Wednesday, November 30, 2005

In which David Combines Leon Redbone with Tico Tico

A couple weeks ago, in the very wee hours of Sunday morning, I accidentally caught a rerun of an ancient Saturday Night Live. The musical guest was Leon Redbone - with a couple sidemen, all sitting in a sort of Palm Court, wearing tuxes, doing an old-timey tune. Nice.

Leslie has several Leon Redbone LPs which I ripped to MP3s. All the songs are very laid back, stylistically pre-jazz and feature his lightly graveled voice on tunes like Shine on Harvest Moon, Melancholy Baby, Polly Wolly Doodle.

A few days later, on WFMU's Beware of the Blog, I came across an archive of sixty-some versions of the Latin-music-for-Americans tune Tico Tico. It's one of those pieces that attracts musicians who like to play fast and over orchestrate. "Cool!" I downloaded them all.

Listening to 3 hours of Tico Tico is a strong audio drug. "How 'bout some methedrine?" "No thanks I'm doing Tico Tico." It takes a long time to clean that twisty melody out of your brain.

My friend Scott commented on the many obvious differences between Leon Redbone & Tico Tico. This gave me a Light Bulb Moment! I created a playlist with both sets of tunes (total 4 1/2 hours) and turned on shuffle play - that is I mixed them randomly.

It actually works pretty well. Individually the two tend towards the monotonous. But in combination, they balance out pretty well. Two different musical worlds. That's why I like it.

If you want to listen to a few Ticos, - I suggest Xavier Cougat (#1) as urtext, Les Paul & Mary Ford, Perez Prado, Ferrante & Teicher (#1) (there's a little fugue) and Ebony & Ivory (interesting Brahmsian motion).

Oh, just listen to them all. I guarantee you'll move your hips more when you walk.

Music Reviews

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Strange Case of the Lost Rabbit

A white rabbit, approximately 5 feet tall, stuffed, not so clean, wearing an ermine-trimmed purple robe but no pants, was seen sitting on a residential street corner leaning against a stop sign.

Are you looking for Lost Rabbit? Click here. (And you can hear someone else's idea of a thirty-second piece of music.)


Monday, November 28, 2005

30 Second Spots - It's Sixty Bucks a Week

click here to hear It's Sixty Bucks a Week which really ought to have been called "It's Like Sixty Bucks a Week" because the man who said it used the world "like" a lot, in between giggles.

33 Seconds

Copyright © November 27, 2005 by David Ocker

Explanation of 30 second spots

30 Second Spots

Sunday, November 27, 2005

In which David Picks Two Free Movies

Because of some lawsuit Blockbuster Video gave me coupons for two free 'non first run" movies. I decided to rent pictures I knew a lot about (because they're often in the media) but which I'd never seen. My choices were . . .

THE BLUES BROTHERS - Leslie says I like any movie with car crashes, explosions and chase scenes. She's pretty much right. This movie, about two unlikely musicians on a Mission from God, has all those things plus great music. My favorite - Cab Calloway singing Minnie the Moocher.

THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST - Since I'm not a Christian, I've never read the book. When this came out I wanted to decide for myself if was anti-semitic (I think it is) but I didn't want to contribute to Mel Gibson's bottom line. Hence "free" was the only way I could see it. I feel it quite sad that this violence could be an expression of anyone's religious faith.

- I paid money to Blockbuster to rent this because I needed a good antidote to Mel's movie. "He's not the Messiah. He's a very naughty boy."


Friday, November 25, 2005

The Strange Case of the Marketing Blimp

A Pasadena Thanksgiving tradition since 2005. The Geraldo At Large Blimp; small, noisy and unimpressive - like the show.


Thursday, November 24, 2005

In which David Recommends Three NPR Pieces

  • I've read several of L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez's articles about a homeless, schizophrenic Juilliard-trained violinist named Nathaniel. It's a powerful story that could yet have a positive ending. Articles might be available be at the Times' website (if you register you can see pictures). Instead, here's Lopez's NPR piece about how Nathaniel visited Disney Hall.
  • If you need proof that our country has revived the fifties, I suggest the fatuous NPR series called "This I Believe". When it comes on I change the station hoping to stifle the urge to submit my own article about how I don't believe any of that, er, stuff. Fortunately Penn Gillette has written something even better. (P.S. Leslie decided that I don't really look like Penn Gillette. But do I think like him?)



