I always rediscover Placebo when I’m feeling grey around the edges. They’ve been serenading me through the past week amid the rain outside, amid the rain inside my head, Molko voices my inner thoughts in far more eloquent ways than I can by myself. I know the hype’s out on Battle for the Sun and all, but the Without You I’m Nothing & Black Market Music era hits me hard where it hurts, where I understand.

The song “Without You I’m Nothing”  is nothing short of a masterwork, so much so that David Bowie, upon hearing it, insisted upon singing it with the Placebo trio.  Who else but Molko can pen lines like these: I’m unclean, a libertine, and every time you vent your spleen I seem to lose the power of speech, you’re slipping slowly from my reach. You grow me like an evergreen, you never see the lonely me at all.

I take the plan, spin it sideways. I fall.

Without you, I’m nothing.
Without you, I’m nothing at all.


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Since I am finally moving out of what one of my good friends calls “that weird pimp shack place” — away, away from the sex addicts on the top floor and my next door neighbor who howls like an asthmatic dog while strumming his guitar in unsynchronized fashion — this means my landlords are showing my apartment to potential buyers.

So this means I have been vacuuming, scrubbing the tub and sink, and wiping hard floors with Clorox wipes on a regular basis. Which makes my Mum happy whenever she comes to visit. And she’s coming tomorrow, I realize as I’m typing this, which reminds me to go home after my final and after work to make some sparkle.

But one thing I have not been doing is killing those spiders that live in the corners.

Because I love them.

Spiders are so helpful and wonderful (as long as they come in a reasonable size). They eat small pests that wriggle through the cracks of my old apartment, harvest the fruit flies that plague my kitchen every summer, and keep me company. I have named most of them (the one living near my front door is named Sammy after Sammy Keyes) and there is a Paulito, Paulita, and Buccha. If I have had a bad day, or if I have an existential question, I consult my spiders by kneeling next to them and talking to them while they listen. I say goodnight to Buccha before sleeping. I also assure you that there is nothing wrong with me. Much.

So I feel a little bad about the fact that my spider-friends will drop the corpses of their meals directly under their webs, making it difficult to clean (because my hands will snag on the web and ruin their homes) and that the people touring the apartment have to see all that. It’s not bad…it’s just a little noticeable. And what if the person interested in finding an apartment is afraid of spiders? And what about inspection day, where the landlords will come and evaluate how clean the place is before refunding a good portion (I hope) of my damage deposit? Should I expel my spider friends from my place — not kill, of course, but gently shoo out the front door? What if my roommate next year has a mortal fear of spiders and insists on eradicating them? And my to-be-visiting mother — what will she do? (This was the woman who sent me out into the garden with a shovel and told me to kill all the garden snakes and I wouldn’t, because I like snakes too).

Which leaves me this question: why is love so damn complicated?

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Rar, check out my plastic abs!

Last December, one of Mum’s friends dropped and presented me and my bro with clothes from Hollister’s — a gesture that pretty much made me feel guilty for existing.  However, my vest had the plastic tag locked on it (the one that goes BEEP BEEP BEEEP all hernia-like when you walk out the store) and my brother’s hoodie was a tad too small.  (Actually, it fit just right but to him, tight isn’t cool — having clothes drip off of him until he looks saggy is his definition of cool.  It makes sense to him).  Mum’s friend left the receipt so that we could go exchange the stuff if necessary — you know, if we were too tubby for it.  Apparently that happens when members of your family forcibly shovel Korean bbq down your throat while reprimanding you about the dangers of going vegan.

So Mum and I went into our happy red mini-van that just recently, according to family news, died (RIP forever, faithful Nissan Quest) and has been replaced by a swanky Kia which I will get to steal will get to see when they drive to my graduation.  Unfortunately, it does not have a VCR, which means no more dubbing over Frodo’s voice in LoTR during long unbearable road trips (I get carsick so I need the distraction) and making sounds of flatulence to pretend that the hobbits are farting whenever they run, causing us to laugh until we bleed, and making Mum turn around to ask us exactly how old we are.

