Friday, November 21, 2008

Ring Festival L.A. - Wrong Festival L.A.

Over the centuries people have come to Southern California from all over the world. They bring their art and religion and they build monuments to their own cultural heritage. In Southern California these monuments mix in unexpected ways.

I photographed an example of cultural heritages mixing: two architecturally antagonistic church steeples. They're one block apart and were built one year apart.(1) The congregations, although close physically, are heirs to very different cultures and mythologies. Their histories stretch back, along very different paths, to different parts of Europe. Neither church, neither congregation, neither religion, neither style of architecture is representative of Southern California by itself - but the area is richer for having both. And lots of others too.

Music can be a religion, it has a heritage and it has monuments. People often attend concerts to connect with their music history - like another Mozart symphony or another Rolling Stones tour. And just like the diversity of churches and religions, there are many different types of music in Southern California - hugely different heritages in close proximity.

One kind of music is opera. For many decades Los Angeles civic leaders dreamed of their own opera company and eventually they got it. Then they wanted their own Ring Cycle - as if that were some sort of validation. Their theory seems to be that Los Angeles Opera wouldn't be considered a "real" opera company without a Ring cycle, and without a "real" opera company Los Angeles wouldn't be a real place.


Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung is one of the biggest musical monuments imaginable - nineteen operas, each over two full days in length. (Hyperbole!) The plot screams about lust, murder, incest and revenge - but all in a good way. (Sarcasm!) "Love" and "Redemption" and "Heroism" and "Magic Fire" and "Helmets of Invisibility" and "Women Warriors on Flying Horses with Longer-Than-They-Are-Wide Swords" make it no weirder than Star Wars.

Some people keep coming back to these operas again and again. Those people are called Ringnuts (although I think it'd be cool to call them "Wagnerds"). Read my favorite Ring synopsis here. (Better yet, go find a recording of it.)

Richard Wagner was quite the egomaniac, a short, offensive scumbag who hated Jews and loved adultery - all in a good way as well. (More Sarcasm!) And of course Wagner's most famous fan was named Adolf. He used Wagner's music as inspiration to become the most evil person in history. Unfortunately the music world has largely forgiven Wagner for the horror of Hitler's ways. (2)

I'm not a believer in any religion, most particularly not that of Wagnerism. Others can believe whatever they want and attend whichever ceremonies make them feel good. I don't have to pay any attention. The L.A. Opera production of The Ring is easy to ignore.


Recently the L.A. Opera announced that they would produce a Los Angeles-wide ARTS FESTIVAL to accompany the performances of their Ring cycle. Here's a press release announcing the participation of 50 local cultural and education organizations. You have to go here for the whole list.

In the press release Placido Domingo modestly tells us:
Ring Festival LA will be a defining moment in the cultural history of Los Angeles,
This one-ring circus will start in April 2010. The final program won't be announced until January 2010 - 14 months from now.


Civic boosterism is a good answer: dollars and profit. As Eli Broad, the rich local patron who has given Six Million Dollars towards the opera productions themselves, said:
Ring Festival LA will bring worldwide attention to our city and attract an increasing number of visitors.
In other words: more tickets sold, more hotel rooms filled.

Less credibly, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky is quoted as saying:
Ring Festival LA will highlight the wealth of arts and culture that is unique to our town.
Someone should mention to him that Wagner operas are never going to be unique to Los Angeles. We will not become Bayreuth on the Pacific. Someone should also mention that Los Angeles has a history of arts festivals - a history which reflects conflict between elitism and populism.

Westminster Gold album Die Walkure by Wagner - naked woman with VW hubcaps

Although from 1947 through 1966 there was the Los Angeles Music Festival created by composer Franz Waxman, apparently the first attempt at a city-wide multi-discipline arts festival was the Olympic Arts Festval in 1984.

Here's a bit of Olympic Arts Festival hype (from here)
[T]he 1984 Olympic Arts Festival threatens to become one of the wonders of the contemporary world. These projects are Los Angeles theatre, Korean dance, California sculpture, performers from the People’s Republic of China, and above all, “freeway murals”.
A second festival, the Los Angeles Festival, was produced 3 years later under the same director, Robert J. Fitzpatrick, using Olympic profits. Here's a 1985 New York Times article about that.

The programming of the first two festivals was still hugely Eurocentric in spite of the hype. Some local creativity and non-European artists were included. The freeway murals have not survived several generations of taggers. Art is ephemeral.

For a while Los Angeles expected to have a regular city-wide arts festival every three years. There was a change of festival leadership. Here's a 1987 New York Times announcement about the change.