Music Reviews

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

30 Second Spots - While He's Doin' a Run

click here to hear While He's Doin' a Run - you probably won't like it. It's thirty two measures long - sort of divided into four 8-bar phrases - each measure lasts one second. Plus a fermata at the end and a kind of one-chord coda. Formal, huh?

Explanation of 30 second spots

30 Second Spots

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

In which there are Three Cat Pictures

Leslie is in Costa Rica for two weeks as part of her never ending search for the perfect worm. She mentioned that her hotel room is insufficiently stocked with cats. So I'm posting new pictures of our three felines to keep her up to date. The rest of you are probably not interested.

Batty & ChickapeaThis is Batty on the left) with Chickapea

Miss Ivy TurnstilesThis is Miss Ivy Turnstiles, the six-toed cat

OJThis is OJ

Cat Pictures

Monday, November 21, 2005

In which David links to Richard's Website

A friend of mine from graduate school and from Zappa days has started his own website. His name is Richard Emmet. His website is here. Check it out.

He has the obligatory biography and audio examples of his music. If you click on "Zappa Stuff" you can read Richards essay about working for Frank. And there are pictures.

Something about those pictures seems really familiar to me. With Richard, Frank and John Steinmetz there's a guy with a beard and not a single gray hair (yet). And he's playing the clarinet. Hmmm. That was ME more than 20 years ago.

(And do check out the pictures of Richard back at Cal Arts in the 70s.)

Music Reviews

Sunday, November 20, 2005

In which David talks about Bird Flu, Pizza and Chicago

I noticed a bit of "news" about Richard Nixon - apparently he lied to us about the war in Cambodia. Now there's a surprise.

I like to point out that the real job of the President is to lie to the people.

Sometimes they call it "leading" getting us to follow him. Sometimes it's putting the best face on a situation which is called "spin". He doesn't always have to speak the lie - he has people for that.

At certain times politicians go freaking crazy telling falsehoods. That's called "campaigning". Whatever it's called, it's always about manipulating the facts proving the President is right. And to prove "the other people" are idiots or traitors or enemies.

Our current president is now being accused by people who watch the polls of lying to get us into war. He's indignant at the charge.

I remember clearly how the administration "campaigned" (i.e. "lied") for the war; they were geared up back then just like they campaigned to win election. It seemed they would say anything that proved their case, no matter how true or false.

Anything that might detract from the opposite argument was also okay. Frightening the public was okay too - mushroom clouds over New York indeed. When they were caught in one lie, they found a new one. WMD or Democracy - take your pick. It was war they wanted.

Back then the opposite viewpoint wasn't hard to find (unless you only listened to Fox News.) The administration must have known the opposite viewpoint because they spent so much time refuting it, discrediting the people who dared mention it in public. The opposition party (called the Democrats - I mostly think of them as the left wing of the Republican party) knew all about it but voted according to the polling numbers. The President now finds great solace in this.

Finally a guy named "Scooter" has been charged with telling a lie. Not a lie about going to war but a lie about lying about going to war. Whatever. He could still be found innocent. But at least someone has to answer to something in court.

Unfortunately, other people should also be answering. Those people are protesting indiginantly. What astounds and depresses me is the arrogance of their faith that they were right all along. Instead of admitting they were wrong they want to talk about bird flu.

I was sitting in Starbucks when a man answered his cellphone. "Instead of having a bible lesson tonight," he said "I'm going to bring a pizza." Shifting focus. There's a song in the musical Chicago called Razzle Dazzle. I'd like to play it for you now.


