Friday, August 29, 2008

Pictures from Shrimp Camp

During Leslie's recent fortnight at Shrimp Camp in Panama, she and Sammy (Mixed Meters' reader at Oxford) tried to take some "David" pictures - meaning shots I might have taken had I been there, camera in hand.

I've edited seven of those shots and mixed in one more, taken long ago and far away from shrimp camp. Can you pick my picture from their pastiche shots? It's a kind of a contest.

Shrimp Camp - beach waves
Shrimp Camp - crate
Shrimp Camp - driftwood
Shrimp Camp - leaf and fruit
Shrimp Camp - lilly pads
Shrimp Camp -Mushroom
Shrimp Camp - palm leaft
Shrimp Camp - soul in the sand

Click any picture for an enlargened version.

Shrimp Camp Tags: . . . . . .

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Boopin' on the Bass

I couldn't resist the first picture which I found on Flickr here:

Who knew that Betty Boop plays bass in a band
I took the second picture in San Luis Obispo. Note how much better Betty looks without the instrument. Our friend Jean seems to be pointing that out.

Betty Boop sign in San Luis Obispo
Boop Tags: . . .

Monday, August 25, 2008

Frank Zappa's Jukebox

"Rhythm & blues mixed with the avant-garde" That's probably the most direct way to describe Frank Zappa's musical influences.

Although I shared his interest in the avant-garde I knew nothing about that other stuff. One night long ago I got my first taste of just how little I knew when I got to hang out in Frank's basement listening as he eagerly played some of his favorite 45s. Blew my mind. I've maintained a curiosity about the origins of his "other half" ever since.

Last month the really fine blog Kill Ugly Radio announced a new album called Frank Zappa's Jukebox, subtitled "The Songs That Inspired The Man" I immediately ordered it (from Amazon U.K. because it won't be released stateside until the end of September.)

Frank Zappa's Jukebox has two dozen cuts of "tunes" which Frank knew as a kid or mentioned in interviews or programmed in guest DJ appearances or covered in his bands. You can read the full track list here.

Richard Berry meets Edgard Varese meets Johnny "Guitar" Watson meets Igor Stravinsky meets Hank Ballard and the Midnighters meets Anton Webern meets the Four Deuces. You get the idea. I've often imagined that an album like this would be useful.

Of course this project has no connection with the Zappa Family Trust who will be spinning in their graves for a long time over this release. Only they can produce the album I really want to hear - because it would juxtapose these sorts cuts with Frank's own music and performances. As it is, Frank Zappa's Jukebox is not much more than a random shuffle play.

The avant-garde part of this album gets the short end of the stick. Performers are not credited. There is Ionisation of course, is it the same (very dull) recording Frank owned as a teenager? There's 4'04" of Webern (one Bagatelle preceded by Rubber Biscuit, and a bit of Symphony followed by WPLJ) plus 2'49" from the end of the Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky (as interpreted by "one of Zappa's favourite conductors" -- Pierre Monteux?) (the links in this paragraph are listenable YouTube videos)

The disc comes with an extensive essay in a booklet - lots of quotes from Zappa interviews. It doesn't really explain why they chose long cuts by Cecil Taylor (really?) and Eric Dolphy - not music that I feel influenced Frank. (I always thought the title to Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue was, you know, a parody.) Instead, more Stravinsky (like complete movements from Histoire du Soldat) and the entire Webern Symphony would have gotten the point across more effectively.

On another note, you can read a fun article about Frank's heirs' European lawsuits. Here's a quote:
the defendants pointed out that the Zappa Family Trust trademark may not still be valid in Germany. The ZFT only sells its products online and buyers may only pay in US dollars. There is no ZFT office anywhere in Europe.
Also found via Kill Ugly Radio (a really fine blog)

Previous Mixed Meters posts about Frank Zappa. (THIS is the best one.)

Jukebox Tags: . . . . . . . . .

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Branches Before Blue

Tree Branches Blue Sky Mount San Jacinto State Park (c) David Ocker
Tree Branches Blue Sky Mount San Jacinto State Park (c) David Ocker
Tree Branches Blue Sky Mount San Jacinto State Park (c) David Ocker
Tree Branches Blue Sky Mount San Jacinto State Park (c) David Ocker
Tree Branches Blue Sky Mount San Jacinto State Park (c) David Ocker
Tree Branches Blue Sky Mount San Jacinto State Park (c) David Ocker
Tree Branches Blue Sky Mount San Jacinto State Park (c) David Ocker
Tree Branches Blue Sky Mount San Jacinto State Park (c) David Ocker
At Mount San Jacinto State Park I took lots of pictures of bare tree tips against the blue sky. This post tells more about the trip. Click any picture to enlarge it.

