February 3rd, 2008



This might be an obvious point to make, but we matter differently in different zones. We give some zones the horn -- for those zones we are a gigantic Matterhorn -- while, for others, we don't matter at all. When I played my show in Sweden this weekend, for instance, I could see the matterzones quite clearly from the stage. There were a few people at the front for whom I and my songs mattered intensely. They sang along with the lyrics -- knew them better than I did, in fact -- they requested obscure songs, they shouted out "We love you!" Further back I could see "looming smilers" -- people who loomed and smiled, seeming quite glad to be there. Around the fringes were "semi-pros" -- photographers and recordists intent on getting good images and sounds, guestlist people, DJs and organisers and fellow musicians checking me out. Then over by the bar were "chatting drunks", completely indifferent to the show except as a noise source they had to compete with to be heard. In "Mistaken Memories of Medieval Manhattan" I always go jousting during the medieval sections, and on Friday night I jumped off the side of the stage and went jousting up and down the bar. I usually encounter grins when I joust, but this time it was if I were invisible, a creature in another dimension. The lighting was different in that zone, and the sound from the speakers was muffled. People were there for completely different reasons than the people in my crowd -- to get tanked on tankards of ale, basically, as students have done since the time of Beowulf. I was out of my matterzone.

I thought again about matterzones the following day, when I got to Copenhagen, a city I don't know and had thirty hours or so to discover. This time it wasn't me doing the mattering, but different zones of the city itself. I got very interested in the different ways different media reported particular zones. I had, basically, four sources of information: a copy of the Time Out Guide to Copenhagen which I browsed in a bookstore, the guide and listings section of an English-language newspaper called The Copenhagen Post, a Japanese magazine's Copenhagen special edition I spycammed in a sushi bar, and recommendations from Click Opera readers who knew me and knew Copenhagen.

A zone like the Norrebro district mattered differently to these different reporters. For Time Out, Norrebro was a neighbourhood on the turn, a place of riots and street robberies and ethnic tensions. This wasn't my impression at all while walking around it; although there were streets full of African hair salons and cheap international call centres and muslim groceries, they were right next to thoroughly bobo streets featuring sushi, trendy streetwear, organic delis and yuppie babyclothes. It all seemed pretty well integrated, just like it is in Kreuzberg. The Time Out guide was out of date, or exaggerating for effect, or aimed at nervous suburban types, or just being terribly British and class-conscious. Meanwhile, Click Opera readers who actually lived in the area gave me cycling and bar tips, and the Japanese magazine focused on charmingly traditional, high-quality crafts workshops and gourmet delis in the area.

It fascinates me that things can matter so differently. Cliches like beauty being in the eye of the beholder and one man's meat being another's poison and de gustibus non est disputandum go some way to explaining why matterzones matter as differently as they do. But, from my view up on this matterhorn, I just want to say that I love the co-existing diversity of matter-narratives. Just as the different ethnic communities in Norrebro with their different-yet-coexisting senses of what matters make the area exciting, so a room full of different matterzones is an interesting room. I think my nightmare world is one in which things are all assumed to matter the same way to everyone. And yet, isn't that precisely what I love about Japan, where "somebody says what we're already all thinking, and we laugh"?