Towards Y2K9 (14): Right Mindfulness

… and then through the beautiful hills east of Mendocino, through another redwood forest, wine fields, eucalyptus groves … eventually going south towards San Francisco, a grey row of spikes in the distance beyond the bay while crossing another huge bridge, in the pale afternoon light of the beginning rain season.

We came into Berkeley where we stayed during two nights. Bought a new pair of shoes and a huge salad on Telegraph Avenue … the streets full of beautiful people but also of hobos and dropouts and many very sad human beings … peeked into the new Ridhwan school building but didn’t want to disturb as a retreat was going on.

The next morning, a somewhat quiet monday in San Francisco because of Columbus day. This was my third visit to this beautiful city: I had been here with my old friend Walter in 1979 and with my (then not-yet-married) wife Sabine in 1997. Had already forgotten many details but loved it again immediately.

Of course my view is romantic and has nothing to do with the real life of most people here but San Francisco is the birthplace of so much … the Beat Poets, the hippies … the Beat movement that means a lot to me, mostly because of Gary Snyder’s poetry, was going on here while I was a boy, and for some reason, the modern hippies (we saw quite a number of them) mostly wear dreadlocks … I talked to one of them who had a guitar, he turned out to be a big fan of Daevid Allen and Steve Hillage, so we had a good connection immediately.

Taking lots of buses to get around on this day … artificial crickets in Chinatown … up through hundreds of wooden stairs through exotic little gardens towards Coit tower … a wonderful view over the city and the bay even though it was not sunny … a fig/pecan tart that was close to heaven, in the very nice Cafe Divine at Washington square … more than an hour spent in shops in Japantown where Sabine bought a white fake-crumpled-paper-mug … beautiful houses and a postcard look over the city from Alamo Square … more buses … back to Cafe Divine (because it felt so good) for some pasta … a sad and poor black man in an old streetcar, careless violence … eventually taking the BART back to our Berkeley place, screeching along under the water of the bay for minutes, a loud and high choir of very fast metal.

Torrential rain the next morning … how lucky we had been this time with the weather! The drive down to Santa Cruz was a nightmare in this rain and storm, but we eventually made it to our destination where we spent a week because I had several concerts coming up on the Y2K9 livelooping festival …

Towards Y2K9 (13): Lost Coast

If you go south on the coast highway 101 from Eureka, California, you will notice that the 101 at one point goes away from the coast for quite a while. When this highway was built, the area was decided to be too difficult, and it was bypassed – the result is a large piece of remote mountain and coast land that is hardly visited by anyone, and is for that reason called the Lost Coast.

Our travel guide book recommended to go there and so we did of course (as many other German tourists I guess), after a very enjoyable day in Eureka with its beautiful old victorian wooden houses and wonderful coffee places.

It turned out that yes, the area is beautiful and scenic. The roads across it are often steep and winding, and that it took much longer for us to pass through than we had expected. But we were rewarded with wonderful vistas.

We watched hawks that were soaring above us in the hot summer air, on top of mountains, in deep silence.

Coming down to the coast, the fog got us again. The sand was darker here, the waves of the Pacific looked cold, there were no other people and we hardly met other cars. We really felt like we were at the end of the world. Or like in some Western movie.

Because the roads had been so steep, the fuel was almost gone at the end of the day, and it got dark. But we were very lucky that we made it to Westport, a village that had once been a bustling industry town and that is now mostly inhabited by a few retired people.

The Westport Inn and Deli is a motel run by its very nice 82 year old owner – we slept very tight and got a nice complimentary breakfast in the morning – and on the other side of the street, there was a tiny fuel station, so we were saved and could continue our trip …

… going south towards Mendocino (a place whose name got very famous in Germany in 1969 because of a “Schlager” song by German singer Michael Holm).

Towards Y2K9 (12): Fog Treasures

When the cold Pacific water meets the warm California mainland, the result is fog. When we came down from Oregon to California, we started to notice that the mornings were overcast and cold, often for several hours until the sun came through.

Our first night in California (in Crescent City at the north end of the Redwood National Forest) was accompanied by a foghorn that hooted every 10 seconds … all the night through. It was one of the few situations where I was happy about the fact that my hearing gets notably worse with my age!

Here are some minutes of the foghorn. The hiss between consists of the ocean surf and some nightly traffic, both somewhat distant from our motel room. The foghorn was maybe a mile away. There are also some bells, their ringing seemed to also come from the direction of the foghorn:


While the fog was not so nice for us human tourists, it is one of the factors that enable the rich biodiversity in this area, e.g. the wonderful redwood trees love fog, and they need it especially at the times of the year when there is little or no rain.

The coastal area west of the redwood forests contains a large variety of lagoons … some of them were inhabited by people, others – the more remote ones – by animals such as this seal.

One of the places that we visited was called “Dry Lagoon” – that triggered my curiosity. A long narrow winding road through wilderness led to it and we thought we would be alone, but the parking lot next to the beach (which was next to the dry lagoon) was full of cars, to our surprise. That many visitors, on a cold foggy day like this?

Part of the beach visitors consisted of surfers – amazing how they managed to move in the ice cold grey waves. We stayed for a while, watching them. It must be fun to be able to ride a wave like this – so much fun that it is worth waiting for a good wave, often for quite a long time.