Tree Tip Tags: . . . . . .

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Everybody Loves Beethoven (Probably)

Timothy Mangan, the last full-time newspaper music critic in O.C., has a blog. (which is not true of the last full-time newspaper music critic in L.A.)

Tim posted an excerpt written by H.L. Mencken at the time of the Scopes Trial, 1925. It's about Beethoven. Go read it now: Beethoven and the Scopes Trial. Reading it is important because Tim's bosses probably peg his salary to how many hits his blog gets.

The excerpt really pushed my buttons. It smacks of vile cultural elitism coated with that sickeningly childish Beethoven worship which I hate so much. It made me want to rant.

Graffiti sticker of Ludwig van Beethoven in downtown Los Angeles
Of course it's entirely possible that Mencken has his tongue firmly in his cheek. How am I to be sure - with no smiley faces in the text?

It starts out like one of those "There are two kinds of people..." jokes. For example: "There are three kinds of people - those who understand math and those who don't." Warning: certain mathematical concepts will be abused in this post.

close up of Graffiti sticker of Ludwig van Beethoven in downtown Los Angeles
Here's an excerpt from Mencken's excerpt:
The intellectual heritage of the race belongs to the minority, and to the minority only ... That is why Beethoven survives. Of the 110,000,000 so-called human beings who now live in the United States ... it is probable that at least 108,000,000 have never heard of him at all.
I have no clue how many people in the US in 1925 had actually heard of Beethoven. Neither did Mencken. He was making up his facts ("it is probable"). That's an old journalistic tradition now preserved mainly by us bloggers. These days real journalists are into "fact checking". (Quick, name the capital city of Mongolia. )

Let's take Mencken at his word and stipulate that in 1925 about two percent of Americans actually knew who Beethoven was and the rest would have lynched him in the street for the crime of being meaningful and for coming back from the dead.

Ludwig van Beethoven figurine
But times have changed. Allowing for the three-fold increase in U.S. population, no one could claim in 2008 that only 6 million Americans have ever heard of Beethoven. Any other composer (except Mozart), maybe, but not Beethoven.

I wanted to shout back at the excerpt: "Hey, H.L. Now-a-days, thanks to our limited choices of infotainment conglomerates, the U.S. is homogenized pretty thoroughly. We've all heard of the same stuff - including Beethoven."

Ludwig van Beethoven action figure
We here at Mixed Meters set out to prove the point that everybody knows Beethoven by conducting a poll. The sample was small (9 responses) but the results prove the hypothesis so why bother going on. (Call that going, call that on.)

METHODOLOGY: I told each person that I had a question and asked for the first answer that popped into their head. No thinking, please. The question was: "Name a classical composer." (Not really a question, but hey.)

DATA: Here are the answers listed in descending frequency together with the first names of the respondents:
  • Beethoven (Kevin, Sean, Claudia and Tom)
  • Mozart (Rose and Lucy)
  • Bach (Sandra)
  • Brahms (Kristina)
  • Takemitsu (Daniel)
Ludwig van Beethoven action figure
Most of the answers were immediate, almost joyful. The exception was Claudia, secretary at an auto repair shop, who needed nearly a minute of her deepest cogitation before she came up with an answer, any answer (which she mispronounced.) But she knew "Beethoven".

Daniel's unexpected answer stems from the fact that he's a professional composer, the only trained musician in the sample. He cheated by thinking for several seconds before answering.

My poll has a probable margin of error of 25%. Remember: the "probable" - like Mencken I make up facts too. Please attempt to reproduce my results with polls of your own and post the probable results as comments below.

John Cleese as Ludwig van Beethoven
CONCLUSION: Forty-four percent of all Americans think of Beethoven first when they consider classical composers. If the question instead had been "Who is Beethoven?" my poll would have shown name recognition of 100% or more. That's because anyone who knows of Bach, Mozart, Brahms or Takemitsu probably knows of Beethoven too.

John Belushi as Ludwig van Beethoven
Poor Ludwig is now a cultural icon considerably separate from the appreciation of his music. Beethoven, who could still write music even after he went deaf. Beethoven, who overcame insurmountable obstacles. The Beethoven of Disney movies, disco hits, dog movies, strange rock band names and the John Thompson arrangement of Ode to Joy, among others.