Saturday, November 19, 2005

In which David links things

Paradiddles and Piledrivers - who would have imagined combining drum fundamentals with a professional wrestling attitude. Check out Worlds Fastest Drummer. The have a championship belt and a special e-meter for measuring drum strokes, plus a Girls of the WFD section. (I found the link at Music Thing where electronic instruments are actually amusing.)

Waltzes and Windows - listen to Fatal Exception - an mp3 of piano parlor music flavored by Microsoft Windows system sounds. Mac users may be clueless. (This was in WFMU's Beware of the Blog. Here's another link to 21 versions of They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha Ha, a much more appropriate reaction to Windows.)

Asteroids and Art - imagine an old fashion shoot-the-boulders video game combined with a video and music synth. I was bored after not very long - but your mileage may differ. It's called Transcend and the better you do the nicer the music and graphics. Or so it claims.

Music Reviews
Computer Headaches

Friday, November 18, 2005

30 Second Spots - His Royal Highness, the Duke of Gloucster

As I was finishing this my friend Bill Howard appeared in Starbucks and I asked him for an original title. He thought for a second and said "His Royal Highness, the Duke of Gloucester" Bill's an Anglophile & a Storyteller so he thinks along those lines. At that point he had no idea why I was asking and had not heard the music.

A discussion of how to spell "His Royal Highness, the Duke of Gloucster (click here to hear)" ensued and I managed to get it wrong. So the official title of this piece is the wrong spelling - without the e. When he did hear it, Bill said something about folk music - I wasn't sure what he meant.

Here's a link about the properly spelt His Royal Highness, the Duke of Gloucester

Here's a link to prove I'm not the only one who can't spell Duke of Gloucster.

Explanation of 30 second spots

30 Second Spots

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

In which David Goes to Two Concerts at One Time

Backstory 1: I have more recordings of the Goldberg Variations by J.S. Bach than any other work. My favorite is Glenn Gould's second recording. I listen to it often. I love the music.

The piece is comprised of 30 solo keyboard variations. They say he wrote it to help someone fall asleep. How anyone could fall asleep while paying attention to this piece is beyond me.

Backstory 2: Uri Caine is a jazz pianist & composer. My first exposure to his work was Urlicht/Primal Light - an album based on the music of Gustav Mahler. I was blown away by the creative combination of classical and jazz music. I remember saying "This is the closest the words 'brilliant' and 'jazz' have ever come."

Later I acquired his expansive "re-imagining" of those same Goldberg Variations which I found even more mind blowing. Instead of just combining classical and jazz he combined classical with many musical styles. Dozens of performers, 2 disks, 2 1/2 hours, 70 variations.

The Story: I was excited when I learned Uri Caine would be doing his Goldberg Variations in concert this month - presented by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. I guess I wanted to find out how (or, rather, whether) it could be played live.

But first there would be a whole other concert the same evening: the original solo Bach version played by Jeffrey Kahane (music director of LACO). I considered skipping the first part. I'd never heard it played live. The work seems so intimate on disc. How could it possibly have the same power in a room full of coughing, rustling people?

Turns out that I was completely enthralled by the solo keyboard performance. Kahane nailed it. Maybe the first few variations were a little shaky - but maybe I just needed to settle down. After that I was hooked. The tricky 20th variation has always sounded out of control to me - except this time. Nobody coughed. Nobody rustled. I was mesmerized.

If I could have an experience like that every time I went to a concert -- I'd go to more concerts.

Alas, following Kahane's Bach with Caine's Bach turned out not to be such a great idea. With only 7 players there couldn't be as much variety as in the recording. The improvised solos lost my attention every time. (Hey, all jazz solos do that to me lately.) Compared to the laser beam of the solo piano performance, this was diffuse, back-lit. With, say, 50 players instead of 7 it might work. Until then, however, the recorded version of Uri Caine's Goldberg Variations remains a great listening experience.

Music Reviews

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

30 Second Spots - Hypnotize You After Work

The music to "Hypnotize You After Work" seems to skip at the end. I think that must have been intentional. The title was probably something I didn't hear quite correctly.

Remind me to tell you what happened when Leslie discovered she had only 12 hours before her plane left for Costa Rica instead of 36 hours.