Also, there were surprisingly many people walking along the beach, some of them with rods in their hands – they used them to pick up stones from the ground. I asked them about it and they told me that they were looking for agates – semi-precious stones that can be found on the beach especially on a rough day like this. They showed me what they had found so far – not all of the small stones looked very impressive to me but apparently they become quite beautiful when polished.

We started looking for nice stones too after this and found lots of them, most probably not being agates, but beautiful nonetheless. Good thing that we can’t take them with us on the plane! Our suitcases are more than full already.

We loved this place with its high grey waves, the colorful stones, and the tree logs that covered the beach like dead dinosaurs … especially in the fog which made it all seem more surreal.

Towards Y2K9 (11): Green Cathedrals

The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time. They have the mystery of ferns that disappeared a million years ago into the coal of the carboniferous era.” – John Steinbeck

We had seen the Sierra Nevada sequoias some years ago, but we hadn’t seen the redwoods of Northern California. Well the experience of awe was similar when we got there … and while the sequoias were somewhat more voluminous, and impressive as individuals, the redwoods impressed us because they are the highest trees on earth, and there were (at least that is what we thought) so many of them, turning the forest into something completely and unbelievably surreal.

We spent three or four days in the area, but every time we came back into the forest to walk a trail, or every time we drove one of those little streets that lead straight through the redwood forest, we couldn’t believe what we saw. There are few things that inspire open-mouthed awe as much as the redwoods do. You can’t help being impressed.

And this even though only 4 percent of the original “old growth” redwood forest is left – the “harvesting” was stopped just in time to leave some conservation areas, such as the Redwood National Forest. Incredible what human greed can do.

An additional awe inspiring factor when walking the redwood forest is the utter silence. There are birds singing in spring of course, but at this time of the year, in early October, the birds are quiet except for a lonely crow now and then. So you walk the green dense forest, surrounded by green skyscrapers and large ferns, and it is completely silent.

As Europeans who aren’t used to the presence of potentially dangerous animals, we also were just a little bit afraid at times, which added another factor to our experience. Rangers told us that bears would not go near humans, and that it would be extremely unlikely for us to see one. But, this forest was very dense and you can’t see far – there might well be a bear behind every corner, theoretically. And the fact that we had met a black bear quite close to us some years ago in the sequoia area, not too far away from other people, made us quite conscious that they are there somewhere. So there was always a slight tension in the background of our forest enjoyment, especially when we were all alone in the deep forest. Even though we love bears a lot!

An interesting internal experience for me was (I notice that I hesitate to talk about this, but … what the heck) that I got very conscious at one point of my mind and how it kept limiting my experience. The beauty of the scenery should have overwhelmed me, but it didn’t. It felt “flat” and normal. I felt like the beauty, or my capacity of being touched, was reduced to a trickle, my brain didn’t let much of it through for some reason. Have you noticed your brain doing that sometimes? I’ve noticed it often when I was in a place of exotic beauty and I painfully felt the limitation of being in my everyday self.

We talked about this phenomenon which was good – after feeling some frustration at first, I felt more curious and looked at various aspects of it. This little amount of disidentification, combined with communicating about it, was enough to dissolve the “blocked” feeling, and my brain – without me doing anything consciously – changed into the nonconceptual mode – it suddenly remembered how to do it. There was some time of intense thoughtless presence after this, slowly dissolving into “normality” while driving my car and getting back into thinking.

This kind of remembering movement to me is the most mysterious of all experiences. It can’t be made to happen (at least I can’t do it). When remembering happens, we suddenly know, and then the beauty is no longer out there – we are right at the source of beauty, independent of circumstances, as long as compulsive thinking and the broom closet of personality can be quiet and we are free. Oh how easily does this get another thing to want, another thing to be frustrated about when it can’t be reached. But the brain and whatever it is that we call consciousness goes its own way, and we better don’t meddle with its natural flow I guess.

Towards Y2K9 (10): Sands Of Time

We came into Bandon, a coast town in Oregon, in the early evening. We found a motel room near the beach and took a walk down a wooden stairway to the seafront. The panorama was breathtaking – there were lots of seastacks, small rocky islands, sitting on the sand and in the shallow water, large and small ones.

There was a strong very cold wind, the sky was very clear, and the sun was about to set. What an otherworldly place! I couldn’t stop taking photos.

I also took some 1-minute videos of the sand that was driven by the wind across the beach – the movement of the sand streams were not unlike the color streams in those psychedelic 2001 scenes. I turned the small videos into a short youtube clip two days later, using some of my own music that I found on my notebook, a detail from some guitar/computer music improvisation from a couple of weeks ago.

Sabine went back to the motel room but I continued until my hands were numb from the cold.

Next morning, the sky was foggy and cold. The feeling tone had changed dramatically, but the scenery was still otherworldly.

We left Bandon and continued the trip to the south, finding out very soon that the whole southern Oregon coast, right into northern California, is full of seastacks and breathtaking vistas. What a place!

And then there was that spot on my camera lens (near the upper right corner of those images that aren’t zoomed). I haven’t been able to locate it and get rid of it. Maybe I should turn it into my trademark? Oh, I see that spot on the upper right corner – is that a genuine Michael Peters photography?

Towards Y2K9 (9): Nautical Days

We came down the Oregon coast looking for a place to stay between Depoe Bay and Newport – our travel guide said that Depoe Bay was home to a group of gray whales, and we looked forward to seeing some. Most whales have already started going south for the winter, but we hoped that we could see some of the local gray whales at least.

