Friday, July 27, 2007

Recently Played: Joni Mitchell - “You Turn Me On I'm A Radio”

Does it tarnish my sterling street cred if I confess that I'm a total sucker for this song?

Joni Mitchell - “You Turn Me On I'm A Radio”

HP Are Ya With Me?

The handsome devil in the above clip is my brother Aaron Burkhalter, a writer and now viral video leading man for the Port Orchard Independent. Here he goes behind closed library doors, emerging with hard-hitting coverage of one of last Friday's many Harry Potter-themed parties.

And to the the scrupulous kid who refuses to use his magic wand for evil, I've decided to make you an honorary deputy in my posse.

The Joys of Travel

Our trip back to the lovely city of Köln was slightly adventuresome. The Sunday after the wedding I was feeling quite smug because I had managed to score us some exit row seats on both segments, and I had discovered that our flight from Newark to Köln did not look full at all. We quite enjoyed the extra leg room, and quickly realized that it will be hard to ever go back to the regular Economy Class (this also is full proof of why we never can fly First Class). As hoped, we managed to get an extra seat on the second flight, which made it possible to lie down, though Chris still did some upright and fairly uncomfortable looking sleeping, when he wasn't enthralled with the quality movies involving either dogs or Amanda Bynes (we've seen She's the Man at least four times in the last year)...
However, our pleasant journey did have a bump when we arrived in Köln only to find that one of our four pieces of luggage had made it. There were about 15 others who also were missing some of their luggage, which led us to believe that an entire cart of luggage didn't make it on the plane. After waiting in the painstakingly slow line, we filed our report and headed home somewhat empty handed. Thankfully (at least for me) the bag that made it was full of my stuff and not one of the ones filled with winter clothes. As promised, the bags made it to Köln the following day and were nicely delivered, so I guess it was nice not to have to lug four bags home from the airport. Of course this doesn't compare at all to misplacing a passport, like some people we know....

Christina & Eric's Wedding

As you probably know, we were in Seattle last week where, among other things, we went to Kelly's sister's wedding in Edmonds.

Kell took some nice action shots towards the end of the wedding reception, which I thought I'd post here for your enjoyment. I love the blur effect to these photos, even though it fails to fully capture the gorgeous bride that Christina was and is.

Kelly's pictures do, however, give a good impression of just how comfortably at ease Eric (the groom) manages to be in formal attire. I always feel like a pimply fourteen-year-old in dad's suit on the rare occasions when I dress up, so I envy Eric in this regard.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Mind In Morning

Hours before we left for Seattle I finished reading Marcel Proust's Swann's Way, the first installment of his À la recherche du temps perdu. I mention this not only because I thought it was a fabulous book, but because this was at least the third time I'd attempted to read it, and so it felt like something of an accomplishment. Kelly saw fit to document the occasion in picture, perhaps not considering that there are five more volumes of the novel left for me to read.

“For a long time I would go to bed early,” the novel famously begins. The opening sequence submits awakening from sleep as a near-psychedelic experience of projection, described in a way that struck a particular chord with me, what with all the moving around that Kelly and I have done in the last two months. With that in mind, please indulge me this clumsily edited quotation from the first portion of Proust's novel:
For me it was enough if, in my own bed, my sleep was so heavy as to completely relax my consciousness; for then I lost all sense of the place in which I had gone to sleep, and when I awoke in the middle of the night, not knowing where I was, I could not even be sure at first who I was... but then the memory – not yet of the place in which I was, but of various other places where I had lived and might now very possibly be – would come like a rope let down from heaven to draw me up out of the abyss of not-being....

It always happened that when I awoke like this, and my mind struggled in an unsuccessful attempt to discover where I was, everything revolved around me through the darkness: things, places, years. My body, still too heavy with sleep to move, would endeavor to construe from the pattern of its tiredness the position of its various limbs, in order to deduce therefrom the direction of the wall, the location of the furniture, to piece together and give a name to the house in which it lay. Its memory, the composite memory of its ribs, its knees, its shoulder-blades, offered it a series of rooms in which it had at one time or another slept, while the unseen walls, shifting and adapting themselves to the shape of each successive room that it remembered, whirled round it in the dark....