Anyways, Mum and I nipped into the Harrisburg Mall and into Hollister’s.  The entrance was like walking into a dark grimy mouth because apparently Harrisburg is in standard Eastern time zone, and Hollister’s is in…I don’t know, Tokyo time.  It was so dark I was running into mannequins and stalls, and squinting at the price tags and rubbing my eyes to make sure I was just imagining that one t-shirt on sale cost $30 (I wasn’t imagining it).  The inside of the store was tremendously loud, the air poisoned with emo music — the kind where  the lead guy and guitarist and bassist wear eye liner and leather and touch themselves a lot as they sing and seem to exhibit some sort of sexual frustration and dash off the tips of their black-polished fingernails power chord after power chord after power chord whilst wailing “I love you but do you love me oh woe life trash sad facepaint penguins roses resurrection and death and stuff.”  Repeat chorus 15x.  Crassly put, that shit was loud-ass. Mum and I had to yell when we needed to say stuff.  We yelled at each other, we yelled at people (“PLEASE EXCUSE US, COMING THROUGH!!!!!“), we yelled at the cashier for an exchange.  We were very polite about it though, with the formal jargon in place.  Maybe that is how I will talk when I’m 70 years old and slightly deaf from listening to too much Drunken Tiger.  Because it was nighttime in Hollister’s, the cashier helping us had to hold the receipt to his nose to read it.  The result of all this?  I got a killer migraine.  Which, inevitably, made me cranky as hell.

It was my first time in Hollister’s and I noted how nice and classy all the clothes were, an observation that served to make me feel like a grungy piece of trash.  I was wearing sweatpants with fugly boots and a bigass coat that could double as a maternity coat (it seriously looked as though some uncreative designer took a big sheet of felt and added buttons to it.  That and being up all night watching a Witch Hunter Robin marathon made me look like some kind of creature from the lost lagoon).  My head was topped with a hat I had rescued from the Lost and Found bin at work.  I was not, shall we say, feeling too gorgeous.  As I stood waiting for Mum to finish talking with the cashier, a grandpa cut right in front of me all whisk-like in a manner that made me feel slightly offended.

 His wife came behind me, which left me trapped between a wall of old people at Hollister’s (old people @ Hollister’s?!).  I asked the wife if I could get out since I wasn’t standing in line.  She took my shoulder and said, “You were standing so still my husband thought you were a mannequin.”  I think I sort of stared off into space, because that would make me one helluva junky, trashy mannequin reserved for the preppy, glitzy Hollister’s incinerator.

I kind of looked like this at that time.

I was very, very glad to get out of that store, and Mum remarked that she could not imagine working there herself for 30 minutes without going insane.  It did take some time for the ringing in our ears to subside and, mission accomplished, we treated ourselves to amazing Vietnamese noodles.

The restaurant we visited was one of the highlights of the day.  Every Thursday, the owner of the restaurant accepted a penny from those who have lost their jobs in exchange for a bowl of noodles.  That way, the jobless still had some dignity in that they could pay something for their meal, and the owner could generously provide for them amidst this recession.

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Today I met briefly with Hangyul Kim, the writer of the text to Sang Mi Ahn’s “fragile beings.” Just recently finished and played semi-publicly in front of Ahn’s fellow composers, “fragile beings” explores the wide berth of emotions during crises and death through the medium of electronic music. This is not Ahn’s first electronic piece, but the prowess of her work shows that she is getting more and more comfortable with the genre. Her willingness to experiment with many different types of compositions (song, chamber works, choral works, solo works, sonatas, electronic pieces, jazz, etc) gives her a versatility — one often has a feeling that Ahn can compose anything.

The text to the piece is as follows:

fragile beings (2010)

         My cosmic Judas Isacariot, colder than ice.
                                               It preys upon me as I pray.

           No one is watching this time.
                                              No one is watching.
           The decay of my flesh,
                                              eat it and remember.
           Flight 109 will be departing shortly from gate b49.

             God is nowhere
                   God is now here
                            God is no
                                  where God is now.
                                        here God is nowhere.
                                             God is now.

Votapek: Thank you for taking your time to do this. I know you have a big final coming soon, which you’ve been studying for in-between work shifts, and get very sidetracked listening to works by Ahn and Lady Gaga instead of diligently listening to Bruckner symphonies…

Kim: I think there are only a few times you get to say the names Sang Mi Ahn and Lady Gaga in the same sentence.

Votapek: Can you tell us a little bit about what Ahn was trying to evoke?

Kim: Sang Mi told me she was envisioning being at the deathbed of someone dear to her and going through this metaphysical journey of feeling. She wanted the pain to be raw, as in something someone is experiencing now. She was inspired in part by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ book Death and Dying where it lists five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.

Kim: (continuing) I believe at first she wanted to manipulate Jir Shin Boey’s violin sounds. Around that time, however, she received an email from Diana Syrse, a singer interested in collaborating with her. Jir Shin encouraged her to do so, since it might be interesting to fuse human voice and electronic music — the most antithetical forces. What comes naturally from man, and what is generated by man.

Votapek: I notice your text has many references to religion. How is the audience supposed to hear it? Is it a religious piece–pain in reference to religion?