Explanation of 30 second spots

30 Second Spots

Sunday, November 13, 2005

30 Second Spot - Earth Shoes Coming Soon!

The music to "Earth Shoes Coming Soon!" was inspired by something else, but the title was inspired by this picture taken in a Whole Foods market. Where else would you expect to buy Earth Shoes?

ADMINISTRATIVE NOTE: As I've threatened, the mp3's I post will be available for a limited time only. Starting with this spot, old mp3s have started to disappear. If you are somehow inconvienced by this, let me know.

Explanation of 30 second spots

30 Second Spots

In which David has Two Strange Conversations & a Coincidental Horoscope

On most of my trips to Starbucks I never talk to anyone beyond pleasantries. It's a coffee shop, not a coffee house.

But Saturday I found myself in two simultaneous inexplicable discussions, both with twenty-somethings - probably college students - half my age at most. Conversations One and Two overlapped; I'll tell about them separately.

Conversation One: a young man sat next to me and started asking questions out of the blue. "Are you from Pasadena?" "Married or Single?"

He kept it up "Where's your wife?" (My answer: "In front of a computer.") "Is she at home?" "What kind of car do you drive?"

"What country are you from?" I found this really surprising, even disconcerting. When I told him that I was Born in the USA he asked "Where are your parents from?"

Conversation Two: another young man had been walking about. At one point he was standing 10 feet away. I was looking off into space. He said to me "Are you okay?" I was worried by this. "Do I look like I'm having a problem?" Just his way of saying "Hello, how are you?" he explained. He wandered off.

At one point I remember sitting between these two, taking a deep breath and thinking "This is very weird."

Conversation Two returned and started into a long, fast monologue about students learning to do jobs "like becoming a medical doctor or something lower" and then going for a job interview and answering all the questions but not having any idea what was expected of them. I wondered if he was on drugs. When he left again I turned to Conversation One "Did you understand that?" "Yes." he said. But I was baffled.

At home I told the story to Leslie. For some reason I wondered "Can my horoscope explain this?" I almost never read them. Here it is, from the L.A.Times: Virgo Saturday 11/12/05:

"There's much to process as the world swirls around you. You're not sure what to think. If you don't immediately see the lesson or allow yourself to feel the emotions involved, don't worry. Everything in its time."

Of course I don't believe a word of it. No wait. The horoscope was good advice. Oh, I don't know what to think. There's a reason the Astrological Forecast is on the Comics Page. If I eventually figure out what those two guys were talking about do I have to keep reading my horoscopes?


Saturday, November 12, 2005

In which David hears Ten Baritone Saxophones

Earlier I wrote about hearing a snippet of a Japanese ten baritone sax group. Charles Ulrich read my comment. Being smarter than I am he was able to Google the name: Tokyo-chutei-iki. He sent me this link from Far Side Music in London. Here's another link. Thanks, Charles.

"Far Side" in this case refers to the Far East not to Gary Larson cartoons. For £9.99 they sell a "4 track mini-album" by Tokyo-chutei-iki and I ordered it. Plus shipping etc I paid $21.31 for 12 minutes of music. I'm not disappointed.

It's excellent avant, jazzy, minimalist stuff. The album proudly announces "They use only human voice and baritone saxophones." There's a picture of the ten in a flying-V formation each holding a bari and not worrying too much about what clothing they put on that morning. Judging by the recorded sound, ten live baritone saxophones could probably blow me out of my chair - and then I'd laugh.

The first track "Strength Hardness Length Angle" has a lead vocal - a cross between very fast rap and a patter song with a melodic chorus. My favorite is "Cat Fight" a lot of high harmonics alternating with unison pedal tones and repeated rhythms. The fourth track, recorded live, asks rhetorically "Can 10 bari saxes play in tune?"

Because of the speed of delivery from Far Side Music I might order another album that seems unavailable in the U.S. It's a new one by a group called Cicala Mvta (sort of a Japanese Klezmer-Bulgarian-Punk-Jazz band led by a clarinetist). I listen to their album Deko-Boko often.