These shifting and confused gusts of memory never lasted for more than a few seconds.... Certainly I was now well awake; my body had veered round for the last time and the good angel of certainty had made all the surrounding objects stand still, had set me down under my bedclothes, in my bedroom, and had fixed, approximately in their right places in the uncertain light, my chest of drawers, my writing-table, my fireplace, the window overlooking the street, and both the doors.
A relief for the narrator of Swann's Way, to be sure. But what, M. Proust, is one to do if, like me, one opens his eyes each foggy-eyed morning to this puzzle of indeterminate wall-and-ceiling geometry?

Recently Played: Ellen Allien - “Just A Woman”

There's no shortage of great electronic music coming out of this city, and Köln's thriving scene additionally grants easy access to out-of-town electronic geniuses. But Berlin's beloved daughter, Ellen Allien, is such a big name these days that you're likely to bump into her music without having to resort to any in-depth music-scene-chewing. I first heard her 2005 album, Thrills, which riffed gloriously on my Detroit-calibrated palette for squelchy electro. However, my iTunes stats indicate that I've given by far the most attention to “Just A Woman,” from her 2006 split record with Audion (aka Matthew Dear). Less electro and more techno than anything on Thrills, I dunno that anyone I know is into this kind of record – generally speaking, I'm not – but if you hazard a listen to the first few seconds, the unrelentingly intense beat will shove you forward through each successive iteration of all-but-superfluous effects, until the brutal percussion comes to an indifferent halt and you find yourself at the end of the track. Applause will be in order.

Ellen Allien - Just A Woman

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Recently Played: John Cale

Forty years deep, it's about impossible to gauge the challenge presented to audiences by a band like the Velvet Underground. With Modest Mouse platinum-certified, there's almost no arguing the Velvets' place in the bedrock foundation of contemporary guitar music. Its not much of a stretch to say that a band once declared (by Cher, notably) a viable alternative to suicide has largely blended with the “classic rock” it was thought to depart from.

Today, after a long nuclear winter of Lou Barlow, Daniel Johnston, and the Grifters, such onetime outsiderisms as lofi, drone, noise, improvisation, tapelooping, field recording, and antimusicianship have been integrated into major label marketing, and no longer cut the mustard as the battle cry of the outcast. I wake up each morning half-expecting to read that the Sunburned Hand Of The Man have soundtracked a makeout scene on the WB, or that Jessica Alba thinks Black Dice terrific. And isn't Adam Brody playing Angus Maclise in an upcoming film? Okay, he's not, but mark my words, that day isn't just coming, it's here.

So where am I going with this? Numbed by decades of a “transgressive” music arms race, it's tough to place the din made by someone like John Cale (a veteran of the Velvet Underground and Dream Syndicate) as a shock to a hip rock audience or even the music industry. So when, enjoying his early recordings as reading music, it was a surprising wake-up to hear some irate dude (a studio engineer?) storm into Cale's recording session, shouting, “Shut that off! I don't wanna hear that bullsh**! It just goes on and on and on.... You wanna do that stuff, do it far, far away in the country!” I could positively hug that man. I wish I had the CD's liner notes with me to see if there's more to the story, but alas, it's in storage. Anyway, interested parties can hear this wonderful disruption at the tail end of the below track, taken from Table of the Elements' Stainless Gamelan collection. Shake a tail feather....

John Cale - Big Apple Express

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Alt Bier in Düsseldorf

Sunday was the first sunny day in quite a while, so we took a trip to Düsseldorf. Düsseldorf is only a half hour train ride, once we get to the main train station in Köln. That's no small feat in itself, however. Around 11:30, we set out to board a crowded tram. On Sundays no shops or even grocery stores are open, however kiosks are open for business, so what should you do? How about grab a tall can of lemon flavored beer and ride the tram? You might imagine this habit belonging to a certain class of people, but it seems to run a broad socioeconomic spectrum. Picture a Seattle weekday morning commute and now replace the Starbucks cups with half liter beers, and you have a Sunday morning Köln tram.

Anyway, we arrived in Düsseldorf in time for lunch and began our Alt Bier tasting excursion. As kölsch is to Köln, Alt Bier is to Düsseldorf. Alt Bier is amber in color, where kölsch is very light. Like kölsch, alt is served in smallish 0,25 liter glasses (which makes it ideal to sample many different kinds – if, that is, you don't drink 3 at each brewery). Each bar/restaurant/brewery serves one kind only, and fresh glasses are brought to your table before the foam has a chance to touch the bottom of your previous glass, the waiter tracking your consumption with pencil marks on your coaster (this is all like kölsch in Köln). A small distinction from Köln that we noticed was that alts are often enjoyed on your feet, standing around small tables beer-garden-style, where we've usually drank our kölsch seated at outdoor cafe tables. The interiors, however, aren't too different from Köln's breweries. Armed with our list of Düsseldorf's four best Braueries (thanks once again to European Beer Guide), we had a busy day planned.

Zum Uerige

This is by far the largest Brauhaus we attended. The outdoor seating was vast and packed with people, from young families to old couples (all of which would have way more marks on their coasters than we would ever want to have). An energetic jazz band played in one of the breweries several indoor chambers. As for the beer, this alt was light in body, but with a delicious roasted aftertaste you don't often encounter in a beer so refreshing on a sunny day. We had to be very insistent to get the bill and not have more glasses placed on our coasters.

Füchschen Alt
After a walk along the Rhein, it was time to try some Füchschen Alt. This one was more bitter than the Zum Uerige – perhaps even hoppier? We also had a spotting of a Bierbike (in broad daylight, so it wasn't a figment of our collective imagination last summer). On the parked Bierbike, a kid that looked perhaps 11 was serving bottles of Beck's to his marginally older friends. Since “Füchsen” means “fox” in German, they have a taxidermy fox in the entry way to the bar – classy!

Hausbrauerei zum Schlüssel
After a little sunning in the park and some pizza, it was on to Hausbrauerei zum Schlüssel. Just after 7:00pm, Altstadt (the “old city” and the main neighborhood) was really starting to heat up. As our guide told us, “the beer isn't bad, either, coming, as usual, directly from oak casks on the bar.” As we passed Zum Uerige, we saw the people who, five hours earlier, shared our table, their condition happily unchanged.

Brauerie Schumacher
This brauhaus is located between Altstadt and the train station, so a convenient starting or stopping point. For those who can't be bothered with the extra walk, there's a Schumacher pub in Altstadt, about twenty yards from Schlüssel, but we opted for the full Brauerie experience. We actually sat inside here (though by some very large windows). This alt was very, very smooth and reminded us a little of Full Sail's Rip Curl – but then, can we even remember what a Northwest brew tastes like anymore?

We returned to Köln that night, where the tram riders had calmed very little at all. Fares for public transportation practically work on an honor system here. For the first time, we had our tickets checked by KVB transit authorities. We were legit, but the halfhearted protests of a couple of ticketless passengers provided that extra dose of weekend tram drama to cap off our adventure.

Weizen Taste-Off

Taking a break from the kölsches, we decided to have a little taste-off with two popular German weizens. Saturday's two contenders were Franziskaner Weissbier and Paulaner Hefe-Weissbier (both of which we've enjoyed in the last few weeks, but never side by side). Both were delicious, and I don't think we declared a winner. Trying them on separate occasions, Chris had assumed that the Franziskaner was sweeter, but side by side he couldn't say that was true. He was, however, the only one who could tell the difference in a blind taste test (which could have been luck – he does have a 50% chance of getting it right). Of course, we were comparing them out of the bottle, so the real test will have to happen in Munich, where they readily flow from the tap. And these are only two in a long line of weizen beers to try....

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Bonn Voyage

Thursday we took a forty-minute tram to Bonn (the onetime capital of West Germany), for a double dose of Seminar Algebraic Geometry, museums, and exploration. We saw many Beethoven landmarks without even trying, as well as two Starbucks on the same block – a little slice of home but, as in Seattle, not much help as geographic markers. Something we deliberately set out to find was the Kunstmuseum, part of Bonn's "Museumsmeile" (oddly named, given what little use Germans have for the mile measurement). At the Kunstmuseum we saw numerous paintings by our beloved Gerhard Richter (who, we read, now resides in Köln?!?), took in a Sadie Benning video, gaped at other-worldly magnifications of insect heads, and skeptically surveyed a John Baldessari commission (dude's spinning his wheels). Later we dined with some algebraic geometers – a few visiting, others researching at Bonn's Max Planck Institute for Mathematics – where we all talked at length on the aggravations of intercontinental air travel, jetsetters that we are. By 10pm we were comfortably settled back at home, and it wasn't even dark yet....

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Recently Played: Amy Winehouse, Aretha Franklin, Nicole Willis

We here in Cologne are not immune to the allure of Amy Winehouse's cracking “Rehab.” Neither are the locals – I constantly hear it played in record stores here. And, I mean, why wouldn't they? Can you get enough of those crisp, punchy snares? I sure can't!


I first heard this song a while back, on a tip from Maureen. "An Atlantic Records gal, certainly," she said, referring of course to the once-brilliant record label, not the ocean. She couldn't have been more right. Two specific examples of this influence jumped out at me last month, and I thought maybe y'all might enjoy them.

See Saw
I Can't See Myself Leaving You

The entire chorus of Aretha Franklin's “See Saw” seems a prototype for “Rehab,” and, less obviously, the horns at the end of “I Can't See Myself Leaving You” also remind me a good deal of the Winehouse hit. Both songs are from 1968's Aretha Now album.

And if retro soul is your thing, check out this recent song from Nicole Willis and the Soul Investigators, out on Light in the Attic Records. (Big ups to O-Dub for turning me onto that one!)

No One's Gonna Love You

Monday, July 2, 2007

The New Digs

We have now moved to our second of three apartments. This time a University Guest House in Marienburg. “Do you know this neighborhood?” asked the cab driver as we pulled into the neighborhood. All I knew was that it was on the Rhein and that it was a “nice” neighborhood. “Most expensive part of Köln,” he said. “You can tell by the cars.” The cars that lived behind gated driveways, that is. We're fairly convinced that someone must have left their giant mansion to the university and they converted it into guest units. Our flat here is quite roomy and spacious, though dragging all our suitcases up to the 4th floor was a little work. We've embraced the video function of our digital camera, so we'll let the little movie below give you a feel for our new apartment... (why is it that whenever I hear myself on a video I immediately feel like that bossy 8-year-old sharing her favorite doll with everyone at her birthday party.... I guess it's the price I have to pay to show you all our new place). What the video doesn't show you is that, for the first and perhaps only time in our lives, we live in a neighborhood where infa-red security cameras guard houses with horse-drawn-carriage parking. True some giant houses have been turned into multiple unit dwellings or even offices, but not the majority. But hey, its a very fine place for a walk, and a block or so to the Rhein, where running/biking paths go on for kilometers.

Now that we're on the subject of our new place and of videos, I must mention that the shape of our apartment has made me start singing the song "Angle Dance." For those of you unaware of "Square One TV," the greatest show ever about math, here's a sampling. Don't worry, I won't be posting a new version of the video starring me!

Brauhaus Bruhaha

A sampling of some of the (lesser known?) Kölsches whose breweries we've recently visited.

