Sunday, September 29, 2013

Caprice - Summer 2013 short version

Recently I mentioned (in this post, skip to paragraph 15) my realization that I have a bucket list populated mostly by unbegun musical compositions.   The term 'bucket list' has not been around very long at all.  Less than a decade apparently.  That movie I didn't see popularized the idea. At least according to this article.

However, my list goes way back.  Some of the items date to when I was in college over 40 years ago.  Of course I didn't think of these as "things to do before I die", only as "things to do."  The part about "before I die" sneaks up on a person over the years.

One entry on my list is: write a set of variations on the famous theme by Niccolo Paganini.  That theme would be from his 24th Caprice for solo violin, itself a theme and variations.  Doing such variations is not a terribly original idea.  Many composers have used Paganini's theme before me.  (Find a list here.)

I was originally inspired to this idea by the Variations on a Theme of Paganini of Wittold Lutoslawski, a work for two pianos.  This was one of my introductions to how exciting modern music could be.  I highly recommend it.  He also made an orchestra version which preserves the fury.

Although Wittold called his piece "Variations on a...", it is really more of an arrangement of Paganini's 24th Caprice.  His variations track the original variations one to one.  My piece does exactly the same thing.  Hence it does not really qualify as the fulfillment for my bucket list.  I'll have to wait to do that.  Someday before I die.  Maybe.

Since I worked directly with Paganini's original material and didn't actually write any original variations, I have refrained from calling my piece "Variations on a..."  Instead I have named it Caprice. That's what Paganini called his piece - although he needed to give it a number as well.

It's highly likely that my compositional method is greatly different than Lutoslawski's.  My piece is longer and generally more relaxed than his.  I composed Caprice in approximately 90 short bits separated by silences over approximately 90 days.  These bits became the piece Summer 2013.  Later I removed the silences to reveal this piece.  Of course, I was intending to do this all along and had planned ahead somewhat.  Still, there were surprises.

Summer 2013 is kind of a journal or calendar piece, based on the compositional regimen of "write a little something every day".  Caprice (or rather Summer 2013, Short Version) might be thought of as the time-lapse version of the longer piece.  Soundwise, they are scored for electric violin, electric cello and piano.

 Click here to hear Caprice (Summer 2013 short version) by David Ocker - © 2013 David Ocker, 884 seconds

If Internet search sites are to be believed, the term caprice is associated mostly with either a supermodel or a Chevrolet model.  Both, I dare say, have prominent headlights.

The picture of the college age Witold LutosÅ‚awski came from the University of Warsaw website.  He wrote his variations in the early nineteen forties when he might have looked something like this picture.

Caprice Tags: . . . . . .

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Summer 2013 from The Seasons

I've just posted the latest in my series called The Seasons.  It's the seventh season.  And it's available not a moment too soon, as the Equinox just passed.  You could listen to Summer 2013.  Screw all these words.

Here's a recap of the particulars of The Seasons in case you're just joining us.  These pieces are composed in small sections, theoretically one per day.  Often I actually create one per day if my energy level and other commitments allow.  These short musical events are separated by much longer silences, about 40 seconds of silence.  It turns out that a completed season consists of about 80% pure silence.

Why so much silence?  The silence allows several seasons be played simultaneously.  Or they can be played with any other music of your choice.  It's non-serial musical combinatoriality.  More interesting too than the serial kind.   The Seasons creates an unpredictable user-modifiable listening event in which the elements combine in unplanned ways.  Some people like that sort of thing.  Me, for example.

Now that Summer 2013 is finished, I've been listening to all seven seasons at the same time.  I'm a little surprised that the effect is not as uproarious as I would have predicted when I started the project.  Well, yes, there are moments when multiple unrelated segments overlap to form a thunderous crazy-loud cacophony.  Even so, silences still happen.  I wonder how many seasons it will take before silence completely disappears.  No matter how many seasons I play simultaneously I always hear interesting combinations.

Another reason for using this mostly-silent format is to exploit what I consider one of my strengths as a composer: the ability to have lots of different ideas.  I may not be so good at integrating all those ideas into musical coherence.  You can find lots of other composers who will do that for you.  Heck, they teach how to do that in colleges everywhere.

The Seasons is evolving.  The first season, Winter 2011, had a completely unrelated bit of music for every day.  Gradually I've given each succeeding season its own musical signature - a sort of unifying principal behind the notes.  I suppose my teachers would approve of this increase in unity.