Yes, I had even naively thought about dipping my hydrophone and recording some of their songs, but on seeing the high waves in Depoe Bay I dropped this plan. There was no way of doing an underwater recording here, except from a boat, and seeing the tiny whale watching boats going out into the high waves made me seasick, and they wouldn’t have stopped their engines just for me anyway. Well in the end we saw one whale for a second, unmistakably, because we saw its spout, but not really for long enough to be very impressive.

We could not find a place to stay in Depoe Bay, so we went further on towards Newport. I stopped at a motel sign that said Moolack Shores Motel, not really expecting to find something, but then the man behind the counter was very friendly and said yes, he had a very nice room available for us, not expensive, and would you like to see it? When we saw the room, it took about half a second for us to say yes. What a breathtaking view, what a beautifully decorated room! What a difference to all the boring loveless standard motel rooms we’ve seen on this trip.

The Moolack Shores Motel, situated directly above the beach, contains about a dozen “themed” rooms, most of them with a deck facing over the Pacific Ocean, most of them with a fireplace. Our room was the only downstairs room, it had no fireplace, and its deck did not directly face the ocean, but it was wonderful – the Nautical Room was full of carefully selected seafaring-related decoration, and beyond the main bed it even had two bunkbeds each with a real porthole looking over the ocean.

We had intended to stay for two nights but after the first night, we extended our stay to four nights. The Nautical Room felt like home very quickly. We had the time of our life.

I thought that I could easily get used to living here, doing nothing, just watching the ocean, the changing weather, taking walks on the beach, finding driftwood, looking at the green sea anemones that grew in tidepools between the rocks, watching flocks of pelicans go by. Frank and Yvette, our very friendly hosts, fed us with delicious fresh cookies and really made us feel at home.

The Pacific sunsets were perfect, with clouds and without clouds … walking the beach at night (no photos of that) was a very special experience …

Some attractions were not far away – the Yaquina lighthouse with its spectacular views was just a mile or two south of the motel. Below the lighthouse, numerous large rocks are home to pelicans, other seabirds, and seals, and in the shallow waters, large tidepools house an astonishing variety of starfish, sea anemones, and other creatures that we had only seen in aquariums before.

Newport has an old harbour that has turned into a main tourist attraction. While all the shops are nice and the coffee is good, what draws most people is the sea lions that gather here – they can’t be ignored! Their loud barking can be heard from far away:


The other attraction that Newport has to offer is its wonderful aquarium with its famous deep sea passages. To see large fish, even sting rays and sharks, from so near, even from below while they pass over the transparent visitor tunnels, is quite an experience.

One thing that I liked about Newport was that it was here that I saw my first wild racoons! They are extremely rare and shy where we live in Germany so I’ve never seen one except in a zoo. They did not seem very afraid of me, rather they looked at me with a certain polite interest. I know that they can become a nuisance but I couldn’t help finding them extremely cute. I wonder what they thought of me?

Towards Y2K9 (8): Oregonians

Portland was a city that we both liked a lot immediately – the first things that we encountered were lots of students (because our hotel was near Portland State University), a huge bookstore, a very good public transport system, and a huge organic food store. The city felt very civilized, full of culture, and rich (we found out quickly that there were lots of very poor people living here as well though, just like in all big cities, I guess).

The book store was quite impressive – it says of itself that it is “the largest used and new bookstore in the world”, and that may well be true. I loved the way they put used and out-of-print books side by side with new books – wonder why other bookstores don’t follow that example. I browsed through my favorite SF authors and actually found a used copy of Walter Jon Williams’s Ambassador of Progress, a book that was missing in my collection and that I hadn’t found so far.

A walk the next morning led us over giant steel bridges and through the old part of town to a very nice breakfast place with awesome coffee and fresh orange juice.

The most charming moment I encountered in Portland was when we walked through Chinatown and I saw a Chinese man in a shop practice a melody on his saxophone. He really tried hard and got through with the melody – some notes were quite off but it sounded nice to me anyway. While he played, I recorded him through the open door, and by coincidence, from a couple of blocks away, there were the horns of an approaching train. I thought that the saxophone and the train were really great together, almost like Ornette Coleman in a way, and I was the only one who heard it. Listen for yourself:


Later that day we went a couple of miles east of the city to the Columbia Gorge area which has some spectacular scenery including a number of waterfalls and breathtaking vistas along the wide river valley. It was here that our car navigation system got thorougly confused, probably due to the many crooked and steep roads. While pretending to lead us to the next gas station, it led us into a very small remote valley that we actually liked a lot, but that didn’t feature a gas station. We made fun of the navigation system and on the way home it refused to talk to us. No kidding.

I don’t recall the name of the place in Portland where we went in the evening, but Sabine had a wine that she liked a lot, and I had some kind of cocktail that contained strawberries and some other stuff, and looked like this:

Towards Y2K9 (7): The Cake That Was Too Large

Leaving Washington towards Oregon, we crossed a gigantic bridge that spanned for miles across the mouth of the Columbia river, and arrived in a place called Astoria, the oldest town west of the Rocky Mountains. Too bad it rained at times … we had to sit in a wonderful cafe, waiting for the rain to stop …

… instead of walking around town, marvelling at the beautiful victorian style wooden houses (like the 1886 Flavel House), and the wooden walkway plus rails that stretched across the harbour. Well we did that later.

