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2018

January 23rd, 2019 No comments

Goodbye 2018, hello 2019. Some delay in writing this, only justifiable by the bliss I am nowadays feeling. And also by too much traveling. Here I go once again, with the list of items that made my life more or less meaningful during this past 2018.

Categories: ollas, year in review Tags:

Thoughts on my first Burning Man

September 9th, 2018 No comments

Ok, so here’s my Burning Man post. Please, ignore it if your feed is already filled with people in the desert, mutant vehicles, and other annoying BM stuff. I would like to share some of the thoughts about my first experience in this unique event. Tl;dr: I had a blast. If you haven’t been to BM and have a chance to go, go. If you have been, isn’t it sad that it’s so full of white/privileged people?

Pros:
* Largest art museum I’ve been. Its location (in the middle of a vast desert with unpredictable weather) and its extended length (8 days if you stay for the whole thing) are part of the experience. After a few days there, every feeling is amplified, and any connection you make, any food you eat, any installation you go, any music you dance, any event you attend, will be enhanced times a hundred without the need of drugs. Among other things: I cried, I laughed, I danced, I sang, I performed, I mourned, I felt happy, I felt sad, and I fell in love.
* It’s actually two museums: one by day and one by night. Extremely different, yet both mind-blowing beyond words.
* Not having a capitalist economy makes you challenge the way we currently live in our societies. There’s something highly liberating about going out without money, knowing that you’ll offer and be offered everything needed: food, drinks, music, and other tangible and non-tangible goods.
* As a straight white cis-male in the top of the privilege pyramid I will never fully understand this, but: living somewhere where *everyone is welcome* is truly remarkable. No matter what you do, who you are, what’s your race, gender, religion, sexuality, aspirations, kinks, drugs, etc, you’ll always be welcome in any event without being judged (as long as you respect others, of course). It was so beautiful to see that a society like this may be actually possible.
* Likely, the cleanest event I’ve been by far. Generally, people really care about not leaving trace.
* One of my favorite moments: in the middle of the desert, around 1am, surrounded by an amazing Rodin-like sculpture of a man thinking with a large illuminated ball on top of his head, next to a 17th century porch-like vehicle, and in front of this large steamboat vehicle where 3 highly talented musicians were performing the most fascinating blue-grass/balkan music I’ve ever heard. All in the middle of a surreal dust storm.

Cons:
* It was hard for me to stop thinking about how only a small percentage of the US/world population, basically the most privileged, made it to BM. Besides being rare to interact with/see people of color, most white people I talked to had lives that the vast majority outside BM would only dream of. I tried to keep a low budget to go to this event, and yet I ended up paying way too much money between the food, the transportation, the ticket, the camping tent, the camp itself, the lights, the batteries, etc. No wonder why the only families I saw there with their kids were white: it’s a financial undertaking to get to BM, at least when you go for the first time when you’re likely to over-pack.
* Around 60% of the times I overheard a conversation, it was about drugs. Often times with a very “broh-y” tone. “Oh broh, yesterday I did shrooms.” “Oh broh, acid is way cleaner than mushrooms.” “Oh broh, yesterday I did ketamine with molly and a micro-dose of LSD, broh.” I’m fine with people doing whatever drugs they want, but this showing off was honestly annoying, and reinforced the notion of BM being a gathering of 70k white people doing crazy amounts of drugs in the desert (which is not really true, for the most part).
* I saw several white people with native American costumes that made me feel quite uncomfortable. Cultural appropriation is real in BM.
* While the whole event is extremely clean, I still saw people peeing in the desert, porta-potties full of cans/bottles/other non-decompostable material, and other small pieces of trash in the desert, especially during the last two days.
* A lot of bullshit in the established vocabulary: the “real world” is apparently the BM, and the “default world” is the rest of the world. Made up names like “Gentleman” are common and used by people (aka Playa Names). Or MOOP, Matter Out of Place, which is essentially trash. I mean, is there really anything out of place in the universe? Or, the other way around, isn’t the crazy carbon footprint left in BM by the thousands of cars and the massive fires also out of place?
* Fucking dust. Really, it’s not only terrible for your skin, but also for your lungs. So shocking to see so many people (including kids) not wearing masks during the few storms we had.
* Way too much EDM.
* Way too many techies (me included) :D

