Friday, June 29, 2007

Combining Four-letter Words: Oboe + Blog


I received an email about my post In Which David Is Confused By The Second Coming. This concerned a piece of hip-hop music, The Second Coming by Juelz Santana, which quotes the Dies Irae. It was used in a television commercial for basketball shoes. I can tell you, it confused the hell out of me when I first heard it.

That post has gotten more hits than any Mixed Meters post ever. When you're one of the first to write online about a subject many people are actually interested in, I guess that's what happens. This wave of hits rose up and carried Mixed Meters along for a while, giving me a whole new understanding of the phrase "Surfing the Internet".

Anyway - like I was saying...

I received an email about my post on Nike/Dies Irae/Juelz Santana from Susan Spector. Susan plays oboe at the Met in New York City. That means she wears black clothing and sits in the big hole in front of the stage where only people in the first few rows can see her. Here is her picture from her blog Perfect Pitch showing the proper way to hold an oboe. What a grip.

On deck, Susan Spector hold Oboe SluggerObviously a blog called Perfect Pitch is about BASEBALL Duh. Specifically her blog is about her team, the Mets. Susan is a big fan of the Mets.

Let's review: Susan plays at the Met and she roots for the Mets. What were the chances?

What brings
  • Hip Hop and
  • Baseball and the
  • Dies Irae and an
  • Opera Orchestra Oboist
all together in one post? I'm glad you asked.

Well, The Second Coming, that same music from the Nike commercial, is being used to rouse the Mets fans into something approaching excitement at their home games. Susan's first reaction, not unlike mine, was confusion. She has a good deal more to say about The Second Coming story and the meaning of the Dies Irae. Read her Perfect Pitch Post entitled Day of Wrath here.


In a more recent MM post Rich Critic, Poor Critic, I asked whether there were any female music critics out there. Another blogging-oboist (or oboe-playing-blogger), Patty Mitchell of OboeInsight, added a comment alerting me to the history of female music critics in the Bay Area. She also mentioned NY Times' critic Anne Midgette. Thanks Patty.

(Later without any help I remembered music critic Donna Perlmutter here in Southern California.)

In Patty's blog I found this article entitled To: Guy Who Screamed Obscentities at the Ballet the Other Night which links to a too-good-to-pass-up story told in this Craigslist posting.

Here's a sample.
It was then you yelled, in your beautiful gray-haired old crotchety man voice, "WILL YOU PEOPLE SIT DOWN AND LET THE *POLITE* PEOPLE SHOW THEIR APPRECIATION?!," slight pause, "YA ASSHOLES!"
Just read the whole thing for yourself. Gentility lives at the Ballet. At least the recent fist fight in Boston was at a Pops concert.

the RAT

On Sunday, June 24, at my local Pasadena Starbucks I picked up an abandoned copy of the New York Times Arts & Leisure section. The featured column-one article was "Music That Thinks Outside the Chamber". I read the first few paragraphs finding these striking quotes: acquaintance informed him that the two most boring words in the English language were "chamber music."
...for many people, chamber music is dead.
"Wow" I thought. "I wonder whose article this is."

I looked for a by-line. It was by none other than Anne Midgette. Since the death of classical music is turning out to be a frequent Mixed Meters theme I read on. A couple more paragraphs and I found this:
"At the moment supply outstrips demand," said John Steinmetz, a bassoonist and composer active in the chamber music field.
"Double Wow" I thought. John Steinmetz has been a close friend of mine for many decades. He and I were students together at Cal Arts, co-founders of the chamber ensemble X-tet, frequent performers of one anothers music and, these days, close neighbors (if only by the loose standards of Southern California geography). And here he was being quoted on the front page of the NYT Arts section above the fold. Way to go, John.

"I'd better read this entire article." my thoughts concluded.

(For those of you who wonder "What's a Bassoon?" imagine four oboes laid end to end and twisted around the body of the performer. This picture shows a somewhat younger John Steinmetz playing one.)

L to R: Richard Emmet, John Steinmetz, Frank Zappa, David Ocker early 80s
Anne Midgette's article dealt mainly with people playing chamber music in "non traditional spaces" Um, that means "bars".

Fine. Let's give this idea another try. In 1976, when John and I were studying at Cal Arts, the chamber ensemble Tashi (including my clarinet teacher Richard Stoltzman) played The Quartet For The End of Time at the Bottom Line in New York City. That concert was big news back then. Yep. And it really changed everything in the world of chamber music. Nothing's ever been the same since.

