Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Smart Enough

Let's get this out of the way right off the bat: I voted.

Some things are just non-negotiable, like eating deviled eggs on National Deviled  Egg Day (yesterday, and, yes, I did, at Shoryuken, if you must know) and voting is one of them.

Other activities are optional.

But since I'd missed Matmos' show last night at Black Iris, I consoled myself with seeing them at The Depot, where they drew a huge crowd, played some of their music and videos and gave what was loosely termed an "artists' talk."

Note quotations.

VCU sound artist Stephen Vitiello began by welcoming the throngs, saying, "For those of you smart enough to come, welcome."

Drew, who did the lion's share of talking about the electronic music duo's music and creative process, while his partner in life and music, Martin, provided the low-voiced, hilarious color commentary, began by skewering the notion of the artist's talk, saying it was all about pleasuring the artist.

To prove his point, he squeezed his own nipples as he spoke.

After playing one of their songs from "The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of the Beast," - during which they both laid down on mats on the floor, causing a flurry of students to snap photos with their phones - Drew explained its genesis.

"Anyone here ever hard of the Germs?" he inquired and I wasn't the only one to raise my hand. "Anyone here have a germ burn?"

Not a soul did, understandable given the age of the group, but also that a Germ burn used to be acquired by allowing self-loathing and closeted lead singer Darby to hold a lighted cigarette to a fan's wrist to mark them.

The tie-in to the song? The manipulated sounds we'd heard were of Drew's wrist being burnt, his cries of pain and Martin shaving his head. Honestly, it had just sounded like really interesting electronic music to my unsophisticated ear.

His point was that there is sound for sound's sake and sound that delivers information. Clearly we all felt differently about the song after learning what we were hearing.

Talking about their show last night, Drew said they purposely push for autonomy of sound by using quad sound, making it impossible for people in the audience to record. "So if you do record it, your file will sound like shit," Drew said with obvious delight. "That's our insistence on presence in the moment."

Sigh. My heroes.

He made the point that he didn't want to be the old man yelling and shaking his fist at Soundcloud, but that the huge audio sound in the room was the point of being at the show.

Their breakthrough was a piece that was based on manipulating amplified crayfish nerve tissue  and, yes, you read that right. "As a result of that song, we were called scientists of sound and surgeons of sound and so we were given all this credit we didn't deserve."

Humility is a beautiful thing.

They loved working with Bjork, who told them that she wanted their collaboration to be like Utopia with no suffering. "Yea, we want this job," they told her happily.

Drew, a tenured Shakespeare professor at Johns Hopkins, was a fascinating speaker, never losing his thread no matter how many tangents he took, but his best line came near the end.

"No one would go to a restaurant that only served mussel meat and bouillon cubes and that's what EDM is." I may like some EDM, but I like this analogy even better.

Although it had been a beautiful, blue sky kind of afternoon when I'd walked up the steps to the Depot, by the time I got out it was dark and getting cooler by the minute. Meanwhile, I am counting the days until March 6th when we spring forward and life gets warm and bright again.

Tonight was the Valentine's Community Conversation, this month on the topic of housing, particularly public and affordable.

Looking at photographs from the Valentine's extensive collection, we saw many dilapidated wood frame houses - or maybe shacks would be a better word - in Carver and on Second Street in Jackson Ward, houses in such awful shape it broke your heart to think people lived in them. Many, we learned had dirt floors.

I learned a new architecture term - dogtrot house - and saw examples on Moore Street, which I'd passed by on my walk this very morning. Two one story wooden structures connected by a breezeway, this was the first I'd ever heard of such a thing, although I'd seen something similar in Carver and wondered about it.

We saw the Carverettes, a youth group, cleaning up the neighborhood in the '60s, a scale model of what Randolph would look like from the '70s and the first Habitat for Humanity house in Richmond, built in Church Hill in 1990.

Truth be told, I could look at old photographs of the city for the entire two-hour community conversation, but that's not how this works.

Instead we use handheld devices to find out the demographics of the room (always a whiter representation than the actual city and usually more females than representative) and then break into small groups to discuss issues related to the topic.

Tonight it was fact or fiction statements about housing and welfare, house values and HUD. Our group had a terrific advantage in Lillian, who actually lived in public housing and could give us a hard-won feel for what that life was like.

The expert panel brought together the impressive TK (40+ years in the job) from Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, Bernard and David from the Better Housing Coalition (photographs of the Cary and Meadow area before their residential and retail redevelopment projects were downright scary) and Jane from Habitat, who said prospective homeowners are expected to take classes and put in 350 hours of sweat equity to qualify for a mortgage.

Probably the most compelling discussions were about inclusionary housing - where a percentage of affordable housing is built along with market housing - and how race and politics play such a huge role in making those decisions.

Even once the evening ended, I was there for another 20 minutes talking with a woman who challenged what the benefit was to mixing people from affordable and market housing in the same neighborhood or complex.

As someone who moved from a very suburban white bread, homogeneous community into a very diverse urban one, I have extremely strong opinions on the subject.

With my intellect stimulated, I moved on to mindless fun. Tonight I'd been invited to the preview of the new Vagabond restaurant in the old Coda space next to the National.

I arrived late enough that every crumb of food that had been put out was long gone, but enough people remained to socialize with, including the chef's wife, newly blond, the real estate agent I run into everywhere and the former critic whom I'm always happy to see.

Curious about how they'd transformed the enormous space, I was charmed by a red textured and partially stenciled wall, another with crystals and constellations painted on and everywhere, small touches - flowers, glasses, framed art from the old Magpie - that gave a sense of personality to the two floors.

Airlift cocktail in hand, I got a tour from the chef - the easy access directly to the floor of the National and the VIP section is awfully appealing  - and settled in to chat with a foodie and a restaurateur.

This is how I learned that when Daniel Ratcliffe was in town, he ate repeatedly at Buckhead's (bleu cheese-crusted fillet every time) and Osaka, but drank at neither, having given up the sauce a few years ago. I knew he'd been in town - I'd seen his bus parked at Quirk Hotel - but heard he'd begun at the Jefferson and decided to move.

Hardly surprising. Of course Harry Potter would prefer funky over staid.

After a protracted discussion of adopting country dogs and bringing them to the city, why the "Gilmore Girls" is such a good source for fashion tips (her statement, not mine, since I've never seen the show) and a thorough analysis of "Burnt" (saw it last night after the ramen, steamed buns and deviled eggs) with the restaurateur who'd seen it at Cinebistro, I decided I'd had enough fun for one night.

An invitation to join the talkers for a nightcap at Heritage failed to change my mind.

Maybe it was depression. I'd just been told that Republicans had held onto the Virginia Senate.

At least it wasn't my fault. I voted.

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