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I’ll be in Berlin next week, a city I have much fondness for. Here’s an essay that I wrote about Berlin when I was 25. I was a little more wide-eyed and optimistic then, sure, but the general sentiment still holds strong.



(circa October, 2005)

So, Berlin. What to say? I lived there for a while, during which time I realized how much raw potential there is in Berlin to do what you want to do.  A one-bedroom apartment in Berlin can be had for four hundred bucks a month or less; it’s amazing what becomes possible when that’s the case. Suddenly it’s a totally viable career option to be a DJ or a freelance writer or an artist. I knew people who made as little as a thousand bucks a month who were living pretty damn well. And that’s the sense of vitality that I loved about living in Berlin, this sense that anything was possible. And that’s something that’s very hard to get in New York, where everything seems to have a price tag attached. Yes, I missed New York City terribly. I missed Chinatown. I missed Brooklyn and Queens. I missed spicy food. I missed the amazing confluence and clashes of diverse cultures and people and commerce and hip-hop blasting from cars at 4 a.m. and misery and rich and poor and disco and that view of the skyline you get when you take the N over the Manhattan Bridge. I missed how late things were open in New York. I missed 24-hour diners. I even missed the people in New York who were just trying to make a fast buck. But I also realized this: in Berlin, you could build the life you’ve always dreamed of living. You could drop everything and take a train to Warsaw, or fly to Paris for a weekend on what it’d cost to take a taxi from Brooklyn to the Bronx.

Berlin at night is quiet. So quiet. It really freaked me out, actually. Sure, there are people on the streets, hanging out at bars, cafes, going out to clubs. But street life is quiet. People don’t just loiter on the streets, really. You don’t see people with boomboxes so much. You don’t see people blasting their music so much or breakdancing in subway stations or shouting on the streets or yelling “Fuck you!” so much. And I love that about New York. There’s this strange, stiff sense of politeness to day-to-day affairs in Germany. The most-used words, as far as I could tell, are “bitte” (please), “danke” (thank you), and “genau” (exactly). Yes, please. Thank you. You’re exactly right. Goodbye. Have a nice weekend. I liked that everything had a thin veneer of civility, but I also wanted to see it stripped bare.

Pretty much all the nightlife, cafes, all the stuff you’d want to do if you’re reading this blog are centered in a few different hip areas of the city: Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain, and Kreuzberg. I lived in Prenzlauer Berg–which is where a lot of New York and British expats live–mostly because I found a nice apartment on Craigslist and that’s where it happened to be. But after a while, it wore on me. It was nice, yes, and hip, and full of cute green parks and indie boutiques–but it was also full of stroller-pushing hipster parents shopping for organic produce, sort of like Park Slope in Brooklyn. Not that I’ve got anything against stroller-pushing hipster parents and their impressionable young offspring, but there were just too many of them. It felt a little too white-bread for me. I found myself increasingly drawn to Kreuzberg, home to the majority of the city’s massive Turkish population–the only really visible minority in Berlin. I love everything about Kreuzberg; it’s just so beautiful. The sky looks brighter in Kreuzberg, to me. The colors of the graffiti look more oversaturated. I love the way the murky river looks, snaking through parts of the neighborhood; I love the mossy green overgrowth of everything; I love the loud Turkish markets. Walking through Kreuzberg in summer is like tripping on acid. Kreuzberg is also home to Hard Wax, the legendary techno record store owned by Basic Channel. Continue reading

An essay I wrote for Rhizome about Sonic Warfare, a new book on sound as a weapon by Steve Goodman, a.k.a. kode9.

And a heads up: I’ll be in London next weekend (16th to 19th) and then Berlin from the 19th to 22nd. From there, I’ll be in various points in France for about a week, and then Vienna, before heading back to the U.S. Get in touch if you’re around those parts, too.

Odds and ends.

Happy New Year, all. This year, I only made one New Year’s resolution–to spend more time traveling. This month, I’ll be in London and Berlin, and perhaps a few other cities in between. Get in touch if you’ll be there too.

Some miscellaneous things I’ve done lately:

A long interview with me at KEXP in Seattle on Brian Eno and the creative process.

A recent article I did for Print, the graphic design magazine, on the Swiss ban on minarets.

On Becoming.

“What I do in my films is very … I think they’re the films of a woman. And I think that their characteristic time quality is the time quality of a woman. I think that the strength of men is their great sense of immediacy. They are a now creature. And a woman has strength to wait. Because she’s had to wait. She has to wait nine months for the concept of a child. Time is built into her body, in the sense of becomingness. And she sees everything in terms of it being in the stage of becoming. She raises a child knowing not what it is at any moment, but seeing always the person it will become. Her whole life, from her very beginning, it’s built into her, is the sense of becoming.