The current season Summer 2013 is based on a well-known classical warhorse for solo violin which you will likely recognize.  (Need a clue? "24th Caprice".)  The sounds are limited to three instruments: electric violin, electric cello and piano.

Ultimately, the one-per-day structure of The Seasons turns it into something like a calendar - or maybe a daily journal.  More abstractly, it is a representation of passing time - not just for the length of the piece but of three whole months.  It is also a time-lapse musical representation of what goes on in my brain.

Sometimes real-life events are celebrated.  For example, many seasons have special musical qualities for each  Monday, the day I take out the garbage.  I call this Garbage Day Periodicity.  Summer 2013 does have G.D.P. although it will be very difficult to hear.  It will be more obvious in the upcoming short version.

Short version?  Yep.  Like the previous season (Spring 2013), there will be a short version, sans silence, of Summer 2013.  Stay tuned for that.  If your time is money or you can't stand silence because your tinitus is acting up or you're otherwise just an impatient on-the-go sort of person, that may be the version more suited to you.

Click here to hear Summer 2013 by David Ocker 
© David Ocker 4229 seconds

Click here for all MM posts about The Seasons.

Summer Tags: . . . . . . . . .

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Mixed Meters is Eight Years Old

I had a birthday.  It was a while ago.  Birthdays are hard for me.  What I mean is that I have a hard time with birthdays.  By that I mean - I have a hard time with my own birthday in particular.  This was true when I was a child and it's also true now as an adult.

Over the years I have learned to cope with the problem of my birthdays by trying not to expect much from them.  In fact I expect nearly nothing,  And that's what I get.  I'm fine with nothing.  It's the Expectations themselves which are the problem.

I have a blog.  Blogs apparently have birthdays too.  My blog, this very blog called Mixed Meters, just turned eight years old.  In Internet years (which are something like dog years - an anthropomorphic fiction derived from the notion that online lifetimes are somehow more comprehensible if we equate them to actual human lifetimes), Mixed Meters seems to have reached its early sixties.  That's not surprising because so have I.

If you're one of Mixed Meters' Three Readers you will have noticed that my blog, like me, has been slowing down recently.  There's not as much going on now as when the blog was younger.  Posts are less frequent.  Subject matter repeats.  Topics don't arouse my indignation or excitement like they used to.  This is a natural result of aging, of course, both internet aging and human aging.

I also believe that the slowdown is a result of isolation.  Mixed Meters just doesn't get that much attention.  Frankly, I would not have started blogging eight years ago if someone had told me just how little attention I would actually get.  Back in 2005 I expected to create some sort of community, even if only a small one, around Mixed Meters.  Like with birthdays, the real problem turned out to be my own Expectations.

With few exceptions, MM posts barely reach triple-digit hit counts.  If someone looks at a MM page for a fraction of a second, then goes away never to return, that counts as one Hit.  Google helpfully counts my Hits.  If someone else looks at a MM page, reads it beginning to end, listens to the music, and even spends time thinking about the content - that also counts as one Hit.  Hits far outnumber Thoughtful Readings.  Google does not care how many Thoughtful Readings I get.

Comments are also rare.  Google does keep track of those.  Over eight years, Mixed Meters has averaged 6 comments for every 5 posts.  That includes my own comments.  Honestly, more feedback would be nice.  Sometimes "comment free blogging" makes me feel like I'm just pissing in the wind.

Theoretically, blogging less means I have more free time.  This leads to the question "What do I do with my extra time?"  Well, you would ask that question if you were reading this post, which you have probably stopped doing already.  The answer is that my extra time goes into my life.  Overall, I do have a good life which I am thankful for.  I'm an extremely lucky person, bitchy blog posts not withstanding.

My life revolves around  the Four Ws.  These are Working, Walking and Writing.  Also my Wife.  The Four Ws are those things I have identified as being essential daily activities.  Described without W's, the four are earning some money, getting some exercise, doing something creative and being a good husband.

Each of the Ws leaves me plenty of room for improvement.  There are days when doing all four is quite difficult.  I formulated the Four Ws philosophy after reading a greeting card I saw in a gift shop. It said "The most important things in life are the ones you do every day."  Imagine what life would be like if every greeting card you receive, like the ones from doctors or insurance agents who never forget my birthday, were as life changing as that one I saw (and didn't purchase) in that gift shop.

