Noah Brier | July 16, 2020

Why is this interesting? - The Routine Edition

On running, mixes, and the magic of combining music with space

Noah here. In the before times, when Corona was a beer and travel was a chore, one of the small pleasures of flying a few times a month was the airport routine. Waking at 4:30 am was made more palatable knowing that when I arrived at JFK, I’d go get the same coffee and breakfast sandwich and sit in my regular window seat to decompress before boarding. While I don’t think of myself as being a routine-oriented person, I find great comfort in them. 

As life shifted in March, all muscle memory and routines fell apart. Like many of us who were newly homebound, I searched for some way to include exercise in my life with gyms shut down. While I tried doing some online classes and strength training with bands, it was running that ultimately won out. Beyond being an excellent way to burn calories, it also got me some welcome alone time outdoors. When I first started, I tried podcasts—which were fine—and then audiobooks—which were a little much to pay attention to while also trying to maintain social distance on New York City sidewalks—before settling on music, which offered a nice combination of mindlessness and encouragement.

Why is this interesting?

As I extended my weekend runs into the double-digit miles, I tried to settle on a mix that matched my mood and distance. After a few tries, I went with Michael Mayer’s Immer, which Colin had strongly recommended to me years ago, but I hadn’t given the proper time or attention. The mix blurs boundaries in exactly the way great DJs often do. The tracks build from ambient tones and hissing textures into something more muscular. Colin tells me the mix approximates how Mayer would play at his hometown in Cologne, Germany—slowly building from purely ambient records to slow, plodding kickdrums, gradually picking up the tempo throughout the night. 

It’s good to be reminded that DJing isn’t just the act of playing tracks. The real secret is spiritual, not technical; it's much more about the metaphysical resonance between the songs, not their beats-per-minute. And when you hear it done properly, the result is pleasantly transportive. Also, it is one thing to listen to a mix when you’re sitting at a desk, but it’s another thing altogether to pair physicality with it. And after all, dance music, and all strains of house and techno, is music meant to move bodies. 

Which brings me back to my runs. The real magic of the music has been in combining it with a consistent running route. I set out each Saturday morning around 7 am (need to beat the heat) and hit play on Immer. As I run, I’ve come to associate the route’s hills and descents with specific moments in the mix. Right after I finish the biggest climb of the 13-mile route, the beat drops out and gives way to Phantom/Ghost’s Perfect Lovers remixed by Tobias Thomas and Superpitcher. The track starts with two minutes of strings and offers a chance for a deep breath before diving into the back half of the run. Here’s how the track was described by Stylus in 2005:

The first two minutes are sampled right from the most famous part of Mahler’s 5th symphony, the sentimental Adagietto. Instead of a paean to Mahler’s new fiancée, it sounds downright chilling and gothic, with the strings alternating from melancholy to downright ominous. Add to this some narcotic beats and Lowtzow’s deep, haunting voice and it adds up to one of the more mysterious house classics of the past few years.

Half of the battle with running is mastery of mental focus. But when overlaying a mix into an increasingly regular routine, the result is not monotonous (as you might expect from listening to the same thing), but instead meditative, helping me stay locked into the flow state type of groove that I would imagine long-distance runners become accustomed to. (As a reminder, I’m only 4 months into running.) 

With the world at our fingertips in terms of tracks and music, it is easy to dip in and out with lots of things. It is another thing to repeatedly immerse yourself into something and slowly pull out the textures and layers with every stride and beat of the pulse. It creates a new relationship with the music. (NRB)

Longread of the Day:

Speaking of techno, Nick Paumgarten’s 2014 New Yorker piece on Berlin’s Berghain nightclub is a wonderful read. The club is notoriously press-shy and was actively trying to prevent him from writing anything. So the entire thing was a bit of a cat and mouse game. Paumgarten is a master in dropping into scenarios that are unfamiliar, and his observations of the club and its immersive nature, as well as his portraits of the hedonistic characters of Berlin are truly fun to read. There’s also a fun backstory to this piece which I will happily share with you in person, over a cold beverage. (CJN)

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Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

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