To see huge ships pass under the bridge while lots of traffic was passing overhead like tiny insects … like we had passed it a couple of hours ago … amazing.

Before we left Astoria on the next day we took a look from the Astoria column that overlooks many miles in all directions from a hilltop … and the Pacific shore with its high waves and the remnants of a ship that didn’t make it … a hundred years ago.

Towards Y2K9 (6): Mysterious Islands

Years ago I loved to play the Myst and Riven computer games – they weren’t about shooting each other, or about collecting scores by being very fast. These games belonged to a different category: Strange riddles had to be solved, and mysterious islands had to be discovered – without hurry. Discovery happened in an almost meditative way. I remember virtually walking on shores or high on cliffs, with the sounds of distant seagulls and ocean surf in the background. There was always time just to stop and to look around.

The makers of these games came from the American northwest, I seem to remember. Now I know where they got their inspiration. The coastline of Washington and Oregon is full of these rocks and little islands. The beach of a tiny Olympic peninsula village called La Push – home of the Quileute Native American tribe – contains some little rock islands that look as if they had come straight out of these games. There were even some cables going to one of them, and some mysterious little machinery sitting in the water near one of them, just like in the games where there is mysterious machinery all around.

At this time of the year, the whales that live around here are already starting to move south – too bad, I would have loved to go out on a whale watching boat, watching them surface, maybe even recording their songs. Too late for this. On this evening, we did spot some very distant spouts of passing whales, so apparently they were still there, but much too far away for us to watch.

Pelicans kept flying along the waterline, mostly in straight line formations of one or two dozen. Hundreds of logs were scattered along the beach like dead giants. Reminding me of the strands of moss hanging from nearby trees, the little round fluffy pink clouds slowly turned into strange jellyfish shapes as the sun was setting and the moon was rising. The smaller distant islands slowly disappeared in the haze. Everything seemed to become more and more unreal as it got darker. What an impressive place.

During the next days, we discovered more amazing places along the coast further to the south.

Hmm …

Towards Y2K9 (5): Another Green World

The American northwest, especially the Olympic Peninsula with its National Park area west of Seattle, contains old boreal rainforests with lots of ecological diversity. Here are some shots from our visits to 1) the Marymere Falls near Crescent Lake, and 2) the Hoh rainforest.

Big trees here. I was already looking forward to meeting even larger redwoods further to the south of here, but these trees, mostly Sitka spruces and hemlock trees, were quite stunning already.

The rainforests in the national parks are almost completely left to themselves. Old trees fall and rot and on the rotting stumps, new trees find enough food to grow. There is lots of rain here, with the winds from the Pacific being stopped by the high mountain ranges.

Because of the high humidity, there are lots of lichen and moss growing everywhere on the trees – I have never seen trees so completely covered with long strands of moss. For some reason, it makes the place look like an enchanted fairy tale forest. I was wondering, what’s the connection between moss and fairy tales but I didn’t really know. The fairy tale look was very distinct though.

There is a lot of wildlife here of course – racoons, bears, cougars, otters, deer, elk. If you walk a trail through the forest, it is quite likely that you meet a deer, like we did. These deer are used to walking people, it seems, and they don’t really seem to be afraid.

At first we thought that elk were moose because “Elch” in German stands for “moose” in English. Some language confusion here. The elk that roam these forests are more similar to what we would call “Hirsch” in German, with the males carrying large antlers sometimes.

A sign at the visitor center had warned us that elk were in the mating season, and that being full of testosterones, they would sometimes attack visitors. We didn’t really take this too seriously but when we had almost completed a round trip trail and were near the parking lot again, a group of people that had passed us minutes ago came back the other way, more running than walking. They said a large elk was on the way, and that he was not happy seeing people walking around in his stomping ground.

We decided to wait for a few minutes, and then slowly proceeded, looking out for the elk. We eventually saw it not far from us, but it was slowly walking away from the path into the deep forest. He hadn’t seen us and we could eventually get back to our car safely. We definitely wouldn’t have felt like dealing with an attack of this impressive animal – he was quite large and strong and he had a full set of antlers. Too bad I couldn’t take a picture!

After spending several hours in this beautiful forest, we were all the more sad about the fact that most of the forests are cut down – on our way south from the Olympic Peninsula, we met lots of huge log trucks, and we saw miles and miles of destruction where wild forest used to grow.

Usually, trees are replanted to be harvested again after several years, but of course the resulting tree areas are lacking the ecological diversity, and bear little similarity to natural rainforests. Large old trees disappear completely because replanted trees are harvested when they are still young.

Very often, the logging companies leave a narrow belt of forest along the highways, maybe to prevent people from seeing all of the destruction, but the truly sad and desolate looking clearcut areas can often be seen behind them.

The northwest forest area is one of the US’s main sources for timber, and it is even exported – all sorts of wooden products are made of these rainforests. And of course, there is the paper industry that turns the trees into pulp and paper.

For nature loving people like us who come from Europe where the rate of recycled paper is much higher than in the US, it is painful to see how precious rainforests are cut down for stupid things like paper cups that are thrown away without thinking. The amount of waste, especially of paper waste, in the US is staggering for us (it is bad enough in Europe). If you go somewhere in the US for a coffee or a little food, you will very likely get them in paper cups and on paper plates, instead of real porcelain cups that have to be cleaned and reused which would be more expensive. There is much talk about ecological thinking but fact is that nature is still brutally exploited.

