Saturday, December 31, 2011

"Not The Title" Pieces Available Again

On a recent walk my iPod decided that I needed to hear my piece entitled This Is Not The Title EITHER. I hadn't listened to it in quite a while, probably more than a year.  I enjoy hearing my own music after long periods of absence because it's as close as I can get to experiencing it with the ears of someone who hasn't composed my own music.

I enjoyed it.  It's a wacky piece.  Really wacky.  I admit that as a composer - heck, as a person - I have a wacky streak.  This music comes fright out of that streak.  I only hope that music of this sort will infuriate dogmatic minimalists and doctrinaire, close-minded fans of classical music.

You might remember that This Is Not The Title EITHER is the sequel to another piece This Is Not The Title.   I composed them in 2008.  It's hard to say which piece is the wackier.

Links to the music site (which shall MOG remain nameless) where you once could hear these pieces have long since stopped working.  So I have uploaded them both anew.  I'm happy to report that they are available for listening once again - just in time for 2012. 

I knew you'd be thrilled - especially if you are a dogmatic minimalist or a doctrinaire, close-minded fan of the classics.

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

Click here to hear This Is Not The Title EITHER
Copyright (c) 2008 by David Ocker - 400 seconds
Read the original post here.

The sound quality is, as they say, medium crappy at best.  Think of it as a feature, not a bug.  It helps accentuate the wack.

Want to hear the piece which I think is my wackiest?  Click here.

Wacky Tags: . . . . . .

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Jingle Bells - The Long Version

The most hallowed Mixed Meters' musical tradition is probably the yearly winter Solstice piece based on Jingle Bells.  Theoretically these efforts of seasonal spirit should appear around the "Holidays".  For the last couple of years, however, they have been woefully late.

The previous one, Solstice Lights, a video composition, was not posted until the summer Solstice, a full half-cycle of calendar behind.  Had it been any later, I guess it would have become an early post for this year.

The 2009 Jingle Bells musical composition, entitled A Combination of Jingle Bells and the Internationale, was posted on May 22, 2010.  (That post has links to even earlier Jingle pieces, if you're curious.  It also has lots of pictures of Che Guevara.)

This year, for my 2012 New Year's Resolution, I resolved to be more timely about fulfilling this tradition.  And so I have.  But be warned: I have accomplished this feat by creating a work that is 85% total silence.

It's called Jingle Bells - The Long Version.   It has origins in two different but equally geeky computer issues:
1) For a long time I have been wanting to create some original System Sounds.   Those short beeps and zings that a computer uses to say things like "You can't click here" or "There is some sort of a problem." or "You have spam." were really starting to annoy me.  The operating system provided few alternative options and those didn't have much variety.  I figured a self-styled creative guy like myself ought to be able to make more interesting sounds himself.

2) I upgraded my copy of Sibelius, the program I use to compose music.  About a dozen years ago I started with Sibelius 2 and each subsequent version since has been an evolutionary improvement.  Much to my surprise, the latest version, Sibelius 7, introduced a completely new structure.  Someone, no doubt looking out for my own good, took every single command (of which there are many) and tossed them like a salad.  It is like a whole new program, nothing is where I expect it to be.  Any long-time user facing the daunting re-learning curve might simply go back to the previous version and never upgrade again.
I sought a way to combine these issues.  Could I re-learn this entirely new-but-still-old  program by using it to create some original system sounds?

Such sounds need to be exceptionally short.  They also must be interesting, complex musical events.  I quickly came to think of them as little musical compositions, pieces no longer than two seconds.  You'd think these super short works would be an easy task for a guy like me who has already spent lots of time writing short pieces, namely my series entitled Thirty Second Spots.  You'd be wrong - writing a one second piece is a really different ball game.

I gave the idea a go.  After creating maybe half a dozen such sounds, some of which have become my regular system sounds, I had another idea.  Could I use this new stone to kill yet a third bird - my impending deadline for a Jingle Bells piece for 2011, the one I had resolved to post promptly this year?

And that's how the idea for Jingle Bells - The Long Version was born.

I would take one chorus and one verse of Jingle Bells, a tune familiar to anyone who lives in a Western, Christmas-dominated culture, divide it into short segments, embellish these segments into rich system-sound-like events and play them in proper order separated by long periods of absolute silence so that, when they do happen, they become interruptions to whatever other sounds might be happening at the moment.  In other words, these interruptions would function just the way real system sounds do.

A normal playing of Jingle Bells ought to last less than a minute.  I figured that if I stretched that out to six or seven minutes it would seem interminable.  I was wrong.  I kept making it longer by adding more silence until it was twenty-three and one half minutes long.   This makes the melody pretty obscure but you can follow the tune if you concentrate.

It turns out that this 23-minute Jingle piece combines well with other music.  I'm someone who often listens to two or even three Internet radio streams at the same time.  Adding the system sound interruptions of Jingle Bells - The Long Version to such a mix often results in excellent musical synchronicity.

