Saturday, December 31, 2005

30 Second Spots - Until the Alligators Knock Him Down

You probably knew this one was coming.

First go read about And Pretend That He's A Circus Clown by clicking here - it explains the title and why the spot took an odd turn half way through. Listen to that spot - then return to this post.

Now click here to hear Until the Alligators Knock Him Down which begins identically.

Copyright © December 23, 2005 by David Ocker - 40 seconds

Explanation of 30 second spots

30 Second Spots

Friday, December 30, 2005

In which the Irate Crime TV Show Host Gets a Face and a Name

Have you seen this woman? Her name is Nancy Grace. Please keep her off the television.

This story begins with my 30 Second Spot: Outlawing Irate Crime TV Show Hosts

I had to wait in my local bank yesterday afternoon. They have a large television tuned to CNN. Just my luck it was showing the same program that inspired the title of that Spot.

Her show is SO awful.: a combination of all the worst elements of network news, food-fight talk shows, tabloids and America's Most Wanted. Trial-by-media, assumed guilt, floods of innuendo and hurricanes of heart-rending human hopelessness. And this Nancy Grace is the ringleader.

Our legal system has enough trouble as it is without this sort of sensationalist interfering crap. Makes me wish we subscribed to cable television so I could not watch this all the time.


Thursday, December 29, 2005

In which Mixed Meters Takes A Victim

It kind of looks like an n, for NetflixI cancelled my subscription to Netflix yesterday and returned the final movies. I guess blogging has taken up a lot of my time and a monthly DVD rental subscription isn't cost effective.

The last three movies we watched were:

  • Wallace & Grommit in Three Amazing Adventures (hysterical half hour animated shorts plus a bunch of really short shorts called Cracking Contraptions. I highly recommend "Snoozatron")
  • Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory - sadly, I found it a bore. We also watched Charlie & the Chocolate Factory as a comparison. Equally a bore. Sorry. But now I know. It made me want some good chocolate; but not a Wonka Bar.
  • Munchausen - a 1943 color spectacular Nazi-produced blockbuster filled with special effects and escapism for the masses - fascinating given the time and place of it's creation. Nicely restored too. It holds its own against Terry Gilliam's version. This is one of those movies where you could tell someone the ending, but you should never tell the beginning.

Moral of the story: if you watch a lot of movies, Netflix is a good deal - and I recommend it highly.


Pictures of Plants

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

In which "Using Your Head" has a Medieval Meaning

My current soporific book (to get me to sleep each morning) is "The Merchant of Prato - Daily Life in a Medieval Italian City" by Iris Origo. It's based on the letters and ledgers of a wealthy Italian merchant who lived in the late 14th Century.

Here's a paragraph from page 62 that caught my eye:

"There were also other, more brutal sports, even more pleasing to the crowd. In one of the squares, a pig was enclosed in a wide pen and beaten to death by armed men, as he ran squealing from one to the other, 'among the loud laughter of those present'; in another, a live cat was nailed to a post and killed, in spite of her desperate clawing and biting, by men who, with shorn heads and bound hands, drove the life out of her by buffeting her with their heads, 'to the sound of trumpets'.

These, with the accompanying jests and boasts, bleeding backs and broken heads, were rare pleasures."

It's good to know civilization has advanced in 600 years. For example.


Monday, December 26, 2005

In which Christmas Music Persists

Tree Tobacco?I just listened to three hours of the world's strangest Christmas Music. Also the least often played. Click here to hear the Christmas Music Show on WFMU's Fool's Paradise. (An archive is available anytime you want it - like next year.)

It must have included every version of "The Night Before Christmas" in beatnik jive ever made. "I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas" didn't make the cut.

As a counterweight to these radio rarities, here is a list of Christmas songs heard most often on the radio. (The article also includes the most heard non-Christmas tunes.)

And I promise to make an effort to stop writing about Christmas music.

Pictures of Plants
Music Reviews

Sunday, December 25, 2005

30 Second Spots - Outlawing Irate Crime TV Show Hosts

A Picture of David & Leslie watching Televisionclick here to hear Outlawing Irate Crime TV Show Hosts This was written in a hospital waiting room while sitting directly under a television tuned to CNN. The title is my reaction to the sickening host (thankfully I don't know her name) who was doing "true crime" stories about Missing White Women. She had helpfully convicted all the suspects for us in advance.

