glancing contact

Fuzzy Intimacies: Cats and Gestures of Intimacy

Not the cat in question. My sister’s cat, Petrarch. He makes a good stand-in.

Just yesterday, I was waiting to meet an academic colleague for an afternoon Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake, something of a German ritual). I was out in Dahlem—a southern suburb of Berlin and the home of the Freie Universität—sitting on the outdoor patio of a café at corner of Garystraße and Ihnestraße. Aux Délices Normands, it was called; pretty solid French pastries and cakes, lackluster coffee, pleasant seating.

When I first came to sit down, there was a small, grey-and-white cat sitting on the bench opposite me at the table. It was (more…)

On Being Back in Town: Paris

The view from my very first apartment in Paris, overlooking the boulevard péripherique.

Jeudi à jeudi, de retour à Paris. I haven’t been back to Paris in more than 1.5 years, which is pretty much the longest stretch of time I’ve been away from this city since the first time I came to do dissertation fieldwork in 2006. My last visit was really just a brief week-long visit (much like this one), so it’s really been 2.5 years or so since I’ve actually lived in this city.

This time, I was struck by how affectively small and un-intense my experience of return was. (more…)

Happy Calendar-Reboot!

Despite having just flown back from Canada two days ago, I’m already back into the nocturnal rhythms of Berlin. In fact, I used jet-lag to my advantage: I got home in the early morning, slept during the day, got up at 8pm, and then got ready for a night at Watergate (the Vakant + Dumb Unit label night). And then, the same routine the next day for the Final Friday night at Panorama Bar, with Margaret Dygas, Cassy, and Dinky (and Matthew Styles). Now, I’m making use of a brief pocket of quiet while my houseguest sleeps to post this message. In a couple of hours, we’ll have dinner, count down to midnight at a friend’s house, nap until 6am, and then head out to the insane Silvester party at Berghain/Panoramabar. The line-up features primarily the nightclub’s resident DJs, but there are also a few guests (e.g., Soundstream, Deetron) and even a few surprises (i.e., Andrew Butler of Hercules and Love Affair). The whole thing runs from Saturday midnight until late Monday, and will require a couple of cycles of dance+go home+nap+eat+dance.

It’s been interesting to see how the massive influx of tourists has impacted Berlin’s nightlife in these past days. Thursday night at Watergate involved a ridiculously long line (for a Thursday) and a crowd that seemed to be primarily populated by tourists (including tourists from other parts of Germany, mind you). I made the acquaintance of two guys from Munich, one from Beirut (Lebanon), one from Chile, and several American ex-pats (now living in Berlin). And, of course, there were French- and Italian-speakers everywhere, mostly making themselves noticeable because they can’t seem to resist the temptation to try to jump the queue for the door, the bathrooms, the bar, etc.

Friday at Panoramabar was similar but different: there were tons of tourists in the queue for the door, but proportionally less of them seemed to make it in—or, rather, only certain kinds of tourists seemed to make it past the bouncers. The queue was insanely long when we arrived around 1am (which was admittedly far too early for Berliners and part of the reason why the proportion of tourists was so high), running all the way back to where the taxis were. The wait would probably be 1.5-2 hours. I was with 3 friends, so I left two of them at the back of the line, and then I went to the door with one of my friends and approached the door. Since I’ve been something of a regular at the place, I was relatively confident that I could walk directly to the door and the doormen would wave me in, but I was less certain that I could bring in 3 other people. So, my strategy was to approach the door with one other person, and then ask if I could bring in two more people. As I expected, the doorman Andrej saw me and waved me in. “A quick question,” I said in German, “I still have two other friends stuck at the back of the line. Could I bring them in with me?” “Only two?” he said, sternly. “Yes, yes. Just two more people.” “OK, fine.” And, with that, I ran back to the far end of the line, picked up my other 2 friends, and went in. The rest of the night was too long and crazy to relate here, but suffice it to say that I met a lot of locals, non-local Germans, local ex-pats, frequent visitors, and tourists.