The new director Peter Sellars had a different philosophy about the purposes of and communities served by a giant arts festival. Here's an article about the difficulties the changed festival encountered. (Here's another.)

The last Los Angeles Festival in 1993 suffered from the lack of large corporate donations. Although Peter's philosophy was both positive and praiseworthy, it didn't really fulfill the desires of the arts community. I guess they were mostly interested in European arts and so the L.A. Festivals died on a petard of multi-culturalism. No one, to my knowlege, talked about another festival again until now.


I am bothered that Ring Festival LA will be promoted as a centerpiece of our entire local arts community - a keystone to all things expressive in Los Angeles.

While it might be nice for some people who live here, this festival, as it was announced, will be far from representative of the arts community as a whole. In fact it is elitist in the extreme. As such it could well do our arts community - especially our creative music community - a grand disservice.

I'm assuming that the plethora of arts organizations taking part in Ring Festival L.A. will program events related to the Ring or to Wagner. This would be a a way of attracting the Ringnuts who are expected to infest L.A. during the festival.

Go here to read about the events announced so far - everything seems to be Wagner related. except for one "little" Stockhausen piece. (Sarcasm!) Stockhausen fits in because he was German and he had an ego even bigger than Wagners.

There's this gem (yep, more sarcasm):
LA's ground-breaking daKAH Hip Hop Orchestra, led by Geoff "Double G" Gallegos, premieres a new work inspired by the revolutionary spirit of Wagner.
There are many "to be announced" festival events on their list. They might eventually include all sorts of things in the festival - Latin jazz, oriental dancers, gospel choirs, klezmer bands, etc. - events with significance to large segments of the other 97.6% of the city who couldn't care less about Wagner. Not holding my breath. (3)


The Los Angeles Opera should have their Ring festival. My fears could be allayed. Here are some suggestions. Only the first one is simple.

1) Change the name of the festival to "Ring Festival L.A. Opera" or "L.A. Opera Ring Festival"? Just don't claim to represent the entire Los Angeles arts community.

2) L.A. Opera also has a project called Recovered Voices which presents operas suppressed by the Nazis. Mix the Recovered Voices operas into the festival. In my best of all possible worlds you would only be able to attend a Ring opera if you had previously attended a Recovered Voices opera.
3) A big Ring Cycle production might someday appear on DVD. Before that let the masses listen in and watch for free. Broadcast all 4 operas live on radio and/or television. The opening of Disney Hall had live broadcasts. Share the operas.

4) A Los Angeles Ring should not further expunge the black marks on Wagner's personal rap sheet. The man should be viewed as reprehensible and his personal opinions and behavior are still highly relevant if his music is to get so much attention. Expand the educational seminar entitled "Richard Wagner and the Jews: The Use of Wagner by the Nazis." Los Angeles has the second biggest Jewish population on the planet and this subject should not be swept under the rug, especially here. One seminar in front of a few hundred people without extensive media would be an insult.

5) Be realistic about the debt which the Los Angeles film music community still owes to Wagner. Big ticket film scores draw their lifeblood from Wagner's leitmotivic composition methods. This is discussed interestingly here by John Mauceri. He's talking about emigre composers, but the practice persists. L.A.Opera has not had terribly good luck commissioning works from film composers - but that doesn't mean they should stop trying. Maybe they'll come up with something better than the Ring.

6) Hold a fringe festival at the same time as the Ring Festival. This is not something the L.A.Opera should do on its own. Instead the opera should give other organizations money to create an anti-establishment, anti-authoritarian, anti-totalitarian festival showcasing local creativity. Let those Ringnuts see that Los Angeles arts have gone beyond Wagner and movie soundtracks.


In my best of all possible worlds I've picked a name for this fringe festival - The Wrong Festival. The Wrong Festival is the Right thing to do. Like a clapper hitting opposite sides of a bell - we can hear "ringgg" and then "wronggg". Ringgg. Wronggg. Two sides of the same sound. An aural pun.

Like the two churches at the start of this essay, the Ring Festival and the Wrong Festival can coexist. They can occupy adjacent space at the same time and still validly and vividly represent entirely different artistic traditions.

A Los Angeles Festival should show the world that the people here respect one another through their art and music. It should show how Los Angeles residents hail from a huge number of backgrounds. We should celebrate our diversity in festival. We should not trumpet elitism.

(1) The picture of two church spires on North Lake Avenue will be familiar to residents of Pasadena and Altadena. On the right is St. Elizabeth's Catholic Church (in Altadena) and on the left Westminster Presbyterian Church (in Pasadena). The one on the left is actually much taller; it's visible for miles. One is Gothic Revival, built in 1925, designed by Marston, Van Peet & Marbury. The other, in Mediteranean Spanish style, was built in 1926 and designed by Wallace Neff.