Towards Y2K9 (4): Mountains And Rivers Without End

We started our last Seattle day picking up Ted, Letha, and Tallulah at their beautiful house – Sabine held Tallulah for a few minutes which turned out to be an interesting experience for both of them 🙂

We had a fabulous breakfast at Geraldine’s together …

… before setting out north and then west towards the Olympic National Park which was our next destination.

We arrived in a small town called Port Angeles, dropped our luggage, and drove straight up the mountains towards a place with the promising name Hurricane Ridge. After the sunny days in Seattle we were a little disappointed to see clouds pile up in the mountains, and we expected low visibility.

We were all the more delighted to find that once our car had climbed through the clouds and forests with huge trees, we suddenly could see for miles and miles, like in the Pete Townshend song.

Being up on a high mountain is something special (even if you went there by car, and even if you just have a few hours to spend there). It touched my heart. The light up there was different, very bright and clear, and once we were on a trail away from the people, there was that timeless silence that is at the center of everything.

Of course I was reminded of my all-time hero poet Gary Snyder who had spent much time on mountains like this.

Down valley a smoke haze
Three days heat, after five days rain
Pitch glows on the fir-cones
Across rocks and meadows
Swarms of new flies.

I cannot remember things I once read
A few friends, but they are in cities.
Drinking cold snow-water from a tin cup
Looking down for miles
Through high still air.

Towards Y2K9 (3): The Guitar Sculpture

A tourist visit to Seattle, especially for a retro-futurist enthusiast like me, is usually (literally) topped by a visit to the magnificent Space Needle that was built for the 1962 World Fair and that is still the city’s landmark. And of course, we had to ride to the Space Needle with the monorail train that was also built for the World Fair almost 50 years ago.

We entered the monorail at the downtown station – the ride takes just a few minutes but while one approaches the Space Needle, it is difficult not to feel that nostalgic techno optimism that was so prominent in the American “Zeitgeist” at the time … even though the monorail looks a bit battered today.

The view from the needle top was quite stunning – we had a very clear and sunny day and could easily see Mt. Rainier in the south (behind the skyline on the right side here) and even Mt. Baker in the north.

The space needle area also contains the new Museum of Pop Culture which is both a music museum and a science fiction museum. The building itself, designed by Frank Gehry, is quite a sight – I don’t think I have ever seen anything like it elsewhere, and one might say that it is hard for the museums that it houses to top the outer appearance.

I hadn’t expected much from the Science Fiction museum but I must say that I rather liked it. Its many exhibits were quite nicely presented, clearly by people who love Science Fiction, and lots of thought had obviously been invested in structuring the many aspects of this genre. Very entertaining!

The music museum, founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, is mostly dedicated to American rock music, most prominently to the electric guitar and to Seattle’s most famous guitarist of all time, Jimi Hendrix. The tree-like guitar sculpture in the lobby, called Roots and Branches, is quite impressive when one stands under it. Many of the guitars in the sculpture were quietly plucked by some robot mechanism. Actually the thing looked less like a tree and more like a fountain or a volcanic eruption, spouting instruments in the air.

Although the two museums are largely unrelated, there is currently a wonderful exhibition that relates to both, showing tons of Science Fiction and space travel related record covers from the 50s. I love this stuff!

In the evening, we met Ted and Letha and their rather charming little daughter again – they took us to a Greek Festival which, somewhat surprising to us, has been very popular in Seattle for years, so much that it was difficult to find a parking lot for the car. The huge tent was full of hundreds of excited visitors who ate Greek food (wine leaves stuffed with rice – yummy), listened to nice Greek folk music that was played at top volume, and watched Greek group folk dances. A most enjoyable evening!

Towards Y2K9 (2): All Red

We knew we’d be completely jetlagged on arrival in Seattle – and we were, but there was still a good half a day to spend although our system believed it was already evening. We took a first look at the city and the waterfront, had a coffee, had some sleep. Then in the evening we met my old friend Ted who I hadn’t seen for 15 years.

It must have been around 1990, in the old Compuserve days before the internet really took off that I “met” Ted – we discussed some R:Base problem online. At that time I worked for a company that was the German representative of Microrim, whose main product R:Base was the first relational database for PCs (MS-DOS and OS/2) – a really good product for its time. Ted and I had stayed in contact, he had visited us in Cologne in the early nineties, and I had visited him in Virginia in 1994, at the time when I finished my HOP screensaver. I still remember the day when Ted showed me Charlottesville’s university computer department where I saw an internet browser (Mosaic) for the first time. My god, only 15 years ago!

Ted, his wife Letha and their 3 months old daughter came to pick us up and we had a fabulous dinner at an Indian restaurant. When we left the place, I was so jetlagged and tired that I could hardly stand upright.

The next day was spent running around in Seattle, doing some shopping – a new rain jacket, some books, some adapters for my computer and phone. We visited the famous market on our way to the aquarium …

Seattle’s aquarium hosts a number of species that actually live in the surrounding ocean, such as a colorful plethora of seastars that one could touch …

… and a giant red octopus called “Buster” – the aquarium staff decided to keep the name even though they had found out that he was actually female. What an incredible animal ! on this photo Buster, usually all red, had just turned grey for a few minutes.