Copyright © December 6, 2005 by David Ocker - 34 seconds

Explanation of 30 second spots

30 Second Spots

Saturday, December 24, 2005

In which Creationism and Evolution Overlap

25% of Turnips Believe in Intelligent DesignMy local newspaper (The Pasadena Star News) had an AP article today about how science museums are (or aren't) responding to the onslaught of creationism and Intelligent Design. At the bottom of the column were results from a Sept. 8-11 Gallup Poll:

58% of people believe Creationism is definitely or probably true. 55% of people believe Evolution is definitely or probably true.

Assuming the maximum margin of error of 3%, it seems to me that 7% of the sample believe equally in Creationism and Evolution. Since those ideas can't BOTH be true (trust me on that), I suggest we believe one of the following:

1) Some people answer polls without thinking.
2) Some people are happy holding contradictory opinions.
3) The Gallup poll writes confusing questions.
4) Newspaper editors can't add.

I couldn't find raw Gallup data online, but the Baptist News seems happy with the results. (They mention the same numbers, but as part of an August poll, at the bottom of this article.)

Pictures of Plants

Friday, December 23, 2005

In which Things Are Combined Without Apparent Reason

Here are two closeup pictures of empty Rose Parade bleachers.

Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena sprouts miles of these at this time of year. It's preparation for the big parade (which, by special arrangement with God, is Never On A Sunday).

For humorous 60's style radio advertising (rather than marching down the street corporate branding) listen to this recording - The Hellers: Creative Freakout (from the 365 Days Project)

"Hey, Charlie. I think your bottle's off key."


Thursday, December 22, 2005

30 Second Spots - And Pretend That It's a Circus Clown

click here to hear And Pretend That It's a Circus Clown - This afternoon the muzak in Starbucks was turned down low. I happily wrote the first half of this spot.

Then six young women, attired in variously-hued red sweaters, with a boom box and a way-too-loud overly-orchestrated Christmas karaoke tape, began to sing, redefining the term polytonality. I finished writing the spot while enduring this 7th level of Christmas music hell.

Can you tell at which moment they started singing?

The title is from their lyrics to Winter Wonderland - the G-rated 2nd verse:

In the meadow we can build a snowman
and pretend that he's a circus clown
We'll have lots of fun with mister snowman
until the alligators knock him down.

Christmas Alligators !! Very Cool.

Copyright © December 22, 2005 by David Ocker - 36 seconds

Explanation of 30 second spots

30 Second Spots

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

In which Many Lights Blink On and Off In Rhythm

getting very close to a Christmas decoration 'Tis a movie of the season which you might watch here. It comes with music.

It was done by electrician Carson Williams in Ohio. The music is "Wizards of Winter" by Trans-Siberian Orchestra. The display has been shut down because of traffic problems.

Much more information here.

Same house - different music here.

Same music - different house here.

Sure glad I don't live across the street.

Music Video

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

In which Tomorrow is Probably The Solstice

Chichen Itza - Mayan PyramidTo someone who works all night and sleeps all day (that's me) the Winter Solstice is a red-letter day. That's the day on which I have the least chance of actually seeing the sun. Not good.

On the other hand there is plenty of inductive evidence that after this solstice the days will start getting longer once again. It's happened in previous years. Probably this year too. Reason to celebrate. Especially for your ancestors if they lived in Northern Europe.

And sure enough, just about everyone does celebrate these days - although most wait some days or weeks to begin the traditional party. Blame it on imprecise astronomy. I wonder how native cultures in the Southern Hemisphere celebrated their winter solstices. In June.

By the way - the Jewish holiday this time of year has nothing to do with Solstice. We were lousy astronomers. Hanukkah celebrates a religious insurrection.

I took this picture one year ago in Mexico. It's the Chichen Itza pyramid - designed by the Mayans to align with the Equinoxes, not the Solstices. There will be an Equinox in three months. Probably.


Monday, December 19, 2005

In which Christmas Music Makes David Cry

Detail of Catholic Cathedral door in Merida MexicoSome of you may know that I work for composer John Adams as music copyist. He has written a large Christmas oratorio called El Niño - performed this weekend at Disney Concert Hall. (Hear a 7 minute excerpt here.)

Also, you may have deduced from this blog that I'm not a fan of Christmas music. Not at all.

So it might come as a surprise that the very end of this piece moves me to tears. Not just teary eyes - but big drops running down my cheeks.