Music Reviews

Friday, November 11, 2005

In Which David Collects Random Thoughts

  1. One of life's little pleasures - persimmons. I just had my first of the season. But if you don't know when it's ripe, it's no fun.
  2. According to the L.A. Times being a member of a street gang is good training for a career in the Papparazzi.
  3. Back in the 80's I tried not to shop at any grocery store which had installed price scanners. That didn't last long. Now I'm wishing I could not patronize any business with a voice mail system. (Press 1 if you agree.)
  4. I laughed hysterically at the ending of the Marx Brothers' movie (A Day) At the Circus. An orchestra, on a floating dock, drifts across a lake into the fog whicle playing Wagner. If I have to listen to Wagner please let it be from a great distance.
  5. I could have hit a Mormon Missionary with my car - clean cut young guy in black pants and white shirt on a bike. He ran a red light trying to keep up with another similarly attired guy who had made it through the intersection legally. If I had not been paying attention I would have hit him . . . bam! "Not my fault, officer." But sometimes I think I'm a traffic accident waiting to happen.




Thursday, November 10, 2005

30 Second Spots times three - My Dad Was Crying for a Bird and Fell Asleep in a Chair

I wrote My Dad Was Crying for a Bird very quickly on November 5. So I copied the "Cantus Firmus" part and created a second spot called My Dad Fell Asleep in a Chair. They're each 34 seconds long and the long notes are the same in both. The similarity ends there.

The first title was said by a teen-ager at Starbucks. Her voice could have carried from Pasadena to Santa Monica. The second is a reference to my own Father, whose habit of falling asleep in a chair after work I've recently fallen into.

It occured to me to combine the two simultaneously. Uncreatively I called the combo My Dad Was Crying for a Bird and Fell Asleep in a Chair. Is this the Ugly Music for which life is too short?

Listen to three, two, one or none of them and in any order. They're all linked from the same page.

Explanation of 30 second spots
30 Second Spots

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

In which David Has Some Fun Now

S commented about Moment of Coincidence: "... it would seem that the whole idea of the 30" pieces is, on some level, for the excercise in general to be FUN as opposed to being WORK ...."

So you're saying the opposite of FUN is WORK? Makes sense. I often say "no matter how much fun you have doing something, if you do it long enough, eventually it becomes work."

Don't confuse having fun writing music (that's the essence of 30" Spots) with the music itself being fun.

Composers are often given great respect for composing happy music in spite of their lives being total disasters. Couldn't a composer who's having fun, fun, fun all the time write sad music? I think maybe so.

(Now on my CD player: Richard Galliano Septet - Piazzolla Forever - a wonderful album, but not fun. Piazzolla's music is never "fun" but he must have enjoyed composing.)

Music Reviews

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

30 Second Spots - Moment of Coincidence

Moment of Coincidence - an oldie: written August 3, 2005, over three months ago. I have absolutely no memory of what the title referred to. 38 seconds.

My friend Art Jarvinen (whose photo makes it clear he knows the meaning of the word) wrote to say that he thought my pieces were "fun". So I, always the contrarian, picked this piece out of the directory because to me it seems completely the opposite of fun - whatever that is.

Coming soon: more un-fun spots.

Explanation of 30 second spots
30 Second Spots

Monday, November 07, 2005

David's Voter Guide

There's an election in California on Tuesday. If you are:

Impartial information on any of the initiatives is here

Prop. 73 - Abortion Notification - NO - if this passes can coat hangers be far behind?

Props. 74, 75, 76 - Teacher Tenure, Union Politics & Spending Limits - NO, NO & NO - Ask yourself does your daily life benefit more from teachers, nurses, firefighters or police than from land developers, investment companies or big corporations? If you answer yes, vote NO. Read about Arnold's agenda here.

Prop. 77 - Redistricting by Judges - NO, BUT the polls say this one is losing big so I feel safe in voting YES. This would try to send my message that the system does need reform (albeit not this reform particularly).