(2) Jews included. I believe that the contemporary pardon of Richard Wagner represents the loss an important lesson from the history of National Socialism. Namely, that the arts can be used for bad purposes. My parents taught me to avoid Wagner, not by telling me 'Avoid Wagner', but by simply avoiding Wagner themselves. All the while they were teaching me to appreciate other music instead.

In our current politics, the lessons of political appeasement before World War II are repeated endlessly as an excuse for our wars. Now and again society should remind itself about the powerful dangers of all encompassing arts. These days the danger isn't from opera - more likely that television or movies or country music or books could get everyone's brains into lockstep as we make yet another foolish national mistake.

(3) 97.6% - calculated like this: 4 complete performances of the Ring, NINETEEN operas per performance, all 3200 seats in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion sold out for every performance, no person ever attends more than once. Total attendance - 243,200 people or 2.33 percent of the total estimated population of Los Angeles County as of Jan. 1, 2008 - 10,363,850. More realistically, if they only performed 4 of the 19 operas the percentage drops to just under one half of one percent. And divide that figure by four if everyone attends a complete cycle. On anyone's scale an event accessible by barely one tenth of one percent of the population qualifies as elitist.

More links:
  • See more photos from LA Opera's Ring here.
  • Pictures of Valkyries come from here and here and here and here and here.
  • The blond woman in black is Katharina Wagner great-granddaughter of Richard Wagner and current co-director of Bayreuth.
  • Robert J. Fitzpatrick describes the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival here.
  • Nibelung Real Estate is here.
  • Hitler and Wagner sites here and here and here. (The last one has a complete Bayreuth Ring Cycle mp3 recording to download.)

Just for the fun of it, here's some video of Hitler visiting Beyreuth.

Other Mixed Meters Musical Rants You Might Not Enjoy Either:

Wrong Tags: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I've never participated in a meme before, not for lack of opportunity. If you have no idea what a meme is, click here. In this particular meme (Sevens) you're supposed to post the rules of this meme, answer them, then tag others. Weird, because I've seen the same meme elsewhere - with sixes. Maybe it's time for Eights.

The rules:
  • 1. Link to your tagger and list these rules on your blog. I was tagged by Alex, the Seaweed Music Girl.
  • 2. Share 7 facts about yourself on your blog - some random, some weird.
  • 3. Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blog.
  • 4. Let them know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
  • 5. If you don't have 7 blog friends, or if someone else already took dibs, then tag some unsuspecting strangers.

My Seven Facts
  • 1. My Mother, a life-long coffee drinker and cigarette smoker, claimed to have spontaneously stopped smoking tobacco and drinking coffee while she was pregnant with me, but as soon as I was born she again wanted a smoke and a cup. I've never smoked and for the first 40 years or so of my life the smell of coffee made me ill. (I still don't smoke, but now I adore coffee and can drink unlimited amounts any time of the day without effect.)
  • 2. I grew up in Sioux City Iowa, where there was a large pile of manure between the stockyards and the Interstate, not far from the Missouri River. When the wind was right, you could smell it at our house. A potentially bad job could always be excused by saying "It's better than shoveling shit."
  • 3. In high school I read Eugene Ionesco's absurdist The Bald Soprano (in this wonderful pictorial edition) and I couldn't believe how much it seemed like my own life. Later I became a big fan of the equally absurd Goon Show.
  • 4. In college I changed my major from Math to Music because the music courses began over 2 hours later each morning than math classes. Since then I've consistently made career choices based on how late in the day I could sleep.
  • 5. In graduate school I taught myself to juggle using oranges picked by my roommate Wildman from trees belonging to the percussion teacher, John Bergamo. Oranges are very bad things for inexperienced jugglers because they split when dropped and get sticky juice all over. Eventually I took a juggling course at CalArts. Juggling was the only talent I graduated with that I didn't already have when I matriculated.
  • 6. I have a huge tendancy towards motion sickness and I can't read in any moving land-based vehicle. Just glancing at a map while riding in a car can make me dizzy. Fortunately, although I'm a musician, I've never had to tour extensively. I really like sleeping in the same bed every night.
  • 7. Here's a piece of music I wrote in a particular seven meter that I heard on an Internet radio station devoted to Afghani music.Read a little more about it here. I like music in non-standard meters - like five, seven, eleven. And I liked music which changes meter so much I named my blog after it. And I think the Diabolus in Musica is not what you've been taught - it's really the Back Beat.
  • 8. The pictures in this post were left over from an aborted blog post entitled "Purple Things on the Grass".