In other words, every so often one of the bongs or tweets from my piece blends exactly into the musical moment.  This is especially true if the music is in G major or a similar key.  I urge you to try it yourself:  put Jingle Bells - The Long Version on continuous play, put on some other music and stay open to what might happen.  Baroque music works very well.  (Sorry, the online player I'm using doesn't seem to have a continuous play function.  I guess you'll have to figure out how to download the mp3 file to try this trick.)

Click here to hear Jingle Bells - The Long Version - © 2011 David Ocker - 1409 seconds.

I pushed the idea one step farther.  Once I had completed Jingle Bells - The Long Version, I imagined shortening it to a short version.  Using the Truncate Silence feature of the fine, free audio editor Audacity, I removed all the silences.   The new version is musically identical, except that it only lasts 3 minutes and 32 seconds.  That's just 15% of the original.   Only the silence has been changed.

I entitled this shortened version Jingle Bells - The Long Version (Short Version), a name which, after a few drinks, smoothly rolls off the tongue.  It's online for you to hear, but the link is elsewhere.  You'll have to hunt just a bit.  Nothing too difficult.

We at Mixed Meters have become accustomed to observing "the Holidays"  from the viewpoint of non-celebratory outsiders.  It was pointed out to me recently that Christmas is the only Christian holiday which is also a U.S. national holiday.  As a non-Christian American, I'm pleased that the Christian aspects of Christmas seem to have paled somewhat in recent years.

Meanwhile, December 25 continues to thrive as the high holy day of our real national religion, Capitalism.  This is when we Americans are supposed to show our patriotic faith by over consuming.  They tell us that all our spending is for our own good.  And we believe them.  We have faith.

But maybe this year, every American will take 23.5 minutes out of their hectic schedule of spending and eating, giving and taking to listen to my new version of Jingle Bells.  The total relaxation time would amount to over 13,000 years.  It would be a huge step towards national sanity.  What a pipe dream.

Finally -  a word about the pictures.   Besides the annual Jingle Bells permutation, Mixed Meters has a Christmas zoology thread.  In other words - we investigate which cute animals people use to personify their holidays.

It's commonly known that Christmas has forgone sheep and goats and camels in a manger in favor of reindeer, polar bears, igloos and snowmen.  You just have to look around to prove how extensive this shift from "Birth of Jesus" holiday to "Winter Solstice" holiday has become.  Even so, a few years ago, I was astonished to see that penguins were becoming regular Christmas animals.

Of course penguins are not mentioned in the bible.  What bothered me was seeing them portrayed next to reindeer and polar bears and igloos.  Penguins are found in the northern hemisphere only in zoos.  Americans are famous for lack of geographical knowledge.  I feared that if we saw penguins and polar bears cheek by jowl in "holiday" displays every year, we would start to believe that those animals actually lived together in the wild. 

This year I found only a few penguins hanging out with northern hemisphere wildlife in front yards, stores displays and advertisements.  But I did find a "Chris-mouse" (thankfully not a "Christ-mouse") and, for the first time ever, two different types of Hannukah bears - some white and some brown, both wearing yarmulke and tallis. Needless to say, I am unaware of any bears appearing in the Book of Maccabees, religious or otherwise.

Other penguin-centric Mixed Meters posts you might enjoy:
Stalking the Christmas Penguin
Stalking the Christmas Penguin 2
Christmas Zoology
Christmas in October (which also deals with Halloween and table grapes)

An early Mixed Meters post
In which tomorrow is probably the Solstice

War on Christmas Tags: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Stanley Zappa, Matthew Shipp and the Fazioli

I don't remember what my first contact with Stanley Jason Zappa was, but I'm pretty sure it happened because we both write blogs.  Stanley's blog is called It Is Not Mean If It Is True (Attack, Attack, Attack).  I don't have the slightest idea exactly what that title means although when Mixed Meters had a blogroll it was listed there.  He lives in the cold part of Canada.   He must be a smart guy because he can write about Theodore Adorno.

And yes, S.J. Zappa shares some DNA with the much more famous F. V. Zappa.  I'm pretty sure they were never close.

Stanley Zappa is into jazz, free jazz in particular.  He plays saxophone and clarinet and maybe other things. 

Here is a video of Stanley playing a very free tenor solo (and doing it very well) along with a Finnish Zappa tribute band.  They introduce him by playing the one thing you always hear before out-there free tenor saxophone solos, the very famous, very un-free Finnish tango Satumaa. (Stanley's solo starts about 2'24".)

Stanley Zappa also writes quite articulately about jazz.  And he promotes jazz things he likes.

That's why he recently sent me a link to a Kickstarter project promoting a proposed film project with filmmaker Barbara Januszkiewicz and pianist Matthew Shipp.  Stanley asked me to pass it along to you.  You can click the link and pledge money to the film.  There's only a few days left and they have a lot of money left to raise.  I think it's kind of like a down-to-the-wire NPR fundraiser.