Again, I had a blast, and I was able to ignore several of the “cons” (e.g., almost every time I go to a metal show I also reflect on how very little POC —or women, for that matter— are in the audience, and yet I usually have a great time). Not sure if I’ll go back to BM, but it was certainly a beautiful experience that I wish everyone, at least once, would experience.

Finally, I’m extremely grateful for everyone who helped me survive (and live!) all of this. Especially Luisca, Kata, Susie, the people at Camposanto, Playa Choir, and Pandora. You’re all titans.

Categories: ollas Tags:

Crosses by José González

June 17th, 2018 No comments

Music talking to me about depression. It casts some light to be alright.

Categories: covers, music Tags:

Song of Unborn (Steven Wilson)

June 3rd, 2018 No comments

I covered my favorite song from the latest Steven Wilson album (which is one of my favorite albums by one of my favorite artists, holy shit). Here you have it, titans:

Categories: covers, vídeos Tags:

The Nurse Who Loved Me

May 31st, 2018 No comments

I covered one of my favorite songs by A Perfect Circle (which is an original by Failure) a few weeks ago, but never updated this. Here we go. Say hello.

Categories: covers, music, vídeos Tags:

2017

December 31st, 2017 No comments

The year of the shit. Not only politically –both in the US, Spain, and Europe in general–, but personally in terms of my decision to end my long term relationship. In any case, here’s the list of points that would more or less sum up my year that I’m happy to see go:

  • So much snow in Tahoe :)
  • Skiing in Vail for my sister’s birthday
  • Arkaen plays at Slim’s, opening for the former Scorpions guitar player, Uli Jon Roth
  • I give a talk at CCRMA, Stanford, about Pandora’s Deep Learning Research
  • Disseminating Backpropagation with an XOR gate
  • Arkaen show at Brick’n’Mortar (Rick’n’Morty)
  • Amazing trip to Yosemite with Nat
  • Mom visits the Bay
  • New official video of La Bossa d’Urina of El Tiempo
  • Obsessed with Bloodborne
  • I am a keynote speaker at the Deep Learning for Audio workshop at IJCCN, Alaska (PDF)
  • Chris Cornell dies and I cover Show Me How to Live
  • Trip to Lisbon, Algarve, and Sevilla (Justin and Amalia’s wedding!)
  • Multiple visits by sister to the bay area
  • Paper on multi-label music genre classification accepted to ISMIR (and won best presentation!)
  • Wedding of Brian & Liane in upstate NY
  • Bolsa and Anna come to California and we record the second album of La Bossa d’Urina
  • Paper accepted on multimodal cold-start music recommendation to RecSys, Como, Italy
  • Arkaen at the Great American Music Hall
  • Open Mic World Tour in the Bary Area with La Bossa d’Urina
  • Los Pandejos at the UC Theatre
  • I get a new electric violin and I make a cover of Nutshell by Alice in Chains
  • Our journal paper on Hierarchical Structure Analysis finally published
  • I get promoted: Senior Data Scientist \m/
  • Littlefinger, my new American Strat, is born
  • Arkaen at Red Hat
  • Celebrating my grandpa’s 90th birthday in Barcelona
  • Presenting our work on Large-scale Music Recommendation at the Seminar in Deep Learning for Audio in Vienna
  • Drums and percussion and effects recording at Nautilus, Barcelona, for our second album of La Bossa d’Urina
  • Catalonia votes in a referendum (I write about it) and they declare the republic and the whole thing goes out of hand
  • Toughest break up with Nat
  • Thanksgiving with sister in Colorado
  • Paper accepted on Audio Ad Quality Prediction for WSDM 2018, Los Angeles, CA
  • Presenting our work with Jordi Pons at the workshop of Machine Learning for Audio at NIPS, Long Beach, CA
  • I’m a panelist in the same workshop (first time doing such a thing!)
  • New official video of La Bossa d’Urina of Es Difícil, by our titanest friend at NomasDF Productions
  • Cover of The Tourist by Radiohead
  • My green card doesn’t arrive and can’t leave the US for the holidays: I go to Princeton (for Christmas) and NYC (for new year’s) instead