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Monday, November 17, 2008

This Is Not The Title EITHER

As promised and explained here, this is the sequel to This is not the title entitled This is not the title EITHER. You should probably listen to one of them before you listen to the other. Another piece of advice - play it loud!!

The two pieces are very similar. They have one melody and one sound effect in common and everything else is different.

This is not the title EITHER

This is not the title EITHER has:
  • a section influenced by the wondrously crazy music by the Kocani Orkestar, an oriental Romany Macedonian brass band
  • another section influenced by the piano stylings of Art Tatum, the famous jazz pianist who seemed to have four hands. (Read a MM post about Tatum's recent comeback tour here.)
  • a little piano lick which I cut from the first piece but didn't want to throw away. Listen for it at 36 seconds and at 210 seconds.
  • a lot of musical phrases and rhythms based on the number seven
  • a laugh track
Click here to hear This is not the title EITHER
Copyright (c) 2008 by David Ocker - 400 seconds

The title of this piece may not be the title of this piece, but it is not a fake title. Read about fake titles here and here and here.

These are not the tags EITHER: . . . . . . . . . . . .

Friday, November 14, 2008

Three High Speed Music Videos

Mixed Meters offers you ways to waste your time at warp speed. Hang on.

The first one comes from Guinness and Cream Cakes. It was described (in jest I hope) as the first rap song. It's from a 1936 movie called Night Mail with music apparently written by Benjamin Britten after he returned home from a performance of Facade.

Here's another video found at Guinness and Cream Cakes. Martha Argerich plays the Scarlatti Toccata damn fast!

I found Guinness and Cream Cakes via Violins and Starships. Until now, Mixed Meters has never mentioned Guinness except on Bloomsday.

Finally here's some Zappa music with frantic imagery.

I found this one at Andrew Durkin's Jazz: The Music of Unemployment I'd like to tell you that these are the sort of images Frank would have liked - but I'll have to check with Gail first to see if that's still true.

In which I blather about Scarlatti - one of my favorite composers.

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

This Is Not The Title

You can listen to my piece This Is Not The Title. Skip to the end of this post, past all the verbiage and pictures, to the part about the sequel and then click on the link to hear my piece which is entitled This Is Not The Title.

This Is Not The Title street sign

The title (or not the title) of my music is representative of the long, earnest, eggheaded tradition called self-reference. Read quite a lot about it here, in an article entitled This is not the title of this essay. Here's one quote:
You have of course, just begun the sentence that you have just finished reading. (Peter Brigham)
Some "serious" composers often have just a holy heck of a time picking titles for their creations. In my opinion this is because music is not really about anything; it's abstract. This recent New York Times article by Allan Kozinn discusses the problems composers have choosing titles. The wonderful blog The Detritus Review posted a totally pointless deconstruction of Kozinn's article.

Searching for the right title?

Kozinn mentions the young composer Caleb Burhans who
... keeps a list of lines from films, television shows and advertisements, as well as random overheard phrases that catch his ear, pinned to the wall over his composing desk.
I've been doing something similar for quite a while - except my "composing desk" is virtual and it's at Starbucks. And of course Caleb's composing desk is in New York, so it's more important than mine.

Here's a picture of my real desk. You can click it to enlarge. Notice OJ the cat sleeping in the foreground. The music on the easel and on screen is John Adams' The Death of Klinghoffer.

My cluttered actual desk - not where I compose
In the upper right corner, next to the Lucky Strike sign, is a famous picture of a pipe by Rene Magritte. The pipe picture probably inspired me to chose the title This Is Not The Title.

I wanted to call it This Is Not Music. Unfortunately, unlike Magritte's title, This Is Not Music would be an outright lie. In our post-Cageian age anything can be music - even that crap he wrote. Or the crap I write. Or the crap you write. No matter what it is. No matter what we call it. Or not.

"Enough about the damn title," I hear you say, "What about the music?"

The music of This Is Not The Title was inspired by a host of irreconcilable musical moments which happened to cross my consciousness in sort of the same way I take pictures.

It began with music I heard from this post, They Were Doin' The Mambo - Hillbilly Style at the WFMU blog. I also incorporated a small bit of a fifties R 'n B novelty tune about cavemen - sorry I can't seem to find that one again. And there's a Tito Puente lick in there as well.

Later in This Is Not The Title there's a long exact quote from my piece Bombed. Bombed has three movements: "Into the Stone Age", "Pan Am 103" and "Out of Your Mind". Both Bombed and The Death of Klinghoffer were written in 1991.