Apparently Anthony Braxton shared the bill with Tashi at the Bottom Line.

Oboe+Blog Tags: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Anne Midgette's fascinating 2002 article, A Critical Difference about being a woman and a music critic is here. (Thanks to Diva341 for pointing this out.)

The "Beats The Hell Outa Playing the Oboe" picture came from Roboflutist

Another MM post, entitled Who Is Weiden-Kennedy Anyway?, about a different Nike television commercial which used religious-themed classical music to sell basketball shoes.

Here's an article about the 2008 reunion of Tashi.

The picture of Richard Emmet, John Steinmetz, Frank Zappa and myself - and others like it - can be found on Richard Emmet's website.

X-tet's website can be found here.

John Steinmetz's website can be found here. He has been mentioned previously in Mixed Meters here and here. The little metal rat sculpture was given to me by John years ago. You'll have to ask him what it signified and why he wanted me to have it.

OJ and the RAT

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Counting to Seven

Alex Ross' blog The Rest Is Noise linked to The Juilliard Manuscript Collection.

I spent only five minutes looking at musical manuscripts. It's a very cool and efficient website.

During that 5 minutes I found this mirthful little example from the hand of a famous departed composer. I provide it anonymously because even these 4 little notes are probably an egregious copyright violation.

Since at least one of my three readers is not (much of) a musician, for a mere five dollars I'd be happy to send a free explanation of what is wrong with this particular mixed meter.

Mis-Noted Tags: . . . . . .

P.S. Besides telling Viola Jokes, musicians know a few Dancer Jokes. One that I tell is "How does a Dancer count to seven?". Sorry, but the punchline can't be typed, it must be counted out loud.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Notes from ComposerHead

(This is a guest posting from an anonymous reader named ComposerHead. Thank you ComposerHead. I guess Mixed Meters now has three readers. /David)

Notes from ComposerHead

I like best the notes I could have written, but didn't.

notes on top of each other
There are only two kinds of notes. Ones next to each other, and ones on top of each other.

notes next to each other
I like the ones next to each other better than the other kind. Although I will say it's kind of amusing to imagine the implied other ones.

You can quote me


ComposerHead Tags: . . . . . .

(BTW - only the text came from ComposerHead (really). The illustrations were my choice. /David)

Lifestyles of the Wet and Spineless

This is Spark. He's an artist. He draws and paints things both real and imagined. He's very good. I met him because we both hang out at our neighborhood Starbucks.

Spark, the famous artist, seen at Starbucks in PasadenaI took this picture of him as a kind of a challenge: he had said that only a great artist could take a good picture of an empty Starbucks cup. So I whipped my point & shoot out of my pocket and fired one shot. Lucky click. Maybe I'm not a great artist but the picture came out pretty well. I think.

Next is a portrait of Leslie done by Spark in acrylics . Leslie had seen a painting of a woman with an octopus crawling out of her backpack. She wanted a painting of herself with worms instead of an octopus. You see, marine worms are Leslie's biggest passion. The best I can hope for is to come in second after the worms. I'm okay with that. Really. (Click on the painting for an enlargement.)

Spark's painting of Leslie Harris with marine worms all over her
The third picture is a pen & ink "snapshot" of me done by Spark on a Starbucks napkin. Spark has an ongoing project of drawing people on Starbucks napkins. He shows me sitting with my laptop, in my favorite Starbucks chair. (click on the drawing for a large enlargement.)

As this drawing was taken I was working on the fourth movement of my piece Wagner and Schubert Have Intercourse. I've been working on it for months as time allows; it's now scheduled for uploading beginning in July.

The fourth movement of Wagner and Schubert Have Intercourse has since changed into the third and fifth movements, which are entitled "Endless Symphony" and "Endless Opera". These things happen.

Spark's drawing of David Ocker composing Wagner & Schubert Have Intercourse
This Saturday, July 23, 2007, beginning at 11:45 A.M. at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, located in Exposition Park - Leslie will be giving a lecture and slide show, showing many of her fascinating pictures of bizarre marine invertibrates and describing their strange behavior.

This lecture is entitled:

Lifestyles of the Wet and Spineless.

If you're in the neighborhood, please attend. (Directions to NHMLAC, down near USC and the Colliseum)

Links for this post:

Some of Leslie's worm photographs. Highly recommended!!