My other activities include eating, sleeping, picking up the mail, cleaning up cat and dog shit, drinking coffee, reading and, of course, Facebook.   More important than any of those, I think, is taking out the garbage once a week.  I have even enshrined the act of taking out the garbage into my music.  I call this musical structure "Garbage Day Periodicity".

"Garbage Day Periodicity" can be heard in my on-going once-a-day composition project called The Seasons.  Garbage is an easy problem to solve.  If you have garbage you simply put it in the dumpster, put the dumpster at the curb and, eventually, someone takes the garbage away.  Problem solved.  If only I could do the same thing with my Expectations.

I spend much time thinking about music I would like to write.  I would like to spend more of my time actually writing that music and less time thinking about it.  I post all my new pieces on Mixed Meters. Alas, people don't listen much.   That makes sense because, like blogging, writing music is something else which I do in isolation.  With computers I can make performance-free music.  Also audience free.

The important thing is that I enjoy the process of creating music immensely.  I try to tailor the process to intensify the aspects I like and avoid those I dislike.  Luckily this has worked out pretty well for me.  I'm extremely fortunate that I can spend as much of my life writing music as I do.

I've been thinking about bucket lists.  Until recently I thought that I didn't have a bucket list - you know, a personal list of as yet unfulfilled experiences.   Then I realized that I do have such a list.  The difference is that it's filled with unfulfilled composition projects.  Lately I've crossed a few items off the list with The Seasons.  There are many more to go.  Someday I will actually write that parody of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, only, instead of a five-year old prodigy performing it, mine will be played by a ninety-five year old prodigy.

I'm also still posting my pictures.  I don't go looking for pictures, they find me.  My pictures are found objects in the truest sense.  If I notice something visually interesting on my walks or elsewhere, be it tree or trash, I whip the point'n'shoot out of my pocket and snap a couple photos.  I take enough that a few usually turn out well.  I post some to my other blog, Mixed Messages.  You can see the latest ones here, in the righthand column.

I suppose I will still find the occasional blog topic which gets my excitement and/or indignation up, you know, over politics or society or whatever.   Some topics force me to drop everything and write an essay of doubtful value and indefinite logic.  Naturally these postings produce Expectations that others will read and get excited and/or indignant as well.  After eight years, that idea has been completely disproven.

And, speaking of politics and society, my disappointment knows no bounds when I think about my youthful Expectations for the country I live in.  During my lifetime the U.S. has invented the Tea Party, fracking, Miley Cyrus, megachurches, Shock and Awe, Dick Cheney, Walmart, the NRA, the rapture, Real Housewives, Three Strikes laws, Grand Theft Auto and mass murder in schools - to name just a very few things I would gladly live without.   Society is SO fucked, people, and it saddens me to admit that my generation, the Baby Boomers, gets much of the credit.  I would like to apologize to the world for all these American things - and more.  Sadly, I have no Expectations that my apologies will help.

One thing I don't seem to do with my time any more is doodle.  I found the doodles gracing this post in a stack of music and other papers I had put away for later use and forgotten about completely.  Click on them for enlargements.  I suspect they date from the early 2000's before I started Mixed Meters.  You probably see things in them the same way you see things in Rohrshach ink blots.  The numbers will allow you to make comments about specific doodles, telling the world which one looks like a pregnant shark riding an upside down motorcycle.

Like these doodles, things out of my past are easy to turn into blog posts.  Mixed Meters could easily become a compendium of work I did years ago.  Realistically, you should expect more and more of this.  I have boxes and boxes filled with projects either only I remember or I have already forgotten.  If I don't post them here no one will ever know about them.  Then again, if I do post them here nearly no one will ever know about them.  Gradually my blog will become my autobiography - disorganized, incomplete and totally non-chronological.  Already, after just eight years, I discover my own posts that I've completely forgotten about.  My memory isn't what it used to be.

And so, the question "Why to blog?" remains without a satisfying answer.  Honestly, I could completely stop blogging and the world and my life and everything in between would not change one bit.  I could post completely random gibberish or I could give the real irrefutable answer to the meaning of life, and the reactions would be pretty much identical.  Hey, maybe the real answer to the meaning of life is random gibberish.  How wonderful that would be!  Probably I will continue blogging because I'm not ready to stop.  Until I am ready to stop I will simply continue.  Meanwhile you should expect more of my random gibberish and pessimistic drivel here.  I hope you enjoy it.