After all these excitements, what could be better than a coffee and some tasty cakes, looking out over the sea. I think I look somewhat grumpy on this photo but that was mainly due to the fact that I was still very tired and that the sun was so bright!

Towards Y2K9 (1): All White

The first day of our trip to the West Coast: sitting in planes for 11 hours. We had to fly from Cologne to Amsterdam first – for some reason, the ticket that we bought didn’t allow us to take the train – we had to fly. Ok so we did. One thing that I found out about the Amsterdam airport is that they offer a meditation centre. How nice of them! Now I’ve spent many weeks of my life in meditation centres but on this day, I felt more like drinking coffee and looking at people.

The huge airbus that took us from Amsterdam to Seattle was flying right over the Dutch coast where we had spent such a nice weekend recently. Thanks again to our fabulous travel agent, Mr. Pflug from the Reisebüro Sonnenschein in Bergisch Gladbach – he knew which seats to reserve so we got a very nice view. I love flying and looking out of the window – when I can look down on this planet, travelling somewhere, I am a happy boy.

Travelling from AMS to SEA takes roughly 10 hours, and you move back through 10 time zones at the same time, so one could say that in a way, time stood still during that flight. It was late morning when we started, and it was still late morning when we arrived.

The most amazing thing was that we flew north of Iceland and right across Greenland, something that I had never done before. I had no idea what Greenland would look like – I thought it would be a featureless white desert. It really was for a while but the east coast was full of incredible mountain ranges – an alien planet without any signs of humans.

I really felt very much like a happy boy. While flying in a spaceship to alien planets will not be something I will ever experience, this was quite close. We both were in awe about the beauty of our planet. I was also awestruck how science fiction this trip was – there we sat, several miles above Greenland, heading towards the US where we would spend a hopefully nice vacation and play some concerts with my own music – thinking about it, even my recent music is very much science fiction. I listened to Robert Fripp’s Vista soundscapes while looking down on the icy scenery far below – a perfect soundtrack.

Flying over Greenland from east to west, the mountains got covered with more and more snow until there was only a white desert. All White, wasn’t there a Soft Machine track with that title?

What My Feet Hear Barefoot On The Beach

After many attempts to find a sunny weekend where both of us had time for a few days of vacation, we finally made it to Holland and had a wonderful long weekend. The hotel room in Camperduin-an-Zee was great and we had an amazing view of the landscape behind the embankment.

The end-of-August weather was hot enough to lie on the beach and take a swim or two in the cool North Sea! In the evening when most people had gone home the beach looked like this.

Here are the sounds of the gentle surf, recorded underwater:


And here’s the sound of sand, recorded by my hydrophone which was plugged a few centimeters into the beach sand. I was surprised at how far the sand transports sound. I moved it around, squeezed and threw it, and there are also some steps of people passing by. This is the sound that my feet hear when I walk the beach barefoot:


After swimming and sunbathing at the beach, a coffee and an apple pie in one of the typical wooden beach restaurants is usually the next destination.

The next day was a little cooler and perfect for a visit in the nearby town of Alkmaar which is famous for its cheese museum and the historic cheese market staged there every Friday. We weren’t entirely sure if they actually still traded cheese there or if it was just a tourism event. Anyway here’s what it sounded like, accompanied by the carillon of a nearby church.


Sabine spent a while in a pearl shop, choosing a number of little black/white beauties for a necklace. While we marvelled at the multitude of designs, I noticed that they also sounded different, and interesting, so I recorded a few minutes of the shop atmosphere, and the various sounds of the different materials. Maybe they will eventually end up in some kind of composition.


A typical Dutch item is the windmill, and Alkmaar has several of them. A large windmill near the city center has been off duty for a few years now, and can be visited. Looking at such a windmill in a postcard landscape is pastoral – climbing into it and being very close to the wheels and rotating wings is something else altogether – the feeling of power and speed is quite awe inspiring. Here’s a little video I made – one has to see this in motion to get a feel of it.

At home, we live in a hilly area which is too steep to ride a bike for fun so we hadn’t been on a bicycle for years. What fun we had doing it again! Biking through the colorful dune landscape was like a dream. What a great invention a bicycle is!

Of course I had to videotape a minute or two while riding … which was a little dangerous on the sandy ground, but I managed not to crash-land.

After the bicycle ride, highest on our priority list was the giant ginger pancake at the Duinvermaak restaurant in Bergen. And a coffee. Good thing that we don’t have this at home – once a year is enough.

Castle, Fish, and Duck

My mother-in-law celebrated her 80th birthday in a beautiful moated castle (Wasserschloss Anholt) surrounded by a park – family and friends came and we enjoyed a wonderful afternoon together. The food was amazing too 🙂

The kids in our party were so amazed by the huge carps that the very nice restaurant staff brought them a few pieces of bread to feed the fish … Although the carps were probably harmless I was reminded of hungry sharks … and I was suitably impressed by the fearless duck which tried to catch some of the bread while surrounded by these water beasts.

Livelooping in Antwerp

The spoken word on this track is from a Hugo Ball poem that I found on Ubuweb.

