The Ghost at the Embassy

21 Oct
The ceiling of the ballroom is covered in elaborate paintings.

The ceiling of the ballroom is covered in elaborate paintings.

The Embassy of Indonesia in Washington, D.C., is a beautiful mansion on Massachusetts Avenue in DuPont Circle. The four-story, fifty-room home was completed in 1903 for the Walsh-McLean family. In 1951, the first Indonesian Ambassador to the United States purchased it  to house the embassy.

Since then, many children of Indonesian diplomats have grown up here, learning traditional dance, playing gamelan, and creating mischief in its many nooks and crannies. Many also get to know the ghost.

Gio Soeprapto shares his memories of an unusual playmate:

See more photos→

The Moon, the Roof, Gelabergrief and You

20 Oct

moon package
A few weeks ago, I was digging around in my external hard drive and found this piece of Microsoft Paint art I made in high school. I had dreamt that the moon flew down from the sky in a U.S. Postal Service package, through my bedroom window, and onto my floor where it started shrinking away. It was so silly and scary, I had to draw it.

Then last week, I was digging around my archive of mixtape playlists and remembered that I made a mix inspired by that dream and the subsequent events of that day. I discovered that, as the school theater’s lighting technician, I had access to the roof—the beginning of an urban exploration obsession. I saw Confessions of a Dangerous Mind with some friends, and we were all overcome by a strange, conflicted emotion at the end that Nick ApRoberts coined “gelabergrief.” I finally admitted to myself that I had a crush on someone new. (Two weeks later, I sealed the deal with a Valentine’s Day candygram.)

As I wrote back then, “It was a cheery ending to a depressing week that I partially blame on watching Donnie Darko for the first time.”

So, here’s what me and my Limewire account were up to on February 1, 2003.

Mirah at Black Cat

16 Oct

Mirah at Black Cat
Every time I turn on my recorder at a show, it’s a gamble if I’ll like the following song enough to want to record and then share it. At this show at the Black Cat last weekend, I got lucky!

First, I started recording just as Death Vessel began playing “Block My Eye,” the very first song I ever heard by him and played on my radio show. (Some party girls were talking too loud though, so I scrapped it.) I would have been happy to capture all of Mirah’s set, but on a hunch I switched on just in time for the first of only maybe three classics out of mostly new songs.


Her new album, Changing Light, came out in May on K Records / Absolute Magnitude Recordings, and it’s lovely as always! Here’s one of the new ones.

“Turned the Heat Off”

Hey West Coast, she’s still on tour! Maybe you’ll get lucky and hear your favorites too.

Henry Rollins Station ID

14 Oct

Ian MacKaye, our archivist Jeff Place, Henry Rollins, and intern Bailey Cameron
I met Henry Rollins today!

Punk rock icon Ian MacKaye comes through our office every few months, since he’s old friends with our archivist Jeff Place and working on archival projects of his own. The first time I saw him, two summers ago, I remember hearing that next time he was going to bring his buddy, fellow punk rock icon Henry Rollins.

Today he followed through, stopping by before Rollins gave a talk on the D.C. punk scene at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

I told him I like his radio show, which was a highlight of being stuck in Saturday-evening Los Angeles traffic. But to be honest, I don’t think I’ve consciously listened to Black Flag until tonight. I didn’t tell him that when I asked to record a station ID for KDVS.

So, where should I start? Recommend an album to me!

Sonic Circuits Festival

4 Oct

MOMMOM at Sonic Circuits Fest

The only reason I started going to experimental shows in California was that my friends played experimental music. I went to support them and to hang out. And after a while, I couldn’t tell if I liked the music or if I just liked watching my friends play the music. And after another while, I realized it doesn’t matter. Music  = friends = community. You know?

So that’s why I went to the opening night on the 2014 Sonic Circuits Festival on Friday night, to explore that community in D.C. Sonic Circuits is a local experimental show presenter, and they’ve been hosting this annual festival since 2001, with a variety of sound art, film and other performances.

My favorite moment of the night was from Mind Over Matter, Music Over Mind (or MOM²). Thomas Stanley played these ostinatos on a contact-miked mbira while Luke Stewart laid on the effects. Sorry I only had my phone recorder!

Lazurite at Sonic Circuits Festival
I also really liked when this girl Lazurite played that ladder with a bow and made it sound good. Looped with a thumb piano and clarinet, actually quite pretty.

Jonathan Richman in My Backyard

17 Sep

Jerry Encoe at the Robot Rocket Residence, photo by Craig Fergus
Once I had a dream that Jonathan Richman, one of my favorite musicians of all time, played a show in my backyard. I had been trying to book him—in real life—for six years, starting with a big benefit concert I organized in high school and then for the KDVS music festival when I was in college. And here he was—in my dreams—at my house.

I posted something about it on Facebook, and my musician buddy Michael Ulrich said something like, “Well I can curl my hair, wear a striped shirt and play some covers.” And the planning for the Robot Rocket Residence’s Open Mic Jonathan Richman Cover Night began.

We held the show a few days before I moved out, five years ago this week. I opened the night, with my roommate Sally Hensel on a drum, with a recitation of “I Eat with Gusto, Damn! You Bet” (also the very first track of my very first radio show). I also sang by myself, for the first and only time, with my cousin Jojo Brandel on guitar (Julia Sweeney from SNL sings this song with Jonathan).


Jojo took the stage alone for a Modern Lovers jam.


Craig Fergus did a jive-talkin’ “Abominable Snowman in the Market.”


Michael did not curl his hair or wear a striped shirt, but he had pretty dead-on Jonathan mannerisms. (By this time, some punk kids had showed up to party and were making a ruckus. Sorry.)


Ian Cameron rocked “Egyptian Reggae” (in a striped shirt),  Jerry Encoe borrowed Sally’s Fender Stratocaster to play “Fender Stratocaster,” and Joe Finkel led us in a group chorus of “Roadrunner.”

All kinds of magic happened in that home in the four years I lived there, and this night was a wonderfully fitting conclusion to my Robot Rocket reign.

Smithsonian Dream Sounds

22 Jun

As I mentioned before, my colleagues and I have been working overtime preparing for the 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which opens June 25. Even in my dreams, I’ve been proofreading blog posts in Word and editing lines of code in Dreamweaver.

This morning, I dreamt that one of our representatives from Kenya was giving a tour of the festival grounds in her native language, consisting entirely of click consonants. I woke up to realize it was this damn bird outside my window.


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