This has happened on several occasions including Sunday afternoon. The first time I heard El Niño - at the U.S. premiere in San Francisco - I was so moved that I was unable to talk because of uncontrollable tears. This is as baffling as it is embarassing - hey, I'm supposed to be a hardened professional musician. No other music has ever had this effect on me.

The entire work (nearly 2 hours long) ends with a simple 6/8 tune sung by a children's chorus. Just before the end the orchestra drowns the chorus out - but they reappear accompanied only by a guitar. Maybe my reaction involves the contrast of simplicity with the previous complexity.

It does give me hope that there's something fundamental and honest and important and universal to be expressed musically during the season. It can't all be mindless. Can it?

Plus I think it quite refreshing to find references in El Niño to a cave full of dragons. Or a street massacre in Mexico.

Music Reviews

Sunday, December 18, 2005

In which David meets a Musical Hero

THE BACKSTORY: In the late '60s I was a high school student in Sioux City, Iowa. Someone gave me a tape with no explanation. I played it on my prized possession: a Panasonic reel-to-reel tape recorder with 3 inch reels and a top speed of 3 3/4 i.p.s.

On this tape was a man introducing music at a concert. The very strange - and very funny - pieces were by someone named P.D.Q. Bach. I was enthralled. And baffled. Imagine trying to understand what kind of musical instrument a "Horn & Hardart" was if you'd never been east of Iowa.

I learned the man was Peter Schickele - and I've been a big fan of his good humored music ever since. In fact, Peter Schickele's work has had a huge & positive effect on my attitudes towards music.

CUT TO THE PRESENT: Friday morning I was sitting in Disney Concert Hall before a concert. Several women sat down to my left and later a man and woman sat to my right. I wasn't paying attention. The woman-to-my-left asked "Is the man near you Peter Schickele?" I looked over but I wasn't sure. Then he talked - no mistaking that voice.

Eventually I figured out how to introduce myself - which would be a whole other story. As I've often heard from people who know him - and as I always assumed from his music - he was a thoroughly pleasant and charming individual. When we said goodbye I told him he was one of my musical heroes - and there aren't very many others.

Music Reviews

Saturday, December 17, 2005

30 Second Spots - Christian Pool Players

People on a Steepleclick here to hear Christian Pool Players. I saw the title painted on the side of a car. As a juxtaposition of concepts to me it seemed similar to those between the titles and the music of the 30 Second Spots. Of course, that's really for YOU to decide.

An oldie. Copyright © November 22, 2005 by David Ocker - 33 seconds

Click here to read about the Christian Pool Players Association.

Explanation of 30 second spots

30 Second Spots

Friday, December 16, 2005

In which David enjoys vintage absurd humor

Consider Man On The Street interviews.

Often used as filler in TV news. Fake ones are staples of misleading commercials. (My favorite line "They're giving it away free? It must be good.")

But how about interviewing unsuspecting people and presenting them with absurd situations? If you think that might be funny you should know about Coyle and Sharpe.

That would be James P. Coyle (in front) and Mal Sharpe (the other one). They were radio comedians in San Francisco during the sixties (not evil assistants to President Nixon as the picture might suggest).

Click here for The Official Coyle & Sharpe Webpage - you'll find audio and video. It's more amusing and droll than this blog.


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

In which David Removes a Blemish From Windows

Somewhere in downtown Los Angeles Microsoft is very good at some things . Marketing products. Making certain geeks rich.

One thing they are definitely NOT good at is avoiding small repetitive annoyances in their Windows operating system.

Recently I stumbled across a small free program than removes one Windows Worry which drives me nuts. (Use Mac or Linux? Stop reading now and click here.)

Open Wide (Click here to read all about it) lets you customize the size and settings of the Open File and Save File dialog boxes. Simple. No more microscopic box and click click click clicking to get where I want. Now I get a big list.

Okay, so if you don't sit in front of the computer all day (like I do) this may not be a critical quality of life issue. But when a small infinitely-repeated bother is suddenly removed the sky just seems bluer. Ya know?

Now everyone can go watch the ping pong video.

Computer Headaches
Music Video

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

30 Second Spots - Moved to Maternity

This is not a picture of a Green Dolphin click here to hear Moved to Maternity The title describes something that happened to Leslie, but not for the usual reasons. As always, the title and the music have no relationship whatsoever.

Copyright © December 8, 2005 by David Ocker - 36 seconds

Explanation of 30 second spots

30 Second Spots

Monday, December 12, 2005

In which David Discusses Death and Punishment

A Candle In the Darkness I once heard Frank Zappa say: "The only reason to become governor is that you can kill people." Or words to that effect.