The film will be called The Composer.  In this case the composer is the pianist.  The pianist is Matthew Shipp.  But the important question is ... what kind of piano is it?

Stanley Zappa's essay promoting this project - entitled Fifty Note Cluster - finds particular significance in the specific brand of piano to be used.  It's a Fazioli, a high-quality Italian job.  He writes:
A contemporary piano like the Fazioli, designed and built in the late 20th century, deserves, nay, demands the music of our time.  One has to wonder if Bach or Chopin would have written the same music if they had a Fazioli with which to work out their musical ideas.

With Shipp, unbound by century old harmonic conventions, the totality of the Fazioli's tonal are fair use.  A piano as capable and "creative" as the Fazioli deserves a pianist capable of creative exploiting the unique qualities of the Fazioli as Shipp.
Faziolis are expensive. Watch this news clip to learn about one that was for sale for a half mil.

Mixed Meters has written about expensive pianos before.  Read the MM post The Price of a (Lousy) Piano about the instrument in the film Casablanca.  In 2006 it was valued at five times more than the top Fazioli is today and certainly sounded much, much, much worse.

Personally, I have less interest in what instrument a soloist is using or how it sounds than I have in the notes that are actually being played.  That's why I think the real story here is not free sax solos in the middle of famous Finnish tangos nor fancy Italian fortepianos in underfunded Kickstarter movies.  I think maybe Matthew Shipp is a man to watch.  I mean a man to listen to.

Free jazz on the piano has a problem of wrong notes.  When there are a lot of non-standard harmonies it is all too easy to criticize every dissonance as accidental.  But Matthew Shipp plays cleanly and playing cleanly impresses me.  In this (very underwatched) video he's obviously hitting the notes that he intends to hit (even if he is doing it on a Steinway).  That means we're hearing the music he intends to make.  That, my friends, is a great and all too rare art. 

There's a lot more of Matthew Shipp on YouTube and Spotify.  Probably other places as well.

Clean Tags: . . . . . . . . .

Friday, December 09, 2011

What Is It Like To Be Dead?

People on the Internet are apparently interested in pictures of dead animals.  Mixed Meters' most popular picture is of a dead squirrel.  It's been copied several dozen times.

Death fascinates.  And no death fascinates a human more than their own.  Most everyone, I'm sure, wonders how they will die.  They also wonder what life will be like after that. 

Post mortem our physical processes stop completely.  There will be no sensory perception.   There will be no seeing or feeling or hearing or touching or tasting anything.  No moving, no breathing, no thinking.  All sense of time will stop (which is a good thing: who wants to be aware of their own body slowly decaying?) 

But this question persists.  People want to believe in "something more" - there must be something besides our daily comings and goings in the vast and varied world, overfilled as it is with endless wonder, intense beauty and incredible depths of mystery.  We conclude that all that great stuff is not enough.  There must be more.  We humans demand more.  The little self inside each of us - our consciousness - comes to believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that it will exist forever.

So we grasp any notion which makes it seem that "me" will survive "my death" regardless of what will actually happen to "my body".  We really need to convince ourselves that part of us, the essential internal awareness part, won't just disappear because of small inconvenience like, say, passing away.  Religions even have names for this everlasting body part: they call it the "soul" or the "spirit".  Too bad it doesn't really exist, whatever it is. 

I have found my own answer to the 'what is it like after death' question.  I find it kind of comforting.  My answer seems logical (to me).  It's simple.  It is rooted in a certain past experience which every single one of us has absolutely had already.  But before I get to that, I need to blather on a bit.

People who prefer not to think about this question for themselves might chose to subscribe to a pre-formed answer.   Predictably, such answers come from religions.  There are a lot of religions available.  Most of us got our religion, complete with beliefs about the afterlife, from our parents.  It was chosen for us.  Each religion has well-established dogma designed to comfort the living as they contemplate their own or their loved ones' "life" in the afterlife

If you subscribe to such dogma, hey, good for you.  I believe everyone should be free to believe whatever they want - no matter how little effort they spent adopting those ideas in the first place.  Someone else has thought this through for you already.  Might as well take advantage.

Suppose you happen to be a Christian.  Have you ever wondered why it is that you believe that you'll go to heaven after your death rather than be reincarnated into another body?

I came across an interesting anecdote about the origin of the Christian belief in heaven.  It was in a book called Ghosts of Vesuvius by Charles Pellegrino.  On page 262 he discusses the Council of Nicaea which, I'm sure you remember, was called in the year 325 by the Christian Emperor Constantine to decide issues of faith:
Most Christians of A.D. 325 believed in the enlightenment of imperfect human souls through successive reincarnations. ... 

To settle the reincarnation debate, two votes were held in Nicaea.  In the first vote, the bishops were asked to choose between the afterlife taking place (a) in the kingdom of heaven or (b) right here on Earth, by cyclical rebirth.

The first vote weighed in against the earthly reincarnationists, whereupon Constantine ordered the immediate execution of those who had voted for a belief in an earthly kingdom of God.

He then held a second vote: (a) afterlife in the kingdom of heaven or (b) afterlife in an earthly kingdom of God?

The second vote was unanimous, of course.

... The reincarnationists ... were subsequently declared "heretics" and ... were purged from existence.
So, apparently, Christianity chose its deeply held vision of an afterlife (the belief that, if we're good, we go to a land of fluffy clouds where we sprout wings, wear white robes and practice the harp) through the dual processes of democracy and mass execution.  I hope your faith is enhanced by knowing that other people voted and then died so you could believe in heaven.

Actually I encourage people to invent their own ideas about post-death.  The world would be a better place if everyone did this for themselves.  We're free to just make up answers.  These days no one needs to die in order to create new notions about post-death life because there are no more Roman Emperors to off you if you choose wrongly.  Well, maybe there are still a couple in theocratic countries.

Of course I don't expect you to agree with my ideas and I pretty certainly won't think much of yours.  Curiously, all our answers can be correct.  Yes, every single answer, no matter how much they contradict one another, could be absolutely correct.  This is because there is no hard evidence to the contrary.  The dead have been very lax about sending dispatches from beyond the grave.  A few crackpots claim to have had near-death experiences, but they all seem to return with the same ideas they started out with.

My own ideas about afterlife focus on the origin of our consciousness, specifically how we came to be aware of the passage of long periods of time, especially lifetimes of time.   For my little "me" (or, if you will, your little "me") to think it would exist forever it first has to have some awareness of the successive stages of its own life.

It might be useful to compare our self-awareness with that of other animals.  As an example, take our dog, Chowderhead.  He knows who he is and seems to realize that time is passing.  He has a remarkably short attention span.  Maybe he remembers what happened yesterday.  I doubt that.  Maybe he expects that there will be another day tomorrow, a day just like today, although I doubt that as well.  Does he remember being a puppy?  Does he know that he's getting older?  Does he know that he will die?  Not likely.

So it's easy to reject the notion that Chowderhead expects to have an afterlife.  People may believe that "all dogs go to heaven" but this idea did not come from the dogs themselves.  When Chowder encounters dead animals he thinks of them as things to eat.  For example, dead squirrels.

Other animals are smarter than dogs.  According to this webpage, there are four animals who live in close proximity to us here in suburbia who are brighter than Chowderhead: rats, pigeons, crows and, of course, our neighborhood squirrels.  Squirrels must have some conception of longer periods of time because they store nuts to use as food during the hard Southern California winters. 

We humans were apparently not classified as "animals" in that intelligence list.  Chimps and dolphins came in first and second.  I have no clue whether chimps or dolphins are smart enough to know that they will die.  It would be interesting to know whether they have invented a conception of life after death.  Possibly not, because dolphins and chimpanzees do not have the advantage of another essential tool in afterlife belief: culture.

Living chimps or dolphins cannot consult the wisdom of previous chimps or dolphins.  Without autobiographies or biopics detailing the lives of accomplished members of their species (Flipper and Bonzo come to mind), they cannot contemplate the story of an entire dolphin or chimp life.  Without constant statistical analysis of their activities, they have no way to know what their life expectancy is.  

What's more, dolphins and chimps have no way to leave their own thoughts to future generations as yet unborn.  Do they even know that millions of years have passed encompassing countless generations of creatures just like them?  Do they realize that they will have descendants who will live through the same stages of life that they had?

Whatever the answers to those questions about other animals, we human animals definitely know all about this stuff.  We realize that humans just like us existed in the past and others will exist in the future.  We are acutely aware of famous ancestors, perfect beings in every way who are worthy of emulation, Buddha and Christ, Beethoven and L. Ron Hubbard, who seem to have survived death because their creative ideas have become important landmarks in our culture.  If they can live on in our memories through those ideas, why can't we make up some as well?

It is through our culture, our books, cave paintings, our People magazines, that we humans are able to learn about the lives of other members of our species, either long dead or recently passed.  Human history has been one increasing torrent of media - starting with a few storytellers whose work was eventually written down into various bibles and epics, all the way to actual torrents of files on the Internet.  Maybe we modern men and women need an afterlife just to finish reading all the books and watching all the movies we won't have time for before we die.

Our cultural tools have made us acutely aware of the cycle of life: birth, growth, marriage, reproduction, retirement and, ultimately, the senior citizen discount at Denny's.  In fact, my generation of Americans - I'm what you call a "baby boomer" - has intensified this notion through our shared life cycle.  We are going through it together.  We were all young at the same time, more or less.  Now we're all turning Sweet Sixty together.  In between, we obsessed about life stages - for example in this book which is subtitled Predictable Crises of Adult Life.  I remember reading it in my twenties.   

All this cultural memory and veneration has allowed us to develop our conception of human lifetime.  We realize that each of us is born, lives a life, learns from his or her elders, accomplishes things great or small, possibly reproduces, eventually grows old and dies. We learn about this as children. It's easy to ignore at first; eventually we realize that it's happening to us.

As I have found out over the last few years, it becomes impossible to ignore.  If I try to convince myself that my recent milestone birthday represents only half of my life, then I must somehow believe that I will eventually become the oldest living human on the planet.  A lot of self-denial goes into growing old.

It's inevitable that the cycle will complete and each of us will die.  To avoid thinking about it, we seek an escape clause, a way out.  Why shouldn't we be the exception?  Why shouldn't some part of us avoid death and live on?  Why shouldn't believing make it so.  Of course it should, because my little "me" feels so unique.

We know that time will continue after we die.  Other people will live on.  Civilization with continue, economies will rise and fall.  Wars will never end.  How, we ask, can all this possibly happen without us?  It doesn't seem fair.

I'd like to point out that there is a segment of the life cycle which is often overlooked: one more stage in the sequence of birth, life, death and after death.  That stage is the period before we are born.  (Or if you're one of those people, before you were conceived.  Either way works for me.  I think I'll go with "born".)

Do you remember before you were born?  Not likely.  Once again, there are crackpots who claim memories of past lives, but I think their ranting is easy to ignore.  Because it's a free country you can choose the crackpot you prefer to believe.  I wonder why are you are still reading this.

Anyway, let me point out that each one of us was born once.  Time existed before we were born.  During that pre-born time events happened: other people were born, they did things and then they died.  We have no direct experience of those people or of those events or of that time because ... well, because we weren't born yet.

During the time before our birth we did not experience the passage of time.  Our embryos had to form and start to grow brains and nervous systems to make us capable of perceiving time.  Our pre-birth is one pitch-black endless instant of nothing happening.  It is an experience we all had - although none of us remember anything about it.  

And if you can conceive of what is was like to be you before you were born, then you should have no trouble imagining what it will be like to be you when you are dead.  Yes, that's my idea: being dead is exactly like not being born yet.

That's all I wanted to say.  To me, it seems pretty obvious.  I find it reassuring to know what to expect of being dead, because I've already had that same experience before I came into existence.  The notion makes me feel much better about living and, eventually, dieing.

If my idea didn't instantly strike you as an excellent explanation of what is going to happen after you die, then I apologize for wasting your time.  No matter how old you might be at this very moment, you have only a limited amount of time left to live.  It's a really good idea not to waste any of it.

Here's a Mixed Meters post about a living squirrel - complete with video and music: The Squirrel In Mike and Lynn's Aviary


Birth and Death Tags: . . . . . . . . .

Friday, December 02, 2011

How technology can improve concert enjoyment

Last weekend I attended the same concert three times.  Usually once is enough, of course, for even the most rabid fan of classical music.  But I was there professionally.  When you devote a month or six months or even more months to one piece of music, sitting alone in a cave in the same chair in front of the same computer screen fending off constant attacks by large soft felines, it can be very interesting/revealing/educational to hear that piece finally performed live by real musicians in front of a real audience.  And of course, I might even enjoy that music - which, in this case, I did, pretty much.

But occasionally attention wanes.  I mean, there really is a limit to how many times any one human needs to hear Beethoven's Leonore Overture Number Two on any given weekend.

And so, in those moments when I was not "simply transfixed" by the performance in front of me, I found myself consciously attending to the musical contributions of that real audience.  As much as we might wish that audiences don't make noise, they do.  They cough.  Audiences cough because people cough.  Audiences are just people.  Coughing is a trait of human physiology, apparently, and asking a couple thousand people to sit quietly in an auditorium for twenty minutes or thirty minutes or even more minutes and not make any sound at all is simply an unreasonable request.

I like to think that the coughing is part of the music.  Of course it's random coughing.  It wasn't composed by anyone, no one used a random number generator or threw the I Ching to decide when each cough would happen.  I think random noises are music, if only in a very antiquated sixties avant-garde sort of fashion.  And I think that you should think that as well, but I know that there is very little chance that you do.  You're probably glad that tonality has returned to music over the last few decades.  Frankly, tonality in music is an even more antiquated concept that randomness.  (More useful as well.)

Let's assume that most people would prefer their fellow audience members do not cough at all.  To that end I discovered a sort of high-tech solution to the problem - much better than the cough suppressant candies which orchestras used to pass out to their audiences.  Maybe they still do.

Apparently hunters use this little device, a cough silencer, to not frighten the geese.

Here is the marketing copy for Cabela's Cough Silencer:
Disassembles for quick cleaning
Nonglare matte-black or camouflage finish
Fits easily into a pocket or pack 
Don’t let a cough scare game away. The Cough Silencer has a unique baffle system that quiets even the loudest coughs with no back pressure, and best of all, virtually no sound. Disassembles for quick cleaning. Nonglare matte-black or camouflage finish. Lightweight, durable and incredibly compact, it fits easily into a pocket or pack. Includes convenient lanyard.
And they're cheap.  This one was marked down from $19.99 to 88 cents (but they're sold out).  Concert attendees could buy their own and use them during performances.  Better yet, orchestras could buy thousands of them and have the ushers hand them out free along with the program booklet.  Better yet, they could be permanently installed on each seat in the concert hall, decorated by the celebrity architect so that they blend with the decor.  The cleaning crew would have to disinfect them after each event, maybe adding a little paper cap printed with the words "Guaranteed Germ Free" over the mouthpiece.  Like that strip of paper they put over the toilet seat in hotel rooms.

If all this seems like too much effort and expense, you might try my idea of redefining coughing as part of the music.  But remember, that only works if you think about it.

The concerts which I attended last weekend were graced by several freakishly musically appropriate cell phone eruptions.  They fit in perfectly.  Unlike coughing, those should have been avoided completely.

You could listen to my piano piece Oil and Water Mix, which is actually about the conflict of tonal music versus random music.

Cough Tags: . . . . . . . . . . . .

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Occupy New Music

As I write this (just before 3 a.m.) about a thousand LAPD officers are removing Occupy Los Angeles from their camp surrounding City Hall.  We knew the eviction would happen eventually.  Occupy LA are people protesting that 1% of us have too much wealth, about 33% of it.  The 1% want Los Angeles to open for business normally in the morning.  I'm sure they will get what they want.

Meanwhile, the Occupy Meme has finally reached a point of absurdity with Occupy New Music.  Apparently it comes in the form of a graphic from Eric Guinivan on Facebook.  It was sent to me by one of Mixed Meters' three readers, Scott F.   The graphic tells us
The top 1% of composers control 99% of orchestral concert programs.
Here's the image:

The composers shown are Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelsshon, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Ravel, Debussy, Bartok, Stravinsky and Shostakovich.

It's a clever idea.  There's no question that the symphonic repertoire favors a chosen few.  A few composers are performed repeatedly and outsiders have a hard time getting heard in concert halls.  Still, you've got to wonder about this 99% statistic.  Can the real numbers truly be that lopsided? I decided to take an educated guess.

A website called Instant Encore posted a list of the top 150 composers, by frequency of performance, during 2010.  They say the data represents over 42,000 concerts worldwide, including opera.  This is a bit different in scope than the assertion of the Occupy New Music graphic which seems to exclude opera.  What the heck - let's run with it.

All 150 composers get a total of 44,279 performances. Number one is Mozart, at over 3000, down to Luciano Berio in the coveted 150th spot with 43 performances.  One percent of 150 composers is one and a half composers:  Mozart (3035) plus half of Beethoven (2859/2 = 1430) is 4465 performances.  That's a smidgen more than 10% - nowhere near 99%.

Let's extrapolate.  The top 10 get 16,899 performances between them.  That leaves the other 140 with 27,380 - for an average of 195 performances per composer.  To compare the top 10 composers on Instant Encore's list, I'd need data for 850 more composers.  That's because 10 is 1% of 1000.

I'm going to take a guess at the average number of performances for composers 151 through 1000.  I guess 20 (about 1/10 of 195):  850 x 20 = 17,000.    All 1000 composers thereby get 44,279 + 17,000 = 61,279 performances.  This means that the top 1% of 1000 composers get 16,899/61,279 of the total.  That's 27.6% - a far cry from 99%.

Further extrapolation: suppose the composers ranked from 1001 through 100,000 get an average of 2 performances each (one tenth of 20).  That's 99,000 x 2 = 198,000 performances.  Now the top 100,000 composers get a total of 259,279 performances.  In this scenario the top 1% of them (1000 composers in this scenario) usurp only 23.6% of all performances.

If composers 1001 through 100,000 get an average of one performance each, the top 1% get 38.2%.
If composers 1001 through 100,000 get an average of one tenth of a performance - meaning that fewer than 1 in 10 gets performed at all (very unlikely) - the percentage finally approaches the realms of Occupy New Music: 86.1%.

While the notion that 1% of composers get 99% of the performances is extravagantly high in my opinion, in reality the distribution of composers is extremely lopsided, whatever the true number.  The classical audience simply wants to hear their favorites over and over.  That's what they will spend money on.  They are really not interested in new musical ideas - they want proven masterpieces.  (This is where, in an infinitely long blog post, I would suggest that symphonies are really more like museums - devoted to preserving historical artifacts.)

If you love symphonic music enough to write your own music in that tradition, you need to accept the unfairness of reality.  There's lots of other music worlds you could be living in rather than beating your head against an art form which pretty much defines the notion of "resistant to change."  But the 150 composers did include, by my count, 18 names of living people - so you've still got a chance.  Only 2 women.  Just one black person (well, two if you think Beethoven was black).

You've got a small chance.  Very small - but it's a better chance than you have of winning a lottery jackpot. 

Instant Encore also listed the most frequently performed 225 classical works of 2010.  The list includes just one piece by a living composer.  You'll never guess, so I'll tell you: it's Jonathan Brielle's Nightmare Alley.  Who?

Mixed Meters has a dour take on classical music.  Deal with it in these posts:

The Lifespan of Classical Music  "I think classical music is quite dead. It's easy to overlook this fact because many people still enjoy listening to it."

If Music Be The Food of Love "Hip Hop, as the magazine cover says, is not dead. However Hip Hop has recently discovered its own mortality."

A New Rhapsody in Blue  "It occurred to me that if many (or even a few) performances of classical music had this level of creativity in them - of even a small fraction of the creativity in this performance - I would not think of it as such a dead art form."

Everybody Loves Beethoven (Probably)  "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."

Classical Music Isn't Dead, It Just Needs a Rest  "I conclude that in such situations the music is not meant to offer a contemporary perspective. They have other forms of art for that. I fear this music is more like a spa treatment for ones ears."

Could Terry Riley's In C be Accepted As Classical Music?  "Yes, getting this piece into the standard repertory is a long ways off. If it happened, In C would change from a "minimalist classic" into an actual piece of classical music. That would provide strong evidence that classical music has some life left in it."

Ten Most Influential Classical Composers  "But the real burden of Mozart for modern composers is that he was so blasted young.  The cult of the young genius lives on strongly.  These days a 30-year old composer who hasn't made it yet, won't."


Composer Philip Glass joins Occupy Lincoln Center protest (L.A. Times - Dec. 2, 2011)
Glass is likely in the nation’s highest tax bracket, but there was a time he drove a taxi cab to support his music career.   
... and soon others took the mike to call out statements like: "Tickets are for the 1%," "Revolution for the arts" and "Opera belongs to the people!"

Occupy Tags: . . . . . . . . .

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mixed Meters Visits Occupy Los Angeles

I was in downtown Los Angeles several times this week and I happened to walk past the Occupy Los Angeles encampment - our local version of Occupy Wall Street, still going strong after nearly two months. 

Naturally I took a bunch of pictures.  The first one shows a few forlorn tents up against the massive north edifice of Los Angeles City Hall.  The main camp is on the south side.

The whole affair had the feel of a homeless tent city - but from the sixties.  I saw guys playing hackie-sack.  Men were drumming.  Flyers were handed out - the one I got denounced the Fed.  There was a meditation tent, an art school tent, a library.  There seemed to be some sort of communal kitchen.  I heard talk about drugs - and, once, I smelled marijuana.

But mostly I saw signs.


Some signs were organizational, like the one advertising a protest at the upcoming Rose Parade.  Others signs (e.g. "Fuck the Lakers") had uncertain relevance.


The face of Anonymous (i.e. the Guy Fawkes mask) was in evidence.  Remember people - this is a copyrighted image of Time Warner Inc.  If you buy a mask, the corporation gets royalties.  And copyrights are what big corporations use to control our culture.


There were many people, like myself, taking pictures.  These people, like myself, were obviously not protesters.  Some were newsmen.  Others, like myself, may have sympathy for the causes of the Occupy movement - if for no other reason than these protests have managed to eclipse the Tea Party from our national news.  And the Occupy movement has managed to get the message that corporations are not people into the corporate-controlled media.  That's a huge success.

I do wonder why they set up shop in front of a government building instead of a bank headquarters.  I do believe that their in-your-face protest will do more good for left wing values than anything else could do at this moment.  The one percent will make concessions only when they become afraid the situation will get out of their control otherwise.


As I walked through the encampment I heard a man with a bullhorn telling a helicopter several blocks away to leave.  He made some other cracks.  He had been corrupted by his little bit of power: control of the P.A. system.  Power had gone to his head.  I took some pictures of him.

He called to me through the bull horn saying "How you doin' cameraman?"  I responded.  He kept questioning me about my motives, asking who I was working for and whether I had sworn an oath to the Constitution.  After a while I started video recording.  His compatriots begin chanting "Who the fuck are you?" apparently to him, not to me.  A good time was had by all, I guess.  Fortunately the other protesters of Occupy L.A. were not allowing absolute power to corrupt anyone absolutely, especially this guy.

Watch for yourself:

Today the Mayor of Los Angeles announced that protesters must be gone by Monday.  Stay tuned to your local news media to find out if there will be pepper spray in the future of Occupy Los Angeles.

Here are some links:
Occupy Los Angeles
Occupy the Rose Parade

Mixed Meters covers past Rose Parades:
Burn in Hell at the Rose Parade
Left Behind after the Rose Parade
On the Beach at the Rose Parade

I don't make a habit of taking pictures of people and I post those very infrequently.  This post is apparently an exception.  Click any picture to see an enlargement.

Occupy Tags: . . . . . . . . .

Monday, November 07, 2011

Reflections On Not Having Composed Even One Note For Two Months

I have excuses: I've had things to do. There were things that needed to get done first. I did them. They received priority status. I have other things which still need to be done, which also have priority, but I finally managed to carve out a little time to create some music. I really needed that. And I kick myself because carving out a few hours is not THAT difficult. Once I do it I think "I could have done this sooner." because I enjoy doing it. Then my inner nag says "You should do this more often." and I tell my inner nag that it "should" shut up.

Anyway, I wrote a 30 Second Spot. This one is 46 seconds long. Eventually, after about an hour of work when the piece was pretty much finished, I realized that I needed to save the file. This was a problem because I didn't have a title yet. I decided to call the music exactly what it was: my thoughts about starting to write music again after a long hiatus. I worked with the words. The title kept getting longer the more I tweaked it. The final title is not great.

My actual thoughts are not in the title; the title does not tell you how I feel. The music tells you how I feel. My thoughts come out though the music. Or maybe they don't. Maybe there are no thoughts, no ideas, in this music. Maybe there are no thoughts or ideas in any music. Maybe thoughts and ideas can only be expressed in words. That's a thought.

One of the funny things about a piece like this is that I can spend an hour writing it and then three or four times as long removing excess notes: decomposing (yes, it's the punchline of a bad joke). "Polishing" is a better word. I wait for a few hours or overnight, then listen carefully and focus on any spot which sounds "wrong" to me.  Every piece, even a short one like this seems to feature a Problem Spot - a moment that simply doesn't feel right no matter how much I futz with it. "Reflections On Not Having Composed Even One Note For Two Months" had such a conundrum measure - but I eventually found a happy solution.

The other thing about this piece is that I dreamed the opening. I occasionally dream short melodic fragments. I find myself singing them as I awake.  Mostly they evaporate into the fog of regaining consciousness.  Sometimes I can get them written down. I have a small "dream journal" of melodies which I'd like to use in a bigger piece someday.  (Another plan that'll probably never happen.)  "Twenty Balls In My Fingers And I'm Not Done Yet" was such a dreamed tune (one with lyrics as well) which did become a 30 Second Spot.

But this dream was different.  Instead of waking up with a melody, I awoke to a sequence of single digit numbers, somehow knowing that they were supposed to be a tone row: 1 0 8 2 6 1.  Zero?  I used my little row to begin the piece, then I repeated it with some non-strict elaboration.  Then I lost interest. And the piece wasn't even half finished.

I suspect that even the speediest readers, if you've gotten this far, have spent more time reading this than they will spend listening to Reflections On Not Having Composed Even One Note For Two Months.  And if you try to figure out from the music just what I did think about writing music again after two months of not writing music, you probably won't know what to say.  It's impossible to express music in words.  That's why it's music.

Click to hear Reflections On Not Having Composed Even One Note For Two Months
Copyright © 2011 David Ocker - 46 seconds

Thought Tags: . . . . . .

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Russian Bestiary

This is the final post of the "Leslie's Russian Pictures" trilogy. Part one Leslie and Vostok or part two Leslie and Vladivostok are just one click away.

This chapter is devoted to animals.  What better animal to begin with than a marine worm, Leslie's passion and ultimately the very reason she made her trip.  This cute little Russian critter, named Hydroides ezoensis, is a fan worm.  The big black eyes are all in your imagination.

In the first set you'll see Leslie making friends with a fluffy feline, a hungry horse hoping for handouts from inside the car (notice its nose reflected in the rear-view mirror) and a disinterested, unfenced bovine.

Here are two pictures of skeletons taken at the natural history museum of the Institute for Marine Biology in Vladivostok: a segment of whale spine and a whole seal. 

This is another marine invertebrate collected by Leslie's colleagues:  a live amphipod named Pleustes incarinatus.  I think it looks like a football helmet.

Here are several more marine animals - two dried-up old stars, a picture of a crab advertising seafood for sale and a good looking octopus which, not long after the picture was taken, became dinner for a pack of hungry biologists.

Two terrestrial invertebrates: a cricket with front claws designed to dig in dirt and a corpulent green caterpillar.

And we end our pictorial visit to Russia with a ceramic peacock and a little orange pixie.

You may enjoy other Mixed Meters' articles about Russia (which have more words and fewer pictures than this one):

  • Ilf and Petrov "Someone needs to ask whether our incessant chase after the almighty dollar is really worth it."
  • Theremin's Bug "the next time you accidentally walk out of the store with an item you picked up, thank Leon Theremin for the alarm which reminds you to pay."
  • Sergey Kuryohkin, Pianist of Anarchy "when happenings were happening in the U.S. their creators weren't known for extreme musical stylistic variety in the way Kuryokhin seems to have embraced so naturally."
  • Testimony - memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich "if Shostakovich knew how to keep his mouth shut and only ventured to tell his stories when he knew death was near, who among us can blame him."

Don't forget, the pictures enlarge if you click on em.

Russian Fauna Tags: . . .