Happy new year titanics. I really hope it gets better this time.

Categories: ollas Tags:

The Tourist

December 23rd, 2017 No comments

We’re all tourists. Slowing down for Christmas.

Categories: covers, vídeos Tags:

Thoughts on the Catalan Referendum

October 1st, 2017 No comments

This is mostly for my non-Spanish/Catalan friends.

(I wrote this yesterday night, so this doesn’t take into account what went on today in Catalonia, including physical repression of peaceful voters by the Spanish police. Those dreadful incidents deserve a separate post).

Since many of my friends and colleagues in the US have been wondering about what’s going on in Spain and Catalonia right now, I thought it might be a good idea to write a post about it. Understand that I’m a data scientist and a musician living in the US for the past 8 years, so it is likely that some historical / socio-economic facts are wrong. Thus, take all of this with a grain of salt (and let me know what parts I should update!).

Let’s start with a bit of context. Spain is a plurinational country that struggled with a conservative dictatorship for almost 40 years, until 1975. Franco (also known as El Caudillo, which is the spanish version of Der Führer) was a military dictator who ruled the country until he peacefully died on his deathbed. His political opponents, mostly dissidents and left-minded, progressive people, were brutally oppressed, and around 400,000, including the then-president of Catalonia, were murdered by the regime. Through violence, Franco imposed the idea of a “unified” Spain. Speaking Basque, Catalan, or Galician in public would result in jail or, in extreme cases, death.

After Franco died, the period known as The Transition started. Under the Constitution of 1978, Spain would no longer be a dictatorship but a constitutional monarchy, bringing back the Bourbon royal dynasty. For Catalonia, this meant going from a fascist dictatorship back to being ruled by the same family that had subjugated Catalans for almost 300 years. In 1714, the Bourbons had fought a war against Catalonia, won, and made Catalonia abolish their own constitutional liberties to become a region fully ruled by the Bourbons.

But I digress. The 1978 Constitution, which is the current supreme law of the Spanish Kingdom, was written by seven white males (one of them a member of the Franco regime, another one a worker for the communist party) within a unionist, centralized framework, leaving little room for potential disagreements between the central government and some of its smaller nationalities (e.g., its preamble reads: “indivisible unity of the Spanish Nation”). Catalonia, which was (and still is) one of the richest regions in Spain, became an Autonomous Region where speaking Catalan in public was no longer banned. The Catalan parliament was restored, and a newly democratically appointed Catalan president was chosen. Coming out of a lengthy dictatorship, most people were excited about this transition to democracy, with 90% of voters in Catalonia backing the new constitution. But this excitement didn’t last long.

Catalan people soon realized that their language and historical heritage were often challenged by the Spanish government. As opposed to other plurinational countries such as Canada, where one can communicate in both English or French to any government official, Spain treats Catalan as an unofficial language. Statutes of autonomy, which are regulations written by the autonomous regions that must comply with the constitution, can recognize any of these “minority” languages such as Catalan or Basque, but only within their autonomous regions. This becomes problematic in many situations, e.g., when interacting with the EU: none of these languages are official in the European parliament because of their lack of officiality within Spain.