Weekend Activities at Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (this weekend only, starring Leslie Harris - check back next week for something entirely different.)

More about one of the world's largest marine worm collections at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Leslie Harris, collection manager.

Spark's MySpace Space It says he's 8' 11" tall. Check out his pictures, see what he does for a living.

Spark's ComicSpace Space Check out more of his pictures and an entire comic book he did called Helix.

Spark's previous Starbucks-Napkin-Drawing of me is featured in THIS Mixed Meters post from antiquity.

Painting Worm Tags: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Thursday, June 21, 2007

A Los Angeles Summer New Music Festival

A flyer for SASSAS arrived in my mailbox recently.

It announces a handful of concerts in 3 different locations, June through September. This makes it the biggest summertime new music series in LA county that I'm aware of.

The performers are described as

  • founder of a free-noise collective
  • someone who revels in "thrift store brutism"
  • a psychedilic bagpipe minimalist
  • a cellist who reveals the "sublimity of the small"
  • eight "heavy metal and harsh noise" players combined in "randomly chosen ensembles"
  • three "international icons of modern improvisation"

Find out who these people are and what the letters SASSAS stand for at their website which was, amazingly, not listed anywhere on the flyer.

SASSAS Tags: . . . . . . . . . . . .

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Rich Critic, Poor Critic

I met Alan Rich, Los Angeles Weekly music critic, about 25 years ago. Seems that I see him at every concert I attend. We usually speak briefly, often leaving me to wonder what other things he's really thinking about.

Alan's reviews are available online. His column is called A Little Night Music. I recommend it highly although I don't always agree with him. He wrote some nice things about me, back in antiquity when I merited review.

Many of the music critics I read in these modern days have been lamenting the firing of other music critics whom I do not read. Alan took his turn at bat on this subject in this post under the heading "What I Do and Why". He wrote:
"A community’s musical life needs a spokesperson."
He doesn't really say why this is so. We certainly don't need critics in order to form our own opinions.

A door in Disney Hall
Every person who hears a musical event, be it concert, club or busker in the subway, forms their own independent opinion. Not everyone knows the words to express their ideas. Such vocabulary is learned through the corrupting influence of music education.

People who never studied music might find reading a post-concert review helps them articulate personal thoughts, whether they agree or disagree. For a critic to presume he writes only what the majority of the audience thinks, as their spokesman, is exceptionally pompous. No, Alan didn't actually say that.

Music reviews do help people like me who can't (or won't) attend many concerts. We can learn the basic facts of who played what, when and where. Beyond that a reader needs to gradually create a filter for each critic's arsenal of adjectival ordnance. Suppose he never wrote a decent word about Andrea Bocelli. You might not need to read his take on Sarah Brightman.

(Are there any female music critics out there?)

As Alan mentions, music reviews can also entice people to attend concerts they might not have known about otherwise. We pretend not to notice when a review praises an upcoming concert which has paid advertising elsewhere in the same issue.

chairs in Disney Hall's BP Hall
Critics do get the chance to speak truth to power in the the music world. This is good. When Leslie read the draft of this article she said that the music community does need spokespeople to talk to the "Pharisees, Administrators and Bean Counters." (Alas, she refuses to ghost-write Mixed Meters.)

Arguments about why certain parking garages should have certain concert halls built above them apparently paid off. (Can't find the link, but I read that Ernest Fleischman felt Mark Swed's LA Times music criticism helped get Disney Hall built. I hope that Mark's comments about how certain museums have mistreated certain chamber music series might actually cause certain administrators to make certain changes.)

Back to the point: no one of us who loves music needs to care what a critic thought of a performance or composition in order to have our own opinion. That's what I think and I seem to be repeating myself.

Anyway, Alan also says:
[Classical music] "comes cloaked in a certain air of mystery, which the critic is there to penetrate. Because it has a strong impact on emotions, it also generates a lot of nut cases who, these days, have access to the Internet, so that we have both not enough music criticism — or, let’s call it, “writing around music” — and too much in the form of blogs."
This seems to argue for a type of elitism where just a few people get to create the opinions and others consume them. With a blog anyone can talk back to bonehead reviewer comments. This is a good thing. Alan, are you listening? You trumpet your own refutations of other reviewers, for example Chris Pasles. But you decry the musical community's discovery of a way to speak for itself.

behind the curtain
Alan, now safely back in the third person, goes on to praise the Internet music blog with more readers than any other: "The Rest Is Noise" by Alex Ross. I've referred to it often on Mixed Meters. I recommend it highly although I don't always agree with it.