We have made Beethoven's life's lemonade into a cultural kool-aid so diluted that everyone has tasted it but no one need be affected by it. The more diluted he becomes the less meaningful he gets. If people don't know why Beethoven is famous, they still know that he IS famous. Famous for being famous. Zsa Zsa Gabor.

Beethoven the movie poster
Mencken goes on to tell us what would happen if the 1925 unwashed did take notice of our hero composer. He doesn't even say "probably".
If [Beethoven's music] could be brought within range, it would at once arouse hostility. Its complexity would challenge; its lace of moral purpose would affright. Soon there would be a movement to put it down, and Baptist clergymen would range the land denouncing it, and in the end some poor musician, taken in the un-American act of playing it, would be put on trial before a jury of Ku Kluxers, and railroaded to the calaboose.
Okay, I get it now. Beethoven is really a stalking horse for Mencken's real target - the anti-teaching-of-evolution crowd. He wants to show us how stupid those people really are by telling us about the bonehead stunts they would pull if they catch up with the poor unsuspecting Ludwig.

How much have things changed since 1925?

Suppose that in 2008 a teacher were arrested somewhere in America, just as John Scopes was in 1925, for telling his class about evolution. Could it happen? Would you be surprised? I wouldn't. The battle over teaching the idea of evolution continues to this day.

Could a contemporary journalist attack the opinions held by creationists (or neo-cons or right-to-lifers or some other deserving group) by describing their probably hateful retribution on a ... composer? A composer of music? I doubt it. A blogger might try it, but not a real journalist.

Which composer's villification at the hands of the cretinous masses would arouse the most sympathy among us - the good people? Copland? Carter? Leiber and Stoller? Keith Burstein? Richard Thomas? In the wildest journalistic imagination could any composer be plausibly turned into the next Andres Serrano or Robert Mapplethorpe?

In a word, no. That is because it is probable that 98% of all Americans these days don't know any contemporary composers at all, and if they did - unlike in Mencken's hypothesis - their reaction to finding out about them would be the shrugging of shoulders and the changing of channels.

Ludwig van Beethoven's skull
And what of Poor Beethoven in all this? Suppose he did come back from the dead, hearing restored, to observe the holy adulations he so regularly receives. What would he think of his universal name recognition? Would be giggle nervously when asked about Immortal Beloved? I don't know.

But it is probable that if he actually listened (for the first time ever) to a performance of his own Ninth Symphony he would say "That's awful. I must completely rewrite it."

Ludwig van Beethoven's ear trumpets

The picture of John Belushi as Beethoven channeling Ray Charles on Saturday Night Live comes from here.

The Beethoven figurine picture comes from here.

The picture of Beethoven's skull comes from here.

The picture of John Cleese as Beethoven comes from here which also has a story about how poor Ludwig might have died. The script to Beethoven's Mynah Bird, a sketch on Monty Python's Flying Circus, is here.

The Beethoven action figure pictures come from here and here.

The picture of Beethoven's ear trumpets comes from here.

I took the pictures of the Ludwig sticker (which looks like Johnny Depp) on the traffic box in Civic Center, downtown Los Angeles.

Click any picture for an enlargement.

H.L. Tags: . . . . . .

Friday, August 15, 2008


A short film, winner of a prize at Cannes. You can spend 5 minutes doing lots of different things on the Internet. Most of them are not as moving as this.

Thanks to my cousin Bev for passing this along.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Palm Springs Means Summer Heat

Leslie and I spent a few days in Palm Springs at the end of last month. Here's a picture of the Road to Palm Springs.

bare mountain traffic sign Palm Springs CA
It's hot in Palm Springs at the end of July. Really hot. Here's a picture of the sun. Don't look at it.

Sun sculpture wall hanging
We were there to attend the wedding of our friends Len (he's the one with the beard) and Kristian (he's the other one with the beard). They were married by a retired judge, an outside ceremony in Palm Springs in July. Did I mention that it was hot?

Len & Kristian - wedding photo
When the judge said "By the Power Vested In Me By The State of California" there was a welcome bit of extra breeze - probably from the flurry of virtual buttons popping at that moment. We were proud to be there.

Here's a panoramic view from the front door of our hotel. Click on any picture for a much larger view but especially this one. Note the mountains. In the distance there's a second ridge of gray-colored mountains.

Palm Springs skyline Mountains (c) David Ocker
While Leslie spent the day with the wedding party, I got high on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Here's the official tramway site. It takes people to Mount San Jacinto State Park a mile above Palm Springs, somewhere up in those gray mountains.