Props. 78 & 79 - Prescription Drugs - NO & NO - competing propositions with big misleading media campaigns are not a good way to decide issues. If you think you must vote yes on one of these, remember "78 was written by big business, 79 was written by consumer groups" - so Yes on 79. (I would eagerly vote for an initiative to restrict paid signature collection which is allowing big money to manipulate our government.)

Prop. 80 - Electricity REregulation - YES (I guess) - California got screwed by DEregulation a few years ago. Prop 80 claims it will prevent another Enron episode. I hope it works.



Sunday, November 06, 2005

30 Second Spots - Music For A Three Minute Film About Cephalopods

"Music For A Three Minute Film About Cephalopods" - written on November 2, 2005. My friend Mike Boom (tall person, former oboist, tech writer, mycologist, scuba diver & underwater videographer) asked if I'd write music for a 3-minute film about cephalopods that I presume he's making. "Cephalopods?" I hear you ask.

I told him "No" but I would write 30 seconds of music with that as a misleading title and gave him permission to use it as he wants. Here it is, Mike. Turned out to be 36 seconds.

Does it sound like music for an octopus? (Yeah, I guess, but that wasn't intentional I feebly protest.) (Leave your own opinion on this vital question as a comment.)

Does it sound like music for the excellent Chinese Fried Cuttlefish with Peppered Salt from Fu-Shing that Leslie and I had for dinner. No, that would be going too far.

Explanation of 30 second spots

30 Second Spots

Friday, November 04, 2005

In which David Finishes Reading a Book

I don't have much time to read, especially since this blog. Last August I needed a book to help me fall asleep. I snatched Baudolino by Umberto Eco off a pile of Leslie's books by our bed. "The perfect soporific" I thought. I just finished it this week.

Years ago I tried to read Eco's "Name of the Rose". Couldn't do it. It wasn't until I watched the movie that I had any clue of what was going on. I decided then that my time was not worth reading more Eco.

But Baudolino's first chapter hooked me and now I'm happy to have read it.

Baudolino lives in the 12th century: Medieval Crusades, Holy Roman Empire, Holy Grail. If you know reams about that period you will not read the same book I did; apparently there are many historical and academic levels in Eco's writing to which my brain has no access.

I'd call it an epic novel, the story of Baudolino's life. He's good at telling lies and telling them makes them come true. He's also a man of great faith - especially that a kingdom of Christians exists in the far east. His lifelong goal: find it. He says "The kingdom of the Priest is real because I and my companions have devoted two-thirds of our life to seeking it."

In all this I find parallels to our time. Religous belief in "what is written" makes people do strange things now, too. Eco reminds us that history is what the historians say. Is telling history the same as telling the truth? These days people who disagree with our accepted story are regarded with suspicion.

On my flight back from San Francisco the woman next to me saw "Baudolino" and said "It's his best book". Great. But I still doubt I'll ever want to read another - unless I'm having trouble sleeping.

P.S. You could read this review but all his complaints are about things I liked.

P.P.S. The chapter headings in "Baudolino" were my inspiration for the "In which" headings of these blog posts.


Thursday, November 03, 2005

30 Second Spots - Tilting

"Tilting" - written on October 29, 2005. This one has what I consider a surprise ending, especially considering the opening material. The title is a clue to the source of the purloined first two bars.

Explanation of 30 second spots

30 Second Spots

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

In which David Survives his Most Depressing Sunset

A few friends don't believe this but I keep a very regular daily schedule. Bedtime is usually about 6 a.m. and I wake up mid-afternoon. I'll admit that I've made career choices based on what time I needed to be awake.

Since I sleep through so much of the day, in Autumn or Winter the amount of afternoon sunlight I get is very important to me. Bright sunlight is a great awakener.

By late October the days are noticably shorter. One evil night Daylight Savings Time ends and the clock falls back. That next afternoon is always the Most Depressing. It suddenly gets pitch dark way too early and I have to face two more months of even shorter days.

I have tricks for maximizing my few hours of daylight everyday. What were they? In the far north this must happen to people who sleep on normal schedules. But in Southern California it's my own fault.