Kim: You know, it’s funny because when Sang Mi asked me to write the text, I wasn’t specifically thinking of using religious-themed terms.  That’s just the way it came out. But I don’t intend — and neither does Sang Mi — that the audience take it as a religious piece, that only people of practicing faith can relate with it. We want everybody to relate with it. It could even be an existential piece, in a way. That was actually my own personal intent — this ambivalence between two or more possible meanings — and I devised the last lines to indicate this.

The “God is nowhere/God is now here” line was conceived before all the other lines. I wanted it to be ambiguous if the person on the journey would accept what has happened to him/her as a trial from a higher being, or if she/he would look inside themselves to create meaning from the events. The flight attendant line creates this feeling of middle ground, where one is standing still amid everybody else coming in and leaving to various destinations. You realize how small you are in this world in the midst of that bustle and the hundreds of people around you moving on with their own lives. You realize your feelings, personal and life-changing as they may be, are a small part of this spectrum. That you also have to choose soon whether to move on with your life, or depart from everyone around you and shrink inside yourself.

To portray “recognition,” Sang Mi also used two clashing pitches that resolve into a single pitch, conflict slowly tapering off. She also interpreted this single pitch as the unchanging presence of god — and whether that is God-god or something else…like Nietzsche’s Superhuman, for one…is all up to the listener. It’s like that Robert Frost poem.


Votapek: So has there been times where Ahn wanted to interpret the text differently from what you envisioned?

Kim: Yes, and she has been apologetic about it although she had no need to. I know her work and that she creates very powerful, moving sentiments. Also, in the end “fragile beings” is her piece, not my piece. Diana also made some alterations, although these were to the phrases, not the meanings. I initially envisioned “God is nowhere” and “God is now here” as a string of sentences where the pronounciation would alter bit by bit to transition between each other. But she fragmented the sentences, which I — to be honest — was dubious towards at first, but it ended up working out even better than my original idea.

“The decay of my flesh” part was meant to portray cynicism towards religion. I wanted the anger to be sardonic, as if wondering how, if there was a god, how this god could make these things happen. The “eat it and remember” is a way of letting that anger spill out to everyone around you and shoving it in their faces so that they too can feel your anger. But Sang Mi changed this into the grieving person only seeing the decay of the dead body and forgetting that the “take and eat” part signifies a later resurrection.

Which works out just as well. And I like that, that you can see this piece on many different levels and relate to it in many different ways. Sang Mi is conscientious about making meaning in her music — her other electronic work, “Chasm,” is all about the Korean war and the devestation wrecked by it. She also composed a piece for this silent movie about humans demolishing the moon people — everyone in her class had to compose to it and many made a slapstick-like melody. But she remembered how the founding of America was done in the same manner — you know, Europeans sailing in and wrecking war with the Native Americans. She made her music dark, which gave the whole movie this eerie feel that just made you think and think. So whatever meaning she wants to fashion out of my words, I completely trust her.


Votapek: And where do things like Judas Iscariot come in…? Where do all the lines fit in in general?

Kim: Well, Judas Iscariot is the universal symbol of betrayal. And fear rattles your foundation, in essence making you betray yourself and making you do or feel things you don’t understand. Then there is the wordplay between pray and prey.

“No one is watching” is that feeling of being completely alone while you are grieving. I guess on the religious level, since we got all into that, the person could be questioning “where is the one who watches even the sparrows fall? I don’t feel that force watching over me now.”

Votapek: You really liked Diana’s voice, I hear.

Kim: The way she narrated it…she had everything down. It was expressive and her voice is so beautiful. I liked how you couldn’t tell if it was a child or a woman speaking. And she used so many colors. After Sang Mi played it for her studio, people asked her if she used more than one narrator because at times her voice sounded completely different, depending on what she was portraying. Sang Mi told them that Diana was her only narrator and that she did not electronically alter Diana’s voice — Diana was able to create so many different affects by herself. Her flight attendant voice was very captivating. It was a great moment–you have these lions growling around you in the section between sorrow and anger (they were using four big speakers and Sang Mi made it so that the growls would go around in a circle), and then you have this big storm representing anger. It gets louder and louder, and almost unbearable then suddenly — Sang Mi cuts off all the noise instantaneously, leaving only a thin trail of sound. Diana’s voice then enters, all cool in her flight attendant voice. I’m sure if they hired her at an airport, there would be less passenger stress because she just sounds that soothing.

Votapek: Where is Ms. Ahn now?

Kim: (gently) You can call her Sang Mi, I don’t think she would mind. Ms Ahn sounds too formal.