After a gig on an electronic music festival in a club in Cologne on May 9 (which went so-so for me partly because the sound sucked, I was not yet used to my new music software, and I was sick), my little European livelooping tour started with a gig in Antwerp, Belgium, hometown of Sjaak Overgaauw. Sjaak had visited the Cologne livelooping festival that I had organized in May 2008, and liked the concept so much that it didn’t take much to persuade him to organize a livelooping festival of his own.

So a day before the festival, livelooping festival inventor and multiinstrumentalist Rick Walker and guitarist/singer Luis Angulo arrived here, coming from southern Germany. Before we went
to my place, we had dinner in Cologne, meeting Julia Kotowski, a singer/songwriter/multiinstrumentalist/livelooper who was invited by Rick Walker to this year’s Y2K9 livelooping festival in Santa Cruz, CA. Rick was a little surprised at her young age meeting her in person on that evening, but we both agree that she has lots of talent and has developed a very interesting song style of her own which definitely deserves to be presented at the festival.

We spent some hours on the autobahn to Antwerp the next day (during a long hot stop in a traffic jam, Rick used the time to program his musicbox for the gig) and arrived in the afternoon at the Arenberg Schouwburg, a beautiful venue in the center of Antwerp.

It was so great to meet old livelooping friends, and some new ones. Yes, the music is at the center of this, but the chance to spend time together with this very nice and creative bunch of people who I get to see only once in a couple of years is at least as important to me.

I was especially happy to meet Os, Mike Bearpark, and Andrew Booker from Darkroom who I had the chance to play with in London in November 2007. And of course there was Fabio Anile from Rome, he had played on the Cologne festival in May 2008 and got inspired enough to organize a livelooping festival in Rome a week after Antwerp (more about this later). I also met Dirk Serries again, he had filled last year’s Cologne festival venue with his “Fear Falls Burning” drones and got to Antwerp to present his new “Microphonics” project.

Sjaak had done a perfect job organizing this festival. Venue, staff, technical things, food, everything was perfect. Thanks again Sjaak!!

This evening’s loop shows were very diverse as usual. This time I especially liked Luis Angulo’s vocal loops and his amazing Flamenco style guitar loops. Darkroom played a wonderful set that made me feel real good for some reason. I crawled around on the floor while they played, Os had given me his hitech camera and I had the job to take photos of the group which I gladly did.

In my own set, I tried to make use of quite a number of toys (such as Os’s wonderful XFadeLooper plugin), some of them new … and I improvised … so the result, as often before, was a collage like mix of different styles, and my own feeling afterwards was also mixed, although the audience seemed to mostly like it.

I’m not sure where my creative impulse is leading me in my livelooping work. I hesitate to control it too much, so I try to let it find its own way. I wonder if it will eventually end up in some recognizable style, something that more experienced liveloopers like Markus Reuter or Robert Fripp or Dirk Serries or Rick Walker have developed. At this time, it is much more tempting for me to jump into completely different pools at every gig, sometimes even with sudden breaks, instead of trying to paint stylistically similar pictures every time. Rick told me that he loves the diversity of styles and sounds in my sets, and he thinks that the audience does too. We’ll see how it will work in Rome next week, and in Santa Cruz where I plan to perform in October.

(photos were taken by Sjaak, Os, and me)

Blue Volume

The birds outside my window on Monday morning, 5:30 am.


“Er ist’s” by Eduard Mörike is the German romantic spring poem – every German knows it.

Frühling lässt sein blaues Band
Wieder flattern durch die Lüfte;
Süße, wohlbekannte Düfte
Streifen ahnungsvoll das Land.
Veilchen träumen schon,
Wollen balde kommen.
— Horch, von fern ein leiser Harfenton!
Frühling, ja du bist’s!
Dich hab’ ich vernommen!

Here’s a modern automatic Babelfish translation:

1. German>English

Spring lets blue volume be again to flutter by air Sweet, well-known smells Strip notionful the country Violets dream already, Wools balde come Horch, from a distance a quiet harp clay/tone! Spring, you bist’ s! You I heard!

2. German>English>German>English

Spring leaves blue volume, on the airway, which is sweet, to that far away admitted notionful smell strip already to flutter again its countries violet dream, wools, which come balde Horch, from a distance a calm harp loam/clay/tone! Spring, it bist’ s! It, which I heard!

3. German>English>German>English>German>English

Spring leaves which is sweet, far certified notionful smell strips, over again from a distance to already flutter its countries violet dream, wools, which come balde Horch, to blue volume, on the airline, a calm harp loam/loam/clay/tone! Spring, it bist’ s! It, which I heard!

Babelfish has a number of semantic problems. “Band” means “ribbon”, not “volume” in this context. “Wools” is Babelfish’s sad attempt to translate the perfectly usual “wollen” which means “want”. “Balde” means “soon” and “Horch” is a somewhat oldfashioned way to say “listen”.

Here’s a manual translation by Bertram Kottmann that is a bit more poetic.

(Incidentally, the guitarist on this photo is called Robert. I wonder why?)

My office this morning. Usually I sit behind these windows, trying to earn some money. Can you imagine that it is difficult to sit inside and work while all the action is outside and the flowers wait to be photographed?

