Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Rudy Schwartz Project

Back in the day Mixed Meters had a sidebar feature called "David's Favorite Music".  This listed all the posts I had written about music and musicians I particularly enjoy.  The list was short, eclectic and incomplete.  Eventually I removed it to simplify the blog layout.   You can still read all those posts via this link.

The top three omissions from the list - in no particular order - are Astor Piazzolla, Glenn Gould and The Rudy Schwartz Project.  Astor and Glenn have stopped performing these days so they won't mind waiting for their articles.   Meanwhile the RSP is more active than ever.  There are new albums, YouTube videos and even a Facebook page.

Here's a Rudy Schwartz Project tune I really like  - Stumpy (from the album Delicious Ass Frenzy).  It's about a bad-ass monkey with no ass.  I like the cool mistuned piano vamp.

Today's wonderful world of social media has brought me into contact with the fecund brain behind The Rudy Schwartz Project, the mysterious, talented, uber-creative Joe Newman.  Joe recently volunteered to remix a recent piece of mine, Not A Happy Camper.  (Listen to the improved version here.)  I'm finally writing this post as a feeble thank you to him for the excellent work he did on that project.  Maybe this extra publicity will get all the Mixed Meters readers to buy an RSP album.  That would be three more albums sold.

First, however, I think you must have questions you want to ask.

Your first question, I bet, is "Who is Rudy Schwartz?"

Answer: I don't know, but the Project named after him began in Austin Texas sometime in the 80s.  That was a time when independently produced, not particularly commercial music was distributed via the high-tech medium of cassette tapes.  I had several of my own tapes about that time and I suspect Joe and I must have traded.  How else could I have gotten my copy of Don't Get Charred, Get Puffy on cassette?  It's dated 1991.

Listen to one of my favorite RSP tunes ever: An Orange Is Nothing But A Juicy Pumpkin.  You can also listen to The Creation Science Polka.

Read an interview with Joe Newman discussing early period Rudy Schwartz.

Your next question, I bet, is "What happened after the early period?"

Answer: After the early years, Rudy and Joe disappeared for a long time.  There were no more Rudy Schwartz Project albums.  Then, suddenly, I think in the mid 2000's, Joe reappeared, living in Montreal.  He began releasing new albums fairly regularly.  The most recent is called Full Frontal Klugman.  Highly recommended.  Here's a fine tune from FFK entitled "You're Not Rondo Hatton"  (Rondo Hatton was an actor with a strange face and an apparently unintentionally musical name.)

Time for your last question. I bet you want to ask "Why do you like this music?"

Good question.  Here are some reasons:

1) The music of The Rudy Schwartz Project is politically topical.  It takes on some of the most destructive forces in American politics point blank using both outrageous humor and forthright anger.  Early RSP called out demagogues like Ronald Reagan, Phyllis Schlafly and Jimmy Swaggart.  Recent tunes excoriate George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin.

Sarah Palin Pussy Juice:

Carry Me Back To the USA:

2) Joe Newman has an incredible talent for musical parody.  From popular music of the 1930's, or 50's rock 'n roll or 70's pop tunes.  He's covered John Denver and Bruce Springsteen tunes and the most off-the-wall version of Georgy Girl ever.  There are probably a bunch more covers he has done that I don't even recognize.

Road Trippin' With Waldo:  (Waldo Hamm is the RSP's mascot - a sock puppet reindeer.)

3) There is a keen element of cultural commentary.  Besides Rondo Hatton, there have been RSP tunes about Ernest Borgnine, Bob Eubanks, Nancy Kulp, Don Knotts, Doodles Weaver, Florence Henderson and the Dallas Cowboys, to name but a few.  Some of these are even complimentary.  The cultural reference aspect of Joe's work has been expanded by his move into video - as any of these examples in this post should easily prove.

Here's a redone television commercial called Colgate Clean:

Theme from "Sweet Movie":

4) Most importantly, Joe Newman is a creative, clever and curious composer who writes interesting, inventive and intriguing music. Aside from the subject matter he chooses or the pop cultural references he makes or the lyrics he sings, his music itself is a delight. Composers who use unexpected harmonies, sound collages, abrupt melodic turns and unpredictable changes in orchestration ought to be more common than they are these days.  When music gets pretty far out, I tend to like it.  I like this music.

A Nice Selection of Hasps:

In many ways I'm jealous of Joe Newman's talents as a composer.  He has combined cultural commentary and creative music making in a way that I would love to do myself, but find I don't have the necessary talents.

Finally, I have a question for you.

Can you name another composer who has combined these same elements: politics, parody, cultural commentary and cutting edge music?

Yes, the correct answer is Frank Zappa.  Many people have commented on Joe's debt to Zappa, even Joe himself.  The aspects of cultural parody, political commentary and cutting edge music which are well accepted in Zappa's music have not found many adherents in popular music since his death.  Those characteristics have been preserved and uniquely extended in Joe Newman's music.  I think he should get more recognition for it.  Any Zappa fan ought to really check out The Rudy Schwartz Project.  You'll be glad you did.


Waldo Hamm Tags: . . .

Friday, July 26, 2013

I Need A Better Placebo

At times everyone wants to feel better.

If you don't like the way you feel at the moment and you want to improve on it some how, there are courses of action available.  Depending on circumstances (and availability) you could try eating chocolate, having sex, buying a pair of shoes, taking drugs or watching a funny movie, just to name the obvious solutions.  Listening to music (or composing it) is often my choice.

Not every remedy works in every case.  What's more, some remedies have side effects, often nasty ones.  These include weight gain, headaches, drowsiness or death.  Or something worse.

You can avoid dangerous side effects by taking a placebo - which is a treatment that does nothing but still works somehow.  That's because things often work just because people think that they work, even if those things don't actually work.  (I suppose religion could be a good example of a placebo.)

More remarkably, some placebos apparently work better than others.  Here's a list (from this site) of types of placebos roughly ranked by their effectiveness.
  • Placebo surgery works better than placebo injections
  • Placebo injections work better than placebo pills
  • Sham acupuncture treatment works better than a placebo pill
  • Capsules work better than tablets
  • Big pills work better than small
  • The more doses a day, the better
  • The more expensive, the better
  • The color of the pill makes a difference
  • Telling the patient, “This will relieve your pain” works better than saying “This might help.”

Why am I posting a short superficial essay about placebos, I hear you wonder.  Well, I was looking for a title for a new short piece of music (I call them 30 Second Spots).  The phrase "I need a better placebo" popped into my mind.  This seemed promising because I like titles which contain logical inconsistencies, for example This Is Not The Title.  The notion of a "better placebo" seemed pretty logically inconsistent - until I did a little surfing.  I found it surprising that people have studied the subject and discovered that some placebos are actually better than others.  Who knew?

Click here to hear I Need A Better Placebo © 2013 by David Ocker 40 seconds.   I hope it makes you feel better.

Placebo Tags: . . .

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Mantra - Spring 2013 short version

Every three months I've been posting new "episodes" of The Seasons.  The most recent was entitled Spring 2013.  Each "season" consists of one short musical bit representing every day during the given three month period.  I try to compose one every day.  Most of the seasons have some musical idea that unify the music, although I do make an effort to write each day's event without referencing previous segments.

At the end of each quarter I combine these musical fragments, separated by longer silences, and post them here on Mixed Meters.   You can find links to the entire series easily enough.

I have also been making short versions of each season.  These have identical music to the longer version.  The only difference is that all the silence has been removed, generally a reduction of over 70%.  I have not been posting the short versions.  Until now.

The short version of Spring 2013 was more interesting to me than previous short versions.  This is because each segment uses the same identical rhythm (played twice in double time on Mondays).  When heard without separation this results in a very metric, rhythmical piece.  (There is one segment with a touching little rallentando, but that's the only exception.)

Since the rhythm in question is that of the mantra I use for meditation (usually during my walks), this piece is very personal to me.  That's because I know the words to the mantra.  I have no intention of sharing those words and, as a result, no idea how others will hear this music.

I decided that this version deserves its own descriptive title - I chose Mantra.  The word mantra holds certain religious connotations.  It usually means something repeated over and over.  My own mantra comes from the 80's when I was listening to the lectures of Ram Dass.

New Music Prudes will protest that there is already a piece entitled Mantra by Karlheinz Stockhausen.  They should not worry because because my own piece, Mantra, is identical to Stockhausen's.  Every pitch, every rhythm, every jot and every tittle of my piece is an exact perfect copy of what Stockhausen wrote over 40 years ago. This cosmic plagiarism just sort of happened by accident, I guess.

Click here to hear Mantra (Spring 2013, short version) by David Ocker  © 2013 David Ocker - 955 seconds

Mantra Tags: . . . . . .