Malzmühl Brauhaus

We tried our first Malzmühl Kölsch this weekend. For those of you who don't know, to call your beer a Kölsch, it must be brewed in a place where you can see the cathedral. Malzmühl is definitely different than other Kölsch varieties we'd encountered, more on the malty side, where most Kölsch is crisp and light. It'd been on our must-try list since we read about it on the invaluable European Beer Guide, but we haven't yet seen it served in bars or sold in grocery stores. So we paid a visit to the brewery in the Heumarkt neighborhood (where we forgot that playing cards in bars is generally not allowed in Germany and had to end our cribbage game after one round). And, still comfortable acting like tourists here, we documented the event in photographs.

Hausbrauerei Päffgen
We weren't busted for engaging in any games of chance at the Päffgen brewery site (just off of Friesenplatz), but we did sample their fine Kölsch beer. Certainly closer to the traditions of the Kölsch style than Malzmühl, it was nonetheless a variation on the standard flavor. We've seen it described as “bitter,” with Früh Kölsch offered as an example of “hoppy.” Northwesterners shouldn't misconstrue “hoppy” as having anything to do with the Willamette Valley grapefruity bitter bite, but I'd agree that Früh may be a bit hoppier than its local competition. Anyway, our glasses of Päffgen were refreshing and delicious, and the bar was a nice, very quiet hangout (granted, it was a Sunday), with no loud music, and no boisterous singing Germans.Brauhaus Sion
Since we're on the subject of Kölsches, we should mention that last weekend we did check out Brauhaus Sion, near the Dom. This is a more commonly found Kölsch (like Früh, Dom, Riesdorff and Gaffel), yet still unique (as our other European beer guide, Mr. Mark Brindle, described). The large multi-roomed pub, like many others near the Dom, was filled with large tourist groups, but we still enjoyed a delicious few test tubes of beer and some cheese to tide us over until lunch. The photographic evidence of our trip here, looks just about the same as the other ones above.

The Dom

Some people have wondered why there are no pictures here of Köln's most famous landmark, the beloved Kölner Dom. Perhaps seeing it everyday, it begins to recede into the background. But the real reason there is no documentation has more to do with the crowds that swarm to it.
First we have the large groups of young men, wearing matching custom-made t-shirts which usually have the date printed on them, who drink beer, sing loud songs, and mob old ladys (encircling them and singing to them). This last weekend we even saw groups of girls in matching shirts, but at least didn't hear them sing. So anyone who comes to visit us, we already have your Saturday outfit planned........

The second reason, and perhaps more benign, is the large tour groups which ultimately congregate by the cathedral. Something I suppose one should expect, but do you really want to be on a tour led by a clown? (Perhaps it isn't clear in the picture, but the history, religious significance,and aesthetic qualities of this 750-year-old cathedral are being explained to this crowd by a man dressed as a clown.)

And finally, one last reason we don't hit up the local landmarks too often is that every time we're away from home for more than an hour, we come home to this:


Germans must really love tests. Turns out a PhD final exam isn't quite enough to get you that tenure track Professorship; there is one more exam. From what I understand to get that great job, you must complete a Habilitation. Basically, you write a second PhD thesis, which must be reviewed by the entire science faculty at your university, and then give a 20-30 minute talk to a general audience about something related to your research, the exact theme of which is decided by the faculty two weeks before your talk. Anyway, I learned of this because Thomas, one of the researchers in my group, completed his on Thursday. His talk was great, and for the first time I really appreciated the dreaded Power Point talk (since it was in German the visualization of the words helped me actually understand it). The talks by the other three candidates (in Information Science, Botany and Geography) weren't quite as good, but hey, I'm partial to a subject that I actually know something about. But being a good mathematician, I had a pencil and paper with me, so before long I could go back to thinking about that problem I had been working on earlier. Thomas did receive his Habilitation; earning a piece of paper whose importance must correlate to it's size, since it was over 11 x 17 inches. We then were invited to a fantastic dinner out to help celebrate. We dined at a delicious French Brasserie, enjoying the food and the company. Sadly, Thomas and his family will be moving to Liverpool in September, where he has a new job at the university there. This however, may just mean that a trip to Liverpool will be happening at some point.