Now in any time form, this is a very important sense. I think my films, putting as much stress as they do upon the constant metamorphosis, one image is always becoming another — that is, it is what is happening that is important in my films…”

– Maya Deren

“Art and Science are two different streams which rise from the same creative source and flow into the same ocean of the common culture, but the currents of these two streams flow in different beds. Science teaches, Art asserts; Science persuades, Art acts; Science explores and apprehends, informs and proves. It does not undertake anything without first being in accord with the laws of Nature. Science cannot deal otherwise because its task is knowledge. Knowledge is bound up with things which are, and things which are, are heterogeneous, changeable, and contradictory. Therefore the way to the ultimate truth is so long and difficult for Science.

The force of Science lies in its authoritative reason. The force of Art lies in its immediate influence on human psychology and in its active contagiousness . . . The stimulus of Science is the deficiency of our knowledge. The stimulus of art is the abundance of our emotions and our latent desires . . . Nothing is unreal in Art. Whatever is touched by Art becomes reality, and we do not need to undertake remote and distant navigations into the subconscious in order to reveal a world which lies in our immediate vicinity. We feel its pulse continually beating in our wrists.”

-Naum Gabo, The Constructive Idea in Art, 1937

Big news.

I am thrilled and humbled to announce that I won $30,000 from the Creative Capital / Andy Warhol Foundation, in the Arts Writers Program. It’s a big honor. The list of recipients includes several writers and scholars I know and like, including the philosophy professor Christoph Cox, who writes often for The Wire, and the film critic Ed Halter, who used to write often for the Village Voice in happier days. I’m still floored, and I’m still trying to process the news.

In other news, I just got my hands on a copy of the intriguing new anthology The Resistible Demise of Michael Jackson, edited by Mark Fisher, which includes an essay by me on Michael Jackson and Bollywood cinema. On the Another Green World front, I’m glad to see that my little Eno book seems to be doing well. I just saw that my book is in the Pitchfork Holiday Gift Guide, which must be a good thing. I talked about some of my favorite Eno rarities for the music blog Largehearted Boy. I just did an extensive interview with KEXP in Seattle about my book, which will be out soon, along with an interview for the Vancouver radio show/podcast Books on the Radio. But the best book-related news of all was getting a very nice email out of the blue from Ed Park, who was one of my editors at the Village Voice way back when. (Ed now edits The Believer, and wrote a great novel called Personal Days.) Ed said he loved the book; I had no idea that he had even read it. He wrote a blurb for my book — I didn’t ask him to — which reads: “Dayal’s lucid, elegant deconstruction of Brian Eno’s most beguiling album is also an inspiring, delightful inquiry into the nature of creativity and constraint. Anyone interested in art making needs to read this.”

Right now I’m writing a big piece for Rhizome about the history and uses of sound as a weapon, incorporating a review of Steve Goodman (a.k.a. kode9)’s intriguing new book Sonic Warfare, on MIT Press. And I’m making plans to head back to San Francisco — in part to escape the biting New England cold — for a few days next week. And plans are under way to do a book reading in Brooklyn at the end of this month; more details soon.

Books, notes, and getting older.

I’m turning 30 on Sunday, and now seems as good of a time as any to reflect.  I’ve been writing about the arts for a living for eight years now, on and off. It’s not an extravagant living, to be sure. But I know now that writing isn’t a phase before I find something more “worthwhile” or lucrative to do, but an essential part of myself.  I realize that I think more slowly and deliberately about things now than I used to, and I like going deep into one subject for a long period of time. I’m drawing up a proposal right now for a second book, a big book. It’s easier for me to write about difficult things when it’s cold and windy. The days in Boston are drawing shorter and darker, and the last of the yellow leaves are crumbling underfoot.

I’m happy that people seem to be liking Another Green World. The book is in stores now in the US and Canada, and will be out soon in the UK and Europe. I’m interested to hear what you think of it; drop me a line if you’ve read it. That small book on Brian Eno was a massive education for me, and continues to be now that it’s over. The work with books, I’ve learned, is never over. So many people think that writers write books, and then they’re somehow magically printed and put out into the world. Now I’m learning, in excruciating detail, about all of the things that happen after a book is researched and written. There’s the agonizing back-and-forth process of copyediting and typesetting the book, which can take months.  Multiple iterations of proofs (in my case, five) are passed around. Apostrophes and em-dashes get argued about. Fonts get rearranged. Bibliographies have to be painstakingly formatted. There’s a lot of waiting, and a lot of staring. I found that after staring at the same text over and over, everything starts looking alien. Your words begin resembling something that’s not English at all; it all morphs into a vast indistinguishable text in some Martian language. You can try this yourself, by staring at a random page in a book for as long as you can possibly bear it, until it becomes numbing, and the words start swirling around you.

After all of that, there’s the printing process, which seems anathema to all of us in the Web generation. So many of my friends kept asking, “Where’s the book, already?” I tried to explain to them that printing books on dead trees takes time.  There are books that need printing, boxes of books that need packing. There are big trucks that then ship these boxes to strange vast warehouses in distant lands, which then mysteriously dispatch them to bookstores. The whole process takes weeks and weeks. Continue reading