to blend well amidst the tropicalia songs.

I guess the next step would be to figure out a way to convince these metal bands to do it, and then find a record label that's weird enough to fund the project.

Here's two videos back to back, one is the story of thrash metal and the other is a BBC documentary on the history of the tropicalia movement in Brazil. This is only the first of seven parts of the tropicalia documentary that you can see on youtube. Or better yet, you can just find the torrent and download the full thing, which I just did and plan to watch STAT.

AND: I left Lindsey's place this morning and it was cold and rainy. It was raining when I got on the bus and started listening to my audiobook of Cradle to Cradle. When I started getting depressed about society building a cancer in the world and all that, I decided to throw on my Lake Effect mix (a mix for when rain turns into snow).....I'm not even exaggerating, but the very moment the first song started playing, the rain turned into snow. A wild coincidence, I know.

AND #2: Check out this video. They're invention is beautiful. It almost makes up for the dude's hair. But making rhythm and music by human touch....amazing.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I like to eat your heart

There's a Hungarian expression that translates to "I like to eat your heart." You say it to people who do something generous or selfless. That's beautiful.

The other night there was a discussion on the train happening between mostly Brian and Lindsey about lake effect. They've both lived in areas that brush up against the Great Lakes and have been subject to how those bodies of water affect the climate. Never having lived anywhere near a lake that large, lake effect is something I've never thought about in my lifetime until I was listening to that particular conversation. But it definitely sounds pretty awesome to me now.

I just finished a another mix influenced by the plummeting temperatures. Highlights on this mix are definitely a couple of tracks I pulled from a compilation of music from Ghana which was recorded between the 60's and early 80's. There's also a pretty cool Korean hip hop song that I found on a torrent of the top 100 K-pop songs right now. What's pretty funny about this song is that the chorus translates to "Because the rain falls down, I'm thinking about soju and sam gyeop sal." Depending on their character, some Koreans call soju "Korean water" while others call it "Korean whiskey", and I guess if you really think about it, soju is right in the middle of the two, if you add a load of chemical aftertaste. Sam gyeop sal is thickly sliced pork belly that you barbecue in front of you before usually dipping it in salted oil and then placing it in a lettuce or cabbage wrap with a chunk of raw garlic and fermented soybean paste mixed with hot chile pepper sauce (how can that NOT be incredible, really?). So basically the chorus of the song is "Because the rain falls down I think about Korean liquor and barbecued pork belly."

In any case, the mix is called:

The Lake Effect (a mix for when rain turns into snow)

giver a download:
part 1
part 2

*also: let me know if there's any problems with downloading the mixes or anything since this is only the third one I've upped. They're all perfect size for a packed to the max 700mb CDR, which is a temporal limitation I really like, and brings me back to one of the only good things about those long commutes in LA.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Feeling the deciduous vibe of late

The Green Oranges of Vietnam

Not having much experience with living in a place with actual seasons, I really can't get over all the transitions that trees go through during the course of a year.

When I was in Vietnam last winter there were a lot of green oranges being sold in the markets and on roadsides that were actually incredibly ripe beneath the surface. I didn't know why until recently, but apparently citrus fruits contain many of the same chemicals that cause deciduous leaves to become nuclear and piercing and explode in a spectrum of brilliant death colors in autumn (Their colors become most deep and beautiful right before their fall). So the citrus fruits, a late autumn and winter ripening fruit, respond to the lengthening of nights and chilling of the air by slowly cutting off the chlorophyll I.V. drip to their extremities (to shrivel and cringe away from the chill and protect themselves from freezing), allowing for the sugars and chemicals in the plant to crystallize and the dyes in certain chemicals to finally express themselves in a magnitude of reds, oranges, yellows, and browns.

Going back to the green oranges of Vietnam, the tropical areas closer to the equator don't have a strong change of seasons, the nights don't shorten as much and the days don't become chill. So many species of citrus plants don't ever receive the signals from nature to necessitate cutting off the chlorophyll drip, and they stay green throughout the year, even as its fruit becomes ripe and delicious.

Also: a volleyball game over the unfinished wall across the U.S.-Mexico border.

The idea of an expensive and tall-walled, exorbitantly maintained land border stocked with searchlights and helicopters and weapons is so jenkem, and a game of volleyball being played across it just tips the scales. It says in the video that the dangers involved in hiking through the sometimes harsh wilderness to illegally cross into the U.S. illegally has been compared with scaling Mt. Everest.

There's a new special education teacher at my school who just finished his military service in town. He's pretty cool and was telling about the trekking he did in the Himalayas and the 5 months of backpacking he did across India, and how his dream is to work for an NGO, probably in Africa. He just walked into the staff room, though, and said "Shiksa ha say yo?" to whoever might be listening, which means "Did you eat a meal?" But if you don't raise your intonation at the end the words change into a demand: "Eat a meal!" I never thought about it before, but the formal polite verb-ending for a question (하세요, ha say yo) is identical to the imperative verb-ending for a polite demand. That means that polite questions in Korean are just a subtle intonation away from becoming a demand. Maybe this helps explain the underlying urgency that seems to permeate daily activities in this culture.