I'm glad I made the trip because earlier this year California's Actor/Governor proposed balancing the state budget by closing Mount San Jacinto State Park (and dozens of others). Click here. I can't find any information on whether this proposal is still part of this year's state budget impasse.

Look closely at the next picture. You'll see a tram car, the cable it's hanging from, two towers supporting the cable and, at the top of the picture, the lower terminal of the tramway.

Palm SPrings Aerial Tramway cable car and towers (c) David Ocker
As you look down you can see various climate zones ending with the heat and haze of Palm Springs.and the Coachella Valley.

Looking down from Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Palm Springs (c) David Ocker
Our hotel would actually be visible in the next photo but for the large tree on the left. Click here to see the Google satellite view of that area. In the picture north is to the left; on the map north is to the up.

Looking down from Mount San Jacinto State Park Palm Springs (c) David Ocker
I hiked around in the park. It was hot there also but in a cooler sort of way. Here are some friends I made during my hike. Can you guess which two wanted me to feed them?

Mount San Jacinto State Park blue bird (c) David OckerMount San Jacinto State Park chipmunk (c) David OckerMount San Jacinto State Park stone face (c) David Ocker
On our drive home I snapped this picture of windmills waving us goodbye.

Palm Springs Calfirnia windmills from the freeway (c) David Ocker
Here's a Wikipedia article about same-sex marriage in California.

Click here
for pictures of barren tree tops at Mount San Jacinto State Park.

Hot Tags: . . . . . . . . . . . .

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Poof, You're A Pimp

Poof You're A Pimp album art by Eric N. Peterson
Poof, You're A Pimp is finally finished. It seems to me that I've been working on it for ever. The composition process was finished months ago. I've been mixing it, remixing it, listening to it incessantly and then, after ignoring it for a week or two, finally listening to it again, becoming depressed by the way it sounds and starting the cycle all over again.

But now it's as finished as it's going to get. There it is. Take it.

Poof, You're A Pimp is Copyright (c) 2008 by David Ocker. It's 722 seconds long, that's one fifth of an hour - plus two seconds. It's the longest computer-composed single movement I've ever posted. Listen now. Or not.

Click here to listen to POOF, YOU'RE A PIMP

If you choose "not", you might want to play the Poof, You're A Pimp Trailer - a short piece with voice over extolling the virtues of the full length work. It has about the same level of truthfulness as any movie trailer or presidential candidate; there might even be a clue or two as to what the big one is about.

Click here to listen to POOF, YOU'RE A PIMP TRAILER

And just what (I hear you ask) is Poof, You're A Pimp about?

Musically it started off as a paean to iPod shuffle play - which has given me many wonderful unexpected musical transitions. But the pieces of the mosaic started to get smaller and smaller. Eventually it became a musical stew where unidentifiable bits of things floated aimlessly. Then the stew boiled down into a lumpy paste which reminds me of a roller coaster. The advice "Get in, hang on and shut up" might be useful as you listen.

Here is a list of things you might listen for in Poof, You're A Pimp and actually be able to hear:
  • bits of jazz
  • bits of rock
  • bits of blues
  • bits of salsa
  • bits of Baroque keyboard music (dervied from Bach & Scarlatti)
  • polytemporal confusion
  • ugly harmonies
  • way too much percussion
  • 6 instances of the Poof, You're A Pimp theme (first heard just before 2 minutes, also very obviously at the end)
  • a mystery theme (clue, it's from a Russian opera)
  • trumpeting elephants
Within this musical confusion you should, of course, expect a few surprises.

Do you wonder about the title? It's a line from a Sex In The City television episode. Amanda says it to Charlotte after she expressed dismay at introducing Samantha to another woman with whom Samantha is having a Lesbian affair.

Read about and listen to another long piece of mine, Speaking With Other People's Words, here. George W. Bush is the vocalist in that piece.

The longest piece I've ever posted is Wagner and Schubert Have Intercourse, but that's in five movements. It also has a mystery theme which no one has ever identified. Read about and download WASHI here.

If the little embedded MOG players aren't working for some reason, you might try them directly here for the full piece and here for the trailer.

Here's a better piece which includes a few trumpeting elephants.


Mixed Meters' faithful reader Eric Peterson contributed the big pink album art to accompany Poof You're A Pimp. And then, showing little regard for matters of space or time (his time), he animated it. Thanks Eric, it adds just the right feeling to this post.

Find out more about Eric at and at

Pimp Tags: . . . . . . . . . . . .