Votapek: What about Lady Ahn?

Kim: Haha. She would kill you! I’m the Gaga enthusiast, not Sang Mi …Anyways, she’s probably sleeping now. She had only two hours of sleep last night, due to working on a final project. And now she’s done for the semester.

Votapek: But composing is not just a semester job now, is it?

Kim: No, of course not. But hopefully she’ll get a little breather.

[A review of Ahn’s Metro Graffiti, the work she composed prior to “fragile beings,” can be read here]

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“Fluid” seems to be the best way I can describe Ms Zaha Hadid’s works. Her work is awesome, carrying forward the deconstructivism style of Libeskind.

And that goes for her shoes as well:

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옛날 옛날에 민들레 꽃이 있었어요. 추울 때 해가 꽃에게 따뜻하게 포옹하고, 목이 마를 때 비가 꽃에게 물을 주고, 외로울 때 하늘에서 별이 많이 나고, 음악을 듣고 싶을 때 새들이 꽃에게 노래를 부르고…모든 것이 민들레가 행복했어요.

어느 날 어떤 이상한 꽃이 민들레 옆에서 자랐어요. 이 꽃이 예쁜 색깔을 입고 아주 외래 식물이었어요.

“안녕.” 민들레가 먼저 말했어요. “너, 뭐야?”

“나는 야생 화라고 불러. 나는 아주 아름다운 꽃이야. 사람들이 나를 사랑하고 공원에서 나를 심어.”

“와, 좋겠다!” 하고 민들레가 말했어요. “나도 공원을 보고싶다.”

“너? 너는 흙을 욕심하게 다 먹고, 너 너무 미워가지고 사람들이 너를 죽어버려.”

“아니야!” 그리고 민들레가 울었어요. 마음이 상했고 민들레가 스스로 아주 미운 꽃이라고 생각했습니다.

어느 날 어떤 남자가 민들레를 땅에서 잡아 뜯었어요.

“아이고! 인제 내가 죽을꺼야!” 하고 민들레가 생각했어요. 이 남자가 공기를 내뿡자, 민들레의 씨가 다 날아갔어요.

첫번 씨가 천장에서 자랐습니다. 천장은 시체로 뒤덮여 있었어요. 민들레가 시체를 보고 생각했어요: “사람들이 다른 사람들을 죽인다. 사람들이 민들레를 죽이고, 사람을 죽이고, 동물도 죽이고…하지만 사람들이 죽으면 한번만 죽다. 민들레는 죽으면 영원히 살수있다.”

다른 씨가 동물원에서 자랐다. 야생 동물은 감금된 상태에서 가끔 답답해서, 자유로운 상태를 열망해요. 민들레가 생각했어요: “나는 미운 꽃이지만 내가 바깥에서 하고 싶은 것을 할 자유가 있다. 하늘, 흙, 바람과 함께…… 여기에 있는 동물들이 아주 고귀한 동물들인데 행복하지 않아요. 나는 자유럽게 살아서 행복해요.”

마지막 씨가 숲속에서 잘았어요. 어느 날 어떤 남자가 나타났어요.

“안녕. 너 누구니?” 하고 민들레가 말했어요.

“난 모르겠어요. 마음이 아주 복잡하고 아무도 내 정체를 모르기를 바래고…나는 혈혈다신이에요…”

“아, 나도 옛날에 똑같이 생각했어요. 미래는 암울해 보였어요.”

“민들레, 옛날에 내가 어떤 민들레에게 소원 성취를 빌었어요. 아직 까지 이루지 못한 소원이었다. 좋은 친구를 원했는데 그것은 어직 까지 불가능 한 꿈이었어요. 다른 사람들이 나를 알아 오고 있지만 사람들에게 있어서 그는 여전히 완전 수수께끼이에요. 나는 세상 사람들과 어울리려 하지 않났어. 하지만 나는 민들레와 닮았어. 민들레, 나랑 같이 친구가 될래? 그럼 내 꿈이 실혀됄거야.”

이 말을 듣고 민들레가 웃었어요.

“이 것이 네 운명이야. 운명대로 이루어진거야. 우리 마음 안에서 혼돈이 많이 있고 어떤때는 죽음을 바라는 마음이 있지. 옛날에 나도 죽음에 직면한 생각이 있었어. 하지만 우리 다 좋은 운명을 찾아가지고 자신있게 살수 있어. 이 남자 꿈을 내가 만들었고, 인제 내가 이 꿈을 이루어 줄꺼야. 운명히 우리를 만나게 했다. 내가 영원히 살아도 돼.”

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