I sent a preview mp3 of This Is Not The Title to my friend Scott, Mixed Meters' reader in Boston. He wrote back:

I also really like 'This Is Not The Title'! It reminds me of so many of the cliches in the pop music I loved when I was in high school (Yes, Jethro Tull, Gentle Giant, Incredible String Band, etc.)
I have no clue what Scott is talking about but he's a professor so he must be making sense. I have never consciously listened to Yes, Gentle Giant or Incredible String Band. I do remember one Jethro Tull album in college because J.S. Bach wrote part of it.


This Is Not The Title has a sequel. I will post it soon. The sequel to This Is Not The Title also has a title - or maybe not. What do you think the title will be? What won't it be? Please feel to make suggestions - maybe your title will be no better than mine isn't.

Click here to to hear This Is Not The Title
Copyright (c) 2008 David Ocker - 337 seconds.

Interested in the self-reference thing? You should know about this book.

This is not the title is the prequel to This is not the title EITHER. Listen to that here.

These Are Not The Tags: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Fallen Avocados 6

An ancient venerated Mixed Meters tradition: pictures of avocados which have fallen from trees and have often been nibbled at by squirrels. If you want to see the entire Fallen Avocado series Click Here.

Fallen Avocado Pasadena CA

And speaking of "series" ...

It's an MM tradition to provide music videos to accompany Fallen Avocado pictures. Here are two videos about ugly new music - the first one from the century just ended and the second one from many centuries ago. Enjoy.

And as a bonus - here's a Gershwin/Schoenberg Mashup. Fantastic!!

Click the picture for an enlargement. It reminds me of a certain planet with one moon.

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Monday, November 03, 2008

Political Clutter

The US Presidential election tomorrow will mark the end of our political Silly Season. And Wednesday will be the beginning of the "Serious Season" when Presidents traditionally have had free reign to grow the economy (by taking from the poor and giving to the rich) and to protect our security (by bombing innocent foreigners.)

During political campaigns many people use cheap cardboard yard signs to post their opinions about who should be given these awesome powers. Yard signs have never ever caused a single person to change his or her vote. They should go the way of political lapel buttons. (Since I've lived in Pasadena I've seen a political button being worn only once: it turned out to be the candidate himself.)

I've been photographing some area yard signs recently. These include a few McCain signs which have been stolen and destroyed. More interesting are the home-made Obama signs. A few bumper stickers and pictures of our favorite Alaskan governor round out the post. Click any picture for an enlargement.

Homemade OBAMA ROCKS sign in Pasadena
Obama Bake Sale sign
I found these Obama Bake Sale signs on the grass. I suspect that duct tape failure rather than Republicans caused them to fall to the ground.

Obama Bake Sale sign
Yard sale for Obama offering T-Shirts, Apparel and Gifts. Also carved Pumpkins.

Obama Yard Sale Sign
I suspect McCain signs were ripped down by passing high school students. After a while people began posting their McCain signs far from the sidewalk in hard to reach places - like high on tree trunks.

Torn McCain Yard Sign
Torn McCain Yard Sign
Yard Sign for McCain - Intolerant People Stole our First Sign
This huge Obama sign is not homemade. But it's like 20 feet high and was in someone's backyard overlooking the Silver Lake Reservoir.

Huge Barak Obama yard sign
Bumper Stickers. First we have a red pickup truck I saw in Temecula California. Note the NRA sticker.

Obama & Marx bumper stickers
I fantasized that McCain would pick Condi Rice for Vice-President, then he would win the election and die in office, giving us our first female president, our first black president and our first gay president all at once. The Rice bumper sticker advertises this website.

Condoleezza Rice for President Bumper Sticker
I have no explanation for the last bumper sticker. It shows the words "Green Is In" with a Nazi swastika, a Communist hammer and sickle and an American five-pointed star.

Green Is In bumper sticker with swastica and hammer & sickle
I didn't take the last two pictures. First is Sarah Palin and her daughter with a bloody caribou she just killed. Then a Photoshopped Dancing With The Stars parody which Caesar sent me.

Remember: no matter who wins the election, on Wednesday "Palin for President 2012" committees will start to form across the U.S. thus sowing the seeds for the next political silly season.

Sarah Palin shoots a caribou
Barack Obama and Sarah Palin dancing together With The Stars

LATE ENTRY: I couldn't resist adding this Obama vs. McCain dance video. Apparently Joe Biden can't dance.

A previous MM post is called A Surge of Political Bumper Stickers - it includes a picture of Rachmaninoff. A very early MM reference to perplexing political bumper stickers is here.

ADDENDUM: One of our neighbors posted this painting on their home after the election.
Obama President Painting a

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