To me the title "The Rest Is Noise" has always trumpeted that very elitist attitude. It seems to say "I review only good stuff and every thing I ignore is merely cacophonous pandemonium."
  • Maybe that's not the intended implication of the title.
  • Maybe someone will suggest alternative meanings.
  • Maybe the title is explained in Ross' book "The Rest Is Noise. "
  • Maybe I'll give up writing a blog and find time to start reading books again.
  • Maybe someone out there thinks cacophonous pandemonium is the highest form of music. My apologies to that person.

Tim Mangan is another SoCal Music Critic whom I recommend but don't always agree with.

Rich Tags: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Friday, June 15, 2007

Chowderhead - our newest family member

Leslie has a big soft spot in her heart for lost or injured animals. That's how she got me. Also several of our cats.

A few weeks ago she befriended a friendly, limping dog that had been abandoned near the double-wide where her laboratory has been
temporarily moved. For a while she thought she could find a good home for him. But it soon became clear that she wanted to keep the puppy for herself.

We voted on it. The vote was one to one. I lost.

He's fairly large and a red color. A mixed breed, obviously part chow. She named him Chowderhead. She regrets this now because I've insisted on keeping that name. She calls him Chowder or Chow-Chow or Ch-Chow. But I know that his name is really Chowderhead..

By coincidence our handyman is doing some maintenance tasks at the moment. Instead of those important jobs he's built fences so our back yard will securely hold a canine-type creature. Tonight is Chowderhead's first night with us.

Leslie and Chowderhead
In just a few hours Chowderhead has managed to get himself sprayed in the snout twice by skunks.

And he also broke into the house through the screen door and chased a cat across the house and into my office.

Yep, we have a lot of new experiences to look forward to, here in dog and cat land.

The wild creatures we're living near at the moment ....

A family of skunks living under the house. Leslie took this picture one night ago. They're gathered around a ceramic pig which holds a succulent that sits just inches from our back door.

The Four Skunks - a doo-wop singing sensation
Right across the street from us, high in a magnolia tree, a pair of hawks is raising their young. We've heard the chicks but have seen only the adults.

There are also recent raccoon and possum sightings. Cute little baby opossums and big raccoons standing on their hind legs.

We haven't seen a coyote in a long time. If we lived closer to the mountains we might see black bears. Southern California television stations always cover bears who swim in backyard pools.

Here's a previous Mixed Meters post involving a skunk.

Chowderhead Tags: . . . . . . . . . . . .

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Advertising with Disney Hall

Ever since they completed the swoopy architecture of Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles it has been a common backdrop for advertising - especially for fancy automobiles.

I really liked this picture of actresses from Leslie's copy of Vanity Fair . Unfortunately this is not the new uniform for Disney ushers, it was promotion for a movie.

No word on how many ankles were broken when they landed. Here's the same scene sans jumping actresses.

Here's an NPR article about jumping fish.

It's quite right for corporations to contribute to the Philharmonic. This is a form of patronage. In exchange the corporations should be properly acknowledged. This is a form of advertising.

Acura, for example, offers a small rebate to certain concert goers. For some concerts you get free parking if you drive up to Disney Hall in one of their cars. That's a big $8 discount. (The cheapest recent Acura sold on Ebay was an '86 Integra with 163,000 miles. It went for $585.75, about the cost of parking for just 74 concerts.)

The last time I attended a Disney Hall concert Acura also sponsored the after-concert reception. They served Acura brownies. (click picture to enlarge it)

Acura brownies at Disney Hall
While eating our brownies, we watched this static light projection on the wall of BP Hall. It makes me wonder where Batman is.

Inside the concert hall itself the stage has been named.

I guess their idea is that everyone at a concert will be reminded subliminally of this:

It would be a much better world if you were reminded of classical music each time you saw the bank's stagecoach, rather than being reminded of a bank each time you saw the concert stage.

But I doubt any orchestra has enough resources to patronize a bank. Just imagine the tagline: "This bank has been brought to you by ... "

You can buy a Fuck Frank Gehry t-shirt here.

Here a The New Yorker story about Frank Gehry's reaction to the shirts.

Patronizing Tags: . . . . . . . . . . . .