And in a Korean workplace, or just being in the presence of older Koreans, I will hear them ask each other or myself about whether meals have been eaten or not at least 6 to 10 times a day. It seems like eating food is what Koreans are most preoccupied with, almost all the time. My kind of culture, really. I had to actually stop eating dinner with Elvis' family after I finish the evening class I do there, primarily because his wife would just shove so much food in front of my face I didn't know what to do with it all, and I felt bad wasting any of it because of the thick and deep guilt she would lay on me. Both her son and daughter are pretty chubby for their age, and every dinner she would snap at them to eat their food, and whenever there was a lull in the pace of their consumption she would ask them why they weren't eating. Whenever I finished the rice in my bowl, her unease was tangible in the air, and without a doubt she would eventually either ask me if I wanted more rice or just scoop more food into my bowl against my will, as if her actions were entirely out of her control. And even now, before I leave her home, she always asks me worriedly if I plan to eat dinner after I finish teaching. And I don't mean that she asks me if I will eat there, she asks me as if she's nervous I'm just not planning on eating dinner at all, or if I will go hungry. I think it's basically confirmed at this point that her inescapable goal in life is to be surrounded by fat faces, preferably ones that are stuffing themselves. And if they're not fat faces, she'll see to it that they stuff themselves until they get that way. That's all she wants to see around her are fat faces.

Even when Lindsey arrived in town, I remember her telling me that the nice woman in charge of her apartment would always ask her about food and whether or not Lindsey was eating enough of it. And even once told Lindsey genuinely: "I worry you starve."

Speaking of verbs in foreign languages and also the Himalayas, Lindsey found this post on a forum she reads about the verb "to be" in the Tibetan language. I can't exactly vouch for the truth or correctness of this because the linguist studies student who wrote it exhibited that horrendous and stupefying false sense of expertness and authority that is no where more ridiculously displayed than in what people write in internet forums. Nonetheless, the idea here is fascinating.

Tibetan has six verbs 'to be' -
one, if you're equating something with something else and you're not involved.
two, if you are directly and/or heavily invested in something,
three, if something's surprising or you've just realised it,
four, if you're stating that something exists in a specific manner or place and it's a general fact,
five, if you've witnessed it, and
six, if you're personally invested in the existence of something.

I don't quite understand the distinction between number two and number six, but it's fascinating to me that Tibetans have to be continuously aware of how personally involved they are with anything they talk about, and how this degree of personal involvement will always be reflected by their verb choice.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

style chaynjee

This is a picture of me right after I got a haircut at a Korean beauty salon. Besides the hair stylist not cutting off half as much hair as I wanted her to, everything was going fine, until she uttered the famous final words "style chaynjee", and started applying the gunk and swirling my hair around in bizarre ways. Afterwards I realized that I've never looked quite so Korean.

Monday, November 2, 2009


I just received a text from one of my Korean friends in town that read: "It snows heavily." I'm sure he either thought I might be indoors with the curtains drawn or he was just confirming with resoluteness the frozen white particles falling and swirling by outside by the millions.

So this is my mix for the now resolute transition of fall into winter. It's called "THE TASTE OF WIDE OPEN SPACES"

The author of the history of Citrus book I'm reading used these words to describe the flavor of a particular type of orange. I really liked it because it's a very synaesthetic idea. Also, I don't get the chance to visit that many wide open spaces in Korea. It's a mountainous country, most areas are encircled and closed off by mountains, especially in Gangwon province and especially where I live in Gangwon province. I miss feeling the vast expanses of the desert.

Here's the tracklisting, download links are below it.

get it:
part 1
part 2

Also, there was a CNN article by Bob Greene on the subject of time that I thought was really fascinating, specifically this part about how social networking sites have significantly altered the concept of time during actual non-virtual social events. What fascinates me most is how the way and rate in which we are compelled to document and share the visual residue of these social events in images has accelerated to some mind boggling degree. One of my friends who lives in a city about an hour north of me once told me over the phone, "I've seen that you've been hanging out with Lindsey and Pat a lot lately." Being new to facebook at the time, this really struck me as an odd thing to say, since in reality I hadn't seen him or anyone he was hanging out with, and I assumed he wasn't spying on me. In fact, just a few years ago, this would have been a completely impossible thing to say unless I was a public figure or celebrity where everything I did ended up in magazines and on TV, or he actually was stalking me.

It was then that it dawned on me that virtual online reality and tangible physical reality had started to irreversibly merge. While before, terms like actual reality or real reality would have been redundancies, I think now they are necessary as terms of contrast, since in actual reality my friend had not seen me, but because other people I know publish images on facebook, he had seen me in a reality that now includes this virtual online social realm.

Here's the part of the article that talks about it. I love the last sentence about "proactive nostalgia for something that hasn't finished taking place yet."

"'What's new?' has ceased to be a casual pleasantry, and has become an urgent demand. Indeed, the word "new" itself has lost its punch; in marketing campaigns, the adjective "new" has increasingly been tossed aside and replaced by the adjective "next." "New" now seems somehow old.

At family gatherings and get-togethers of friends, something is happening that would have seemed outlandish even a few years ago. People at the parties are posting photos and videos of the events on social networking sites even as the parties are still going on.

Thus, friends and acquaintances around the country and around the world are looking at the party pictures and videos and evaluating them before the party is even over. And people who are at the parties themselves, checking in on the same social network sites, are looking at the publicly posted pictures of the party they are still attending. It's like a bizarre form of proactive nostalgia for something that hasn't finished taking place yet."