OK, time to go gird my loins! I have a lot of hard work ahead of me.

Lise Waxer and the Strange Histories of Good News


Lise Waxer was an ethnomusicologist of salsa music, respected and admired for her critically-acclaimed book tracing the development of salsa music, vinyl recordings, and memory in Colombia, entitled, The City of Musical Memory: Salsa, Record Grooves, and Popular Culture in Cali, Colombia (Wesleyan, 2002). A year later, her book would be awarded the highest prize for a monograph (i.e., single-author book) in her discipline by the Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM), namely, the Alan Merriam Prize (2003). But Waxer was never able to receive her prize or the well-deserved recognition that came with it, because she died suddenly in the summer of 2002. That fall, at the meeting of SEM where she was also awarded the Merriam Prize, the Popular Music Section of SEM decided to establish an award in her honor: the Lise Waxer Student Paper Prize. To remember her pathbreaking work in the ethnomusicology of popular music, this prize sought “to recognize the most distinguished student paper in the ethnomusicology of popular music presented at the SEM annual meeting.”

Well, the good news is that I won the Lise Waxer Student Paper Prize this year. (more…)

Chapter 4. Thickening Something: Music, Affect, and the Sense of the Social

Detroit Electronic Music Festival, 2010

Detroit Electronic Music Festival, 2010

Okay. It’s been nearly three months since my dissertation defense, two months since my graduation, and two weeks since I moved to Berlin. Things have been crazy busy, but I’m still determined to finish this series of chapter summaries. It’s a surprising amount of work to summarize this gigantic, sprawling thing as a series of “plain English” blog posts. Anyway, here comes the affect!

(NOTE: This is the seventh installment of a series where I summarize my dissertation through blog posts. You can find the inaugural post here.)

This chapter is about tracing the connections between intensity and togetherness. The full version of this chapter wades into a fair bit of theory, but I’ll try to keep things streamlined here. Essentially, this is how I go about tracing the connections: (more…)

Chapter 3. Liquidarity: Vague Belonging on the Dancefloor

Mutek, Montréal, 2010

Yes, I know that it’s been more than two weeks since I defended my dissertation, and yet this chapter-by-chapter series on my dissertation is not even halfway finished. This is partially due to the fact that I had to take care of post-defense revisions and re-submit a final draft to the university before an immovable deadline. But this is also partially due to the fact that I partied and relaxed and partied and relaxed for quite a few days after the defense itself. I regret nothing.

(NOTE: This is the sixth installment of a series where I summarize my dissertation through blog posts. You can find the inaugural post here.)

So, this chapter expands the analysis of intimacy from the previous chapter to the broader scope of nightclub crowds. Whereas the previous chapter thought about intimacy primarily as contact between a pair of strangers, this chapter focuses on the loose social bonds that hold together a crowd of strangers at an EDM event (a party, a nightclub, etc). I develop a concept that I call liquidarity (more…)

Sightings on the dancefloor

I have a bunch of stuff I want to write about from last weekend—and I’m not even sure I’ll be able to get to all of it—but I wanted to post this note on here before it slips my mind and the affective impact of all of it wears off.

I suspect that I underestimate the extent of my readership. Every once in a while, I meet someone who has been forwarded one of my blog posts through a mutual friend (when I arrived in Berlin for example, nearly all of Bob & Donna’s friends had read at least some of my writing or heard about it). Every time that happens, there’s a brief moment of scary-fun disorientation, where the pleasant surprise of being deemed worthy of reading (and forwarding) collides with the realization that the ever-important “first impression” happened without you—that is, it happened with your text / performance / product instead of with you. It’s sort of like getting caught with your pants down, but with an exhibitionist twist: you kinda like it, but you just wish you had thought to wear more fashionable underwear.

So recently, I’ve had a whole slew of these experiences, including one last night that really surprised me. (more…)