As opposed to federal countries such as Germany, the central government of Spain can do as it pleases with Catalan taxes. It is of course fair to redistribute wealth across the whole country, especially to the poorest regions, but the tax management has not only made terrible investment decisions (e.g., empty airports, high speed train stops in the middle of nowhere, abandoned toll highways), but also actively opposed critical infrastructural projects in Catalonia that would ultimately benefit the whole Spanish territory (e.g., “El Corredor Mediterráneo,” a merchandise train that even the EU suggested should pass through Barcelona, instead of going through other non-Catalan regions as the Spanish government has proposed in several occasions).

Two non-mutually exclusive factors seem to drive these questionable decisions: i) the persistent desire of Spain to achieve a unified, centralist, radial country (à la France) by restricting certain liberties from its subnations; and ii) the established corruption that perpetually propels most Spanish and Catalan politicians.

After several years, and in order to address some of these concerns, in 2006 the Catalan people voted in a legal referendum for an update of their statute of autonomy. The new text openly declared Catalonia as a nation within Spain, plus it gave more autonomy to the Catalan people in judicial and fiscal terms. 73.9% of the people voted yes to the new statute (20% no).
Unfortunately, Spain rejected the new set of laws after the Catalans voted, since they declared them unconstitutional after a lengthy legal process that culminated in 2010.

This created a turning point in terms of the Catalan independentist movement: no matter how many times Catalans democratically requested a fairer system, the central government had the power to not only ignore them, but to declare these requests illegal based on the constitution. And Catalans cannot hope to change the constitution on their own, since they make up a small percentage of the overall Spanish population, and two thirds of the Spanish parliamentary seats are needed to amend the Constitution. Hence, the idea of becoming an independent state within the EU flourished among the Catalan people, and the independentist movement was no longer marginal.

Thus, a series of massive protests occurred during the national day of Catalonia. In 2010, between 1 to 1.5 million people took the streets of Barcelona to demand that Spain recognize Catalonia as a nation. Moreover, a series of non-legal, locally-organized self-determination “consultations” took place in numerous Catalan municipalities, and over 1 million people voted. In 2012, between 1.5 to 2 million people openly requested the independence of Catalonia during the national day, which became the largest protest in the history of the region. To put these numbers in context, the whole Catalan population is 7.5 million.

Throughout 2012 to 2014, Catalan politicians periodically asked the Spanish government for more autonomy for the Catalan region and even demanded a non-binding referendum for self-determination. But the central government denied every request, citing the constitution. After this back and forth, and after a new series of consultations not recognized by the central government, 2015 Catalan parliamentary elections resulted in a majority of seats going to parties that favored independence. Newly elected political leaders claimed that, no matter what the Spanish government ruled, a binding self-determination referendum would take place during their legislature.

And all of this brings us to the current situation: the vast majority of the Catalan people (estimated at 80%) want to vote in a legal self-determination referendum, but in order to do so, the Spanish constitution has to be amended, a virtually impossible feat when Catalans only make up 16% of the Spanish population and the majority of the Spanish politicians are against it. The current Catalan legislature has organized a unilateral referendum for TODAY, ignoring the Spanish constitution. Independence may be declared days later if that’s what the Catalans vote for.

Obviously, the Spanish government declares this referendum illegal based on the constitution. In the past few weeks, and in order to stop it, Spain has brought over 10k officials to the Catalan region, has imprisoned several politicians, has seized millions of ballots, and has sued hundreds of Catalan pro-referendum mayors. Nothing like this has happened since the end of the Franco regime. Meanwhile, there have been daily and peaceful major protests in Catalonia in favor of the referendum (I was there last week), and the whole goal has gradually shifted from demanding the independence to demanding the chance to cast a vote.

So, what do I think about all of this situation? My take is that the Spanish government could have easily stopped the independentist movement by saying something like “Catalan people, we want to work together towards a multinational country where each of its composing nations helps each other to become stronger and wealthier within the EU. We do love you, and we want to be a better ally. Still, if you guys want to leave, you are free to have a binding referendum, but we will campaign for us to stay together.” If this were true, the independentist vote would very likely lose. This shows how the Spanish government has been a major fuel for the independentists.