Back then the thought that governorship comes with the perq of "deciding life or death" struck me as true and obvious. But no candidate would ever admit to being attracted by this power - out loud.

I heard that the last Governor of California to grant clemency in a death penalty case was Ronald Reagan. Apparently Governor Schwarzenegger heard the blood lust of my fellow citizens and he has abused his power of life or death. Do you think it'll help his re-election chances? (Click here for more on that.)

Stanley "Tookie" Williams seems like a dispicable guy who doesn't deserve clemency. But he doesn't deserve death either. He deserves punishment. I think he should endure the punishments of prison for as long as possible.There'll be plenty of time later to suffer those of an imaginary hell.

Besides, if "Thou Shalt Not Kill" applies to individuals it should also apply to governments. Or at least to Governors.


Sunday, December 11, 2005

In which Spies Get Interested in New Music

Largely Overlooked Architectural Detail of Walt Disney Concert HallAs urban legends go, this one about how Anton Webern coded secret wartime information into his music is pretty funny. Once, on an Internet Mailing List that I get, it got taken quite seriously - as it is on the Urban Legends website.

Later I ran across a movie that uses the new-music-as-tool-for-spies concept. It's called The Man with One Red Shoe starring a young Tom Hanks. A remake of a French movie. Pretty funny - but all the reviews said "not as funny as the original."

I couldn't find the original, called The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe (imagine the title in French) on DVD . . . until a copy appeared on EBay a couple weeks ago. I ordered it. (The movie is still not available on DVD - this was a bootleg. Bad David.)

My Verdict - the orignal is a little funnier because the star (played by Pierre Richard) is much better at physical schtick than Tom Hanks. Otherwise the movies are very similar. People who are amused by ugly new music will love the "opera" he plays on his violin.

Confusingly, I need to mention another movie - Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes. But if I tell you why, I'll have to kill you. Or something.

Music Reviews

Saturday, December 10, 2005

30 Second Spots - The Musical Christmas Sandwich

Tesco, the "English Walmart", announced plans for a sandwich wrapper that plays Christmas music. Here's one link. Here's another.

Imagine many of these, still playing, languishing in the trash. Here's my idea of what that might sound like: click here to hear The Musical Christmas Sandwich I suggest "continuous" mode - so it plays over and over and over.

Speaking of sandwich wrapping, here's the obvious connection.

Copyright © December 10, 2005 by David Ocker - 36 seconds

Explanation of 30 second spots

30 Second Spots

Friday, December 09, 2005

30 Second Spots - Pharm

Here's a line from The Simpsons that got a big laugh from me: "That's it, it's one thing for a ghost to scare my kids, But it's quite another for him to play MY THEREMIN!"

Here's a cool "Powers of Ten" website that is referred to in that same episode.

click here to hear Pharm which has nothing whatsoever to do with the Simpsons or this picture of a plant or powers of ten or anything at all, really. The title is part of a common word, something you might find around a grocery store.

Copyright © December 5, 2005 by David Ocker - 34 seconds

Explanation of 30 second spots

30 Second Spots

Thursday, December 08, 2005

In which David Buys More Acid Rain

Acid Rain is my favorite hot sauce because it's not just very hot, it also has flavor. I ran out. The picture is of my last bottle.

I ordered 4 more bottles from Hot Sauce World - I've never found it in nearby stores.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

In which David Does Something Stupid With a Mailbox

A week ago Wednesday I paid the bills. And I had a check to deposit in the bank. All the envelopes were together and I forgot to take care of them right away.

On Friday, as Leslie and I were going out, I grabbed everything. We drove by the post office and she dropped them all in the box.

Sunday night: "What happened to the check I was supposed to deposit?" I searched frantically. Then it hit me: the bank deposit envelope had gone into the mail box on Friday. Oops.

Monday I contacted the post office. Talked to a lot of polite people who were very familiar with the concept. "We get a lot of bank deposits." one woman told me. No one could agree where my envelope was supposed to go for sorting. The U.S. Post Office is a big, big place. There are many alternatives.

Wednesday (today) - in the mail was a letter from the Post Office with my check inside. They opened the envelope and found my address. Not bad service, I think. But I do feel pretty stupid.

So the next time you complain about the Post Office, remember it's people like me who make their job hard. No wonder they charge so much for a first class stamp. (It's actually a bargain. According to Federal Reserve Consumer Price Calculator - 37 cents is a nickel in 1957 dollars.)

Pictures of Plants

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

In which David Imagines George Bush and Charles Ives

Imagine the U.S. has conquered a foreign country, put its leaders on trial and removed a political party. Iraq? The Baathists?

Imagine that the leaders of this foreign country had a deep interest in serious music which they used for political purposes. Suppose the U.S. wanted to punish a great musician who seemed to have collaborated, but who claimed he was only trying to preserve the music and survive.

Imagine that someone made a movie about this - and even succeeded to the point of presenting both sides of the story without actually taking sides. It's called Taking Sides - (here's a review) - the story of an American Army Major charged with prosecuting Wilhelm Furtwangler after WWII. Good movie.
Twisted MuseMusical life in Nazi Germany interests me. Two fascinatings books by Michael H. Kater "The Twisted Muse: Musicians and Their Music in the Third Reich" about the classical side and "Different Drummers, Jazz in the culture of Nazi Germany." Curiously jazz was stronger than the Nazis. But not classical music.

Imagine if powerful leaders in the US thought classical music was essential to our culture. Imagine George Bush having a favorite Charles Ives or Aaron Copland conductor. Would that be good?

Music Reviews

Monday, December 05, 2005

Forty Second Spots - December Fortieth

Sunset Over an Unfinished Church
click here to hear December Fortieth The title was used to describe my brother-in-law's vacation. That's all you need to know.

Copyright © December 4, 2005 by David Ocker - 42 seconds

Explanation of 30 second spots

30 Second Spots

Sunday, December 04, 2005

In which a Political Column makes David Smile

Robert Novak is not someone whose writing I usually read, but the title of his column "Removing J. Edgar's Name" caught my attention. It's about a speech by a prominant conservative judge calling for the name of J. Edgar Hoover to be removed from the FBI building in Washington. Cool.

Isn't going to happen. Nice thought.

It's not quite De-Stalinization, but I'd like to see a dead politician who did bad stuff have his honors revoked.

Hey, maybe even living politicians. Henry Kissinger?

Here's a picture of J. Edgar admiring a dress.


Saturday, December 03, 2005

30 Second Spots Times 3 - A Personality Quiz

Here are three 30 second spots. There is a new rule however: You May Only Listen To One Of The Three.

"How shall I decide which?" I faintly hear you ask.

Compare yourself to the three personality descriptions below. Then listen to the spot with the statement that best describes you.

1.) I need familiar and predictable situations that will not challenge me. If this is you click here to hear Who Needs an Overcoat (A tonal fugue.)
Copyright © November 28, 2005 by David Ocker - 33 seconds

2.) I like everything in moderation and avoid extremes. If this is you click here to hear Lacking an Appreciation for the Artform - (Random arpeggiated noodling.)
Copyright © November 29, 2005 by David Ocker - 34 seconds

3.) I thrive on uncertainty and prefer ambiguous resolutions. If this is you then click here to hear Sam and Dave - Damned or Saved (A small fanfare for a bad event.)
Copyright © November 30, 2005 by David Ocker - 34 seconds

Later, if you think your personality has changed, you may take the test again.

(P.S. As far as I can tell Sam and Dave - Damned or Saved has nothing to do with the singing group Sam & Dave or the album Salmon Dave by the great Joe Newman.)

Explanation of 30 second spots

30 Second Spots

Thursday, December 01, 2005

In which David Complains About Christmas Music

Seasons Greeting from Two Plastic Figures Who Wish to Remain AnonymousMerry Christmas from the YOUR NAME HERES

Today is December first and the Christmas Music Season is already three weeks old. I apologize for my bad attitude, but I'm sick of it. Worse yet, it's got more than a month to go.

People who are looking forward to Christmas deserve audio stimuli. For the rest of us it can't be turned off. Must be good for sales. "The First Noel - now with more marketing power!" How about a chorus of The Dreidel Song occasionally for those few of us on the outside.

So much Christmas music has that "Small World After All" quality - you can't stop singing it. Apparently tunes stuck in your brain like that are called "earworms." Just imagine being Jewish the next time you catch yourself humming "Silent Night."

At Starbucks the beautiful & mournful Billie Holiday song "God Bless the Child" is in heavy Christmas rotation. I thought it was about arguing with your relatives about money. Ah, that's the Christmas spirit.

Music Reviews