A Short Trip to Berlin

I took a little trip to Berlin in March to visit with some friends. I've wanted to write about it for a while, but haven't made it around to it until now. And so it's worth noting that this is hardly a fresh account, and more like a picture of a photograph.

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In my head this piece was supposed to be sharper and fresher- full of wit and pith. But without a plan one wields empty words. Compound this with a poorly wound roll of film that I lost as I went to rewind on the second day. This meant that my best exposures - at least in my head - ended up overexposed. Light gives just as it takes away.

A catalogue of frames lost that I was excited to see:

1) Two beautiful sisters at the Stasi Museum. They must have been in their late twenties. Despite their surprise (and mine) at my request for a photo, they agreed to pose. I duly arranged them and took the photo. Perhaps our accents fancied each other; perhaps it was the fading light.

2) A lower leagues football ground nestled in an upmarket neighbourhood. This one wasn't as interesting as the girls mentioned above. There was nothing spectacular about this place beyond the comfort, to me, at least, of a little stadium in the middle of a city. It reminded me of something Hans Van der Meer might shoot.

A second roll, shot halfheartedly the following day offers a meagre record- I was past caring about photos after the effort and loss of the day before. What I'm left with is this collection of a few ok snaps, plus an inventory of things, shot the afternoon I got back to my house, that I used on the trip or found in my pockets- things that I brought, found and used.

All told it's slight evidence of a trip I wasn't supposed to take, but I find hard to forget.

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Otherwise...

What I remember was a cramped, solo flight to a country I'd never visited; It was a good feeling. These days, doing something for the first time, and by yourself, is a bit of a novelty.

I got off the plane at at around 10 in the morning and made my way to a cafe on the airport's 2nd floor. There was a group of travelers toward the front that had already started drinking. They were five or six guys and one girl- a group clearly bound for the football, there was no other explanation. In support of their endeavour I considered a beer, but in the end stuck with a short black coffee.

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The train ride into town I spent casting my mind into the worlds of houses and apartments rushing past: Berlin and its outskirts at speed. Are you lonely? It's a sunny day. Time for gardening. Time for tennis. Time for some lunch. Nothing about what I saw felt fantastic. Yes, it felt foreign, but I could feel the day-to-day in what I saw. It didn't used to be that way with me. Maybe I am getting too old for the surprises of somewhere new. Maybe I was just half awake on a train.

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As our group's advance party I secured our digs (via fraught exchange with an ancient woman resembling a gatekeeper), claimed a room and stuffed a box of beer into the fridge. Before long my friends rushed in, bringing with them our shared history: our jokes; our winks; our looks; our tunes. It was several drinks before I remembered I've shared 25 years with these guys. We don't see each other much, and it was odd to reconnect with so many of them on the streets of this famous city.

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The rest of the trip wasn't one of days, but of hours. Our group wandered in a dense pack, unsure of whether to idle with beer in parks we discovered, or accelerate toward tourist hubs in search of experience. Mostly we stood around, waiting for someone to do, find, or otherwise capture something. Stop and start. "I need to charge my phone." And no one cared, really. The sun was bright in the sky, and all of the good reasons to be alive crashed our addled minds. I remember hopes for the future mixing with thoughts from the past.

An unexpected highlight, beyond the nonsense of male camaraderie, was closing a little bar with an old girlfriend, smoking roll ups and hashing out a collective 10-years-due apology. At the end we smiled, hugged and sent each other home.

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A few days later my friends and I woke from our final fraught sleeps, primed (somewhat) for the desperate commute back home together. I spent the two shaky flights with a magazine and a third of a borrowed book, before touching down and making way back to my house. I still have the book I borrowed on the plane from my friend. He texted me several times to ask when I would send it back. You can't keep things anymore, it would seem, so I will keep this trip here, and figure out when we're all going to see each other like this again.

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You Can Rave W/Yr Mates, Ken?

This little EP, Rave Mates, is the latest release from Van der Saar, a home recording project I've been doing for around 13 years, now. Rave Mates took a long time. Eight months for three songs? That's too long, and we're not exactly in Kevin Shields territory, here. 

So what territory are we in, then? Who knows, really. Accessible, maybe? The music isn't angular, or mystical, or inscrutable, it's just what comes out, I suppose.

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Anyhow, here's how it went: a bit of guitar to kick things off and guide things along. Guide guitar, they call it. Guide vocals sometimes, too. 

The drums came next - on a rare weekend when I was alone in the house - and they took a while cos I SUCK at drums. I promise you: drums are hard. Another promise: I SUCK at drums.

That weekend (sometime in August) I holed up in the basement next to the laundry machines. I wrote some parts, practiced them, and then recorded them. After that rode my bike around town and took some pictures. I came home, made myself a baguette sandwich, and went outside to sit on the porch and drink with my neighbours. It was a nice, quiet weekend, save for the drumming (and you can't save enough, in my case).  

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After that, a long break set in because of life. My wife and I had a little boy, Felix, who's ended up being about as delightfully time consuming as we'd expected. His arrival, mixed with everything else in life, made making the effort to create things a colossal fucking challenge. It's still that way. Writing a song, never mind sitting down to properly arrange and record it, takes mental energy and some uninterrupted time (realistically this is just a couple of beers and a Raptors game on mute, but still).

I don't remember recording the bass. I find it's best to just lay it down and fuck off as quick as you can.

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The guitars came in fits and starts. The main thing to know is that I recorded them loud. I pretty much insist on recording guitars loud. It's the only time I get to crank the amp and let it do its thing. I struggled to get a second rhythm part with Rave Mates. The song's in a weird tuning, and keeping the one guitar in tune was a nightmare. Don't Come Find Me was more fun. There's not much to that tune. You just blast away at a few barre chords. I ended up putting the guitar through my bass stack. It made a horrible noise with all the pedals on. I recorded a little skit that involved me opening the front door, waking into my house, and heading downstairs toward the noise. It was cool, I guess, but a little too long in the end.

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I wrote and recorded the guitar leads upstairs in the house on an afternoon I had free. Those tracks were loud, too. Oh man, the guitar was screaming. After that there was some singing in the basement at Pine. I haven't recorded there in a while. The basement there is weird, but I always find myself in basements, and comfortably so, so I guess that's weird, too? I did a bit of hollering that gets buried in the mix. Nothing to worry too much about.

Little Felix helped me record the piano part for Holland Call. He sat on my lap while the tape (so to speak) rolled.

Lastly, here's a weird prop-hand that my father in law left us once. His name (hand or in-law?) is Mitch.

Bro.

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