Paper Organs and Colored Windows

We spent this beautiful Easter sunday going to Siegen, a small old industrial town two hours east of Cologne, to see an exhibition called Blickmaschinen (viewing machines) in the local museum of contemporary art. The exhibition shows parts of the Werner Nekes Collection … about 200 laterna magicas, camera obscuras … image distortion, perspective, and projection machines, panoramas, kaleidoscopes … all sorts of incredible historical optical devices most of which I had no idea existed …

… all of this successfully contrasted with 100 works of about 40 contemporary artists that focus roughly on topics of seeing and perception … e.g. this star-spangled skull:

My favorite was a sound installation (I’m a sucker for sound installations) called “Paper Organs” created by Pierre Bastien. It used darkness and light, movement, and music in a minimalist and very successful way, creating a magical place … I was reminded of Eno’s light and sound installations.

We spent several very inspiring hours here. The exhibition will be shown in Budapest and Sevilla after Siegen – go see it if you have the chance.

Colored windows and video projections in the beautiful spiral staircase tower of the museum …

While going back to the car, I noticed some anonymous rubber tongue sculptures on the street near the parking lot … they weren’t part of the exhibition and I guess nobody else had noticed them …

Time Travel

I had the most strange experience today while visiting my old university where I hadn’t been for about 28 years. (Well maybe I’ve even been there once or twice in between but I don’t remember.)
I went to the music department to leave some flyers there for an upcoming gig.

While walking the hallways – a (relatively) old man of 55 who maybe doesn’t look much like a professor – between crowds of, as it seemed to me, very young students, I noticed that I could hardly remember this place. Between 1973 and 1981, I must have spent almost 8 years here, studying English and Education. I must have looked like these very young people then (with much longer hair though). This place must have been very familiar to me back then, it was the place where I spent large parts of my days, learning, working, reading, writing, falling in love, being afraid of exams, falling asleep in lectures.

All of this felt so remote today that I could hardly connect to it, as if someone else had been a student here. I was surprised how long my life has already been that large parts of it feel so remote. All these years seemed like ages ago. My past life suddenly seemed to span over a huge amount of time. This timespan didn’t seem like it had anything to do with me as I am now. Very strange. On one hand, my days seem to pass by very fast. But when I look back, it looks endlessly far away.

On a related note, many people aren’t happy with their present lives, and wish some better phase of their past lives would be back. When I look back, the university years weren’t such a happy phase of my life. Although I’m getting older and I begin to develop some minor health problems, the last 10 years have been the best of my life. I’m happier and more rooted in myself that I’ve ever been before. It feels good to see that.

Day Of The Flock

A flock of sheep is no common sight here in this part of Germany. Once a year though, at this time of the year, the meadows of our countryside are visited by a flock – it usually consists of 200 or 300 animals, some of them still very young. They stay at one place just for an hour or two, then they follow the call of their shepherd and the barking of their herding dog which keeps them together, and move on over to the next hill. When we saw them on the meadow right opposite our house today, we had to go out and visit them. It was a heartwarming experience – good on a cold, grey, and wet day – to be with these animals, watch them, and listen to them.

Listen to a 25 minute recording of the day of the flock (at 13:00, a sheep sniffs at my recorder to see if it smells like something to eat) (it didn’t).


… and now for something completely different:

A Thousand Blended Notes

For those unfortunate souls who don’t live in the countryside such as this, I recorded the walk I took today – click the player and you will hear half an hour of my steps in the muddy forest, stopping now and then to listen to the first spring birdsongs. The most prominent bird one could hear today is the song thrush … their song is one of the most beautiful things I can imagine.


People who grew up musically in the late sixties (such as me) might be reminded of Pink Floyd’s wonderful song Cirrus Minor which contains lots of song thrush singing … that bird must have been recorded somewhere in England, at this time of the year, 40 years ago.

This walk reminded me of Wordsworth’s poem in more than one way. Well he lamented “what man has made of man” … I only was somewhat put off by the incessant loud shouting of a group of kids who played right in the dense middle of the forest, the only place where the deer can hide during the day. Oh well. But then, they didn’t know … and of course, they are a part of nature too, no less than the birds and deer are.

Memories of Bathsheba

It has taken 5 years but it was well worth the wait. Gruenrekorder, a German label specialized on field recordings and soundscapes, has just released my new CD “Field Recordings from Barbados” (please follow the link for more information and sound excerpts). Actually, these recordings had been lying around here for 4 years before I thought of publishing them.

When we went to Barbados in 2004, I took my DAT recorder with me, actually hoping for recording tropical jungle sounds. The island turned out to be somewhat different from what I had expected, but interesting nonetheless in many ways, and I managed to record some soundscapes that the folks from Gruenrekorder found worth listening to.

During our stay, we were glad that we had found Sea-U as our island base camp, a beautiful small hotel belonging to a very nice German woman, Uschi Wetzels. The hotel overlooks the small town Bathsheba that stretches along the wild coastline on the eastern part of the island – the ocean here is too wild to swim, even dangerous, so other than on the ‘platinum’ west coast, there are not many tourists and the days and nights are quiet. Well relatively quiet – the evening concerts of millions of tree frogs were quite impressive (they can be heard on the CD of course).

We found Barbados incredibly diverse, there were so many things to do … such as … feeding colorful fish with bananas while snorkeling in the coral reefs, walking through a jungle gorge or a tropical botanical garden, visiting a sugar factory, taking a trip with a submarine … but one of my all-time favorite places of this planet remains the Sea-U garden above the Atlantic where I could often be found lying in the hammock, listening to a Jon Hassell record on my headphones.

Of course I took many more photos. Some of them are here