Given that the Catalan secessionist movement originates from the people and not their politicians, I believe the Spanish government is the one who should move next: many Spanish people in Madrid, Valencia, and other municipalities have taken the streets in favor of the Catalan vote, and it’s their representatives in the parliament who should now do something about it. Of course, it may be especially hard for the Spanish government to accept such a referendum when its legal system is based on an arguably outdated constitution written when a dictatorship regime was coming to an end. But I really don’t know what else they can do, except to use the force, which is what happened today, and which will surely backfire.

On the other hand, the way the Catalan government has organized this referendum is also questionable: it is not clear what the collateral consequences this may yield (if Catalonia becomes an independent state, whatever happens to the pensions, the public and private debts, the immigrants, the relation with Spain, the relation with the EU, etc. remains to be seen). It is not even clear what the minimum turnout needs to be, or what percentage is needed for proclaiming secession. In fact, could it be possible to declare the independence when only 50.1% of the votes say YES? I think these major matters of state require a larger majority to pass, otherwise the newly founded country might start off with profound instability within its people.

It is also sad to see how non-diverse the independentist movement is: it is hard to find a person of color in any of these protests (the only ones I saw last week were the ones selling beer), which makes the argument for the independence a bit harder to sell, especially when discussing this with leftists abroad who have fought for years towards racial and immigration justice. My rationale is that Spain (including Catalonia) has historically kicked out all non-white, non-christian people from its country (nobody expected the Inquisition!), resulting in a demographic that is sadly vastly white. This is gradually changing since the death of Franco, but yet many of the immigrants still don’t have the right to vote (disappointing) and/or do not partake into these matters because they do not feel included (even more disappointing and highly concerning). Spain (again, including Catalonia) is extremely immature in terms of racial justice and I hope this gets addressed asap.

Leaving these aspects aside, the idea of getting the independence from Spain would result in a republic that no longer has to pay tributes to a king whose father was appointed by Franco. Moreover, managing a much smaller region such as Catalonia, seems way easier than managing the whole Spanish area that has proven to be really hard to administer, especially because of the government’s insistence in achieving a centralized, radial state that keeps relegating to the side the identities of its non-Spanish peoples (and whose constitution is rooted in an old conservative regime). Catalonia as a new state within the EU makes perfect sense: its size and GDP are similar to other state members, and would put Catalan as an official language in its parliament (as long as Catalonia enters the EU, which is uncertain at the moment). In general, this all seems quite reasonable, and that is why I voted yes to the independence. I am perfectly aware that this will not fix the major problems that Catalonia is facing (e.g., corruption, lack of jobs, racism, immigration), but I think it would be a small step towards the right direction. I also believe that Spain without Catalonia would face new challenges that might need important structural changes that, if done correctly, might yield a more prosperous and less conservative Spain.

To conclude, given the state of things, and despite the controversies from both sides, the best thing that Catalan people can do is vote. The right of self-determination should be universal. Today’s election will likely be the only chance (at least for a while) to accurately assess what Catalans want for their future. Many things can happen, including Spain further boycotting the referendum. However, if Catalans are allowed to vote peacefully and independence wins, it will provide a first-ever opportunity for a new country to originate without a bellicose conflict and by the will of its people. On the other hand, if people choose to remain within Spain, the independence movement will likely become a marginal one, at least for a while.

Categories: politics Tags:

Nutshell by Alice in Chains

July 8th, 2017 No comments

So, I got myself an electric violin and it’s pretty sweet! Here my first cover with it, Nutshell by Alice In Chains:

Categories: covers, music Tags:

Show Me How To Live (Audioslave Acoustic Cover)

June 7th, 2017 No comments

Aw, one the best singers since the beginning of the humans left us a few weeks ago. Here’s a little attempt to pay tribute to Chris Cornell, The Titan.

Categories: covers, vídeos Tags: