Tuesday, December 30, 2014

David's Best of 2014

Every December the media is filled with "Best of..." articles, helping readers sort through an entire year's deluge of news, promotions, advertisements and click bait.

I'm suspicious, however, that because these articles are easy to prepare in advance their real purpose is to allow the harried media professional to knock off work early during the holiday season.

We here, in the Mixed Meters newsroom, want to do year-end "Best of..." lists as much as the next blog because we like quitting work early too.

We've done such lists before.  Last year had an exceptionally negative tone.   The 2012 entry was very misleading.  In 2008 I listed things I had genuinely liked during that year . . . that was boring!

Now consider the human hand.  What an amazing tool the hand is.  Civilization would lack so much without the help of hands: typing, sign language, wind instruments.

Our hands are very delicate and easy to damage.   They are a complicated array of bones, muscles and nerves - all designed for touching and manipulating the world around us.

Sometimes we need to protect our hands from things that are too hot or too cold, too rough, too sharp or too infectious.  We do this by covering our hands.

That protective thing we wear on a hand is called a glove.  Since our hands come in pairs so do our gloves (except for baseball gloves).

Disposable gloves have become very common.  Workers at the deli counter put on gloves before they touch my food.  Then they throw them away unless they forget.  I can't decide if the glove is to protect them or me.

Humans also have feet.  Our feet are no less complex than our hands but they serve completely different purposes.  We use feet to walk and run, to kick soccer balls, to play the pedals on a pipe organ.

Every day I use my own feet to walk at least 10,000 steps; that's a little over 3 miles.  In one year I walk about 1000 miles.

All that walking can get a little boring.  To give me something to think about while I walk I carry a camera.  I take pictures of the strangest stuff.

Among my favorite photo subjects are abandoned gloves.  I usually don't bother to take pictures of shoes or socks or any other articles of clothing I  encounter.  I find gloves far more interesting; they twist themselves into the most interesting shapes.

And that's the story behind this blog post, David's Best of 2014,  These are my best "lost glove" pictures for the entire year.  I wonder what lost gloves 2015 will bring.

Be honest.  Have you been ignoring the pictures as you scrolled through this blog post?  Hands up if you've only been reading the words.  Now you can go back and click on any picture for an enlargement.

The short history of previous Mixed Meters posts about Gloves:
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blue Glove
Gloves in the Wild

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Jiggle Belts

Although it's been very quiet around Mixed Meters lately this blog does have some traditions worth preserving.  One of these is my annual encounter with Jingle Bells.

J.B. is a simple tune, useful as a musical starting point because everyone knows it.  Also it is "seasonal".  It evokes winter: snow and cold and darkness and a sense of gloomy despair that these short days might never start getting longer again.  It all adds up to a good reason for a big party.  You build a fire, get drunk and beat on some drums.  Before long, you're having a night of wild sex.  Anything to stay warm.

J.B. also evokes Christmas.  This is because anything which evokes cold and snow has been co-opted as a Christmas ornament.  Houses are decorated with white lights meant to resemble icicles. Penguins, polar bears, reindeer, snow men, igloos and Santa Clauses are called out to serve the Capitalist Christian Solstice holiday.

Santa  Clause takes off some extra pounds with a Jiggle Belt

Music is called on as well.  As a non-Christian and a musician living in a mindlessly Christian society I have often found all the Christmas music unbearably oppressive.  So I've made an effort to cope by hollowing out a little space for my own musical interests in the galaxy of Christmas music.  It makes me feel a bit better.  Your mileage may vary.

This years offering is called Jiggle Belts, if only because I'm running out of Jingle Bells puns.  It's not so much an idyllic sleigh ride in a one horse open sleigh as it is a subversive unrelenting drag race between people with noisy powerful machines who need to shed a few pounds.  Enjoy:

Click here to hear Jiggle Belts, © 2014 by David Ocker - 75 seconds

a crosswalk button festooned with a Christmas ornament

Other Christmas music references I have enjoyed.

The Little Drummer Boy Game  - anyone can play this at Christmas time.  (You lose the moment you hear any version of The Little Drummer Boy.)  (So far, this year, I'm still a winner.)

Here's a poem by Charles Bukowski on the subject of classical music radio, Christmas and people:

Charles Bukowski poem "without fail" manuscript

Finally - a list of past Jingle Bells pieces from Mixed Meters and me.  Merry Happiness everyone.  The days will start getting longer soon - trust me.

Jungle Bells (2006 - 209 seconds)
Jingle Bulls (2006 - 231 seconds)
Jingle Bills (2007 - 30 seconds)
One Note Open Sleigh (2008 - 38 seconds)
A Combination of Jingle Bells and the Internationale (2009 - 327 seconds)
Solstice Lights (2010 - 640 seconds)
Jingle Bells - The Long Version (short version) (2011 - 212 seconds)
Jinglemonics (2012 - 247 seconds)
The William Bell Overture (Jingle Tells) (2013 - 390 seconds)
Jiggle Belts  (2014 - 75 seconds)

All works © David Ocker

Saturday, November 15, 2014

David's Biography Through History

This is a picture of Gerry Fialka.

Gerry contacted me recently.  He said "I would like to interview you about your background, ideas and the creative process for my series".  I said that I would be happy to be interviewed.  (I figured it was probably a video thing like my last interview.  I was wrong.  Here's a video of someone interviewing Gerry.)

Gerry wants to interview me in public.  His series entitled MESS (Media Ecology Soul Salon) is held live and in public at a coffee shop called Unurban in Santa Monica.  He even set the date and time: May 9, 2015 at 4 p.m.  Mark your calendars now.  (I confess that I haven't added it to my own calendar yet.  May seems SO far off.)

Gerry's next message contained a request of a more immediate nature.  He wrote "send a bio asap".  This induced panic because I haven't needed an artist bio for any reason in about 2 decades.  My old bios do not seem appropriate for today's modern life style.  Online there is my sketchy Blogger profile, which I figure is as much as anyone needs to know about me before reading Mixed Meters.

I set to work writing a new bio and kept editing it until even Leslie was happy with it and I sent it off to Gerry.  Haven't heard from him since.

All this got me thinking that I could post several of my own old bios which I would resurrect from old program booklets.  I could post them chronologically.  It would be like a mini autobiography.  Unusual things might be revealed.  Repetitions might be noticed.  People might learn some things about me.  Sentence structures might be repeated.

As you might expect, since the same information is being covered each time lots of things get repeated.  The trick is to enjoy the subtle differences.  It may not be a great idea for a blog post, but it's good enough.

"Ever since I was born (in the dark of night, in the late August, 1951), I have been a Virgo.
"At an early age I wanted to be a cartographer and I learned to amuse my friends by explaining the meaning of the word. 
"I avoided work for nearly two decades by attending school, although I spent my summers by filling candy machines, sandblasting jet aircraft maintenance equipment, painting things yellow and selling appliances. 
"Now this model here has nearly four more cubic feet of freezer space and is available in harvest gold. 
"I like to drink brandy and I wish I had enough time to play chess or go to the zoo. 
"I enjoy the sound of the glass harmonica. 
"Some of my favorite music is by Dufay, Scarlatti, Mozart, Sousa, and Webern, and the color blue. 
"I dislike automobiles (especially in large quantities), politics, and the television, and I really ought to learn to vary my sentence structures a bit more. 
"I'm a devout pessimist and having discovered the gloomiest aspect of any situation, will proceed to make it known to all who will listen. 
"As Laurence Gold pointed out to me in one of his moments of greatest understanding: 'It's not fair to impute that the continuity has suffered for the lapses of time, since there wasn't any continuity to speak of in the first place.'"
A pdf of the whole program book is here.

1983 - Various Musics for Large Orchestra by Frank Zappa (the Barbican Theatre, London England)
DAVID OCKER, clarinetist, specializes in the performance of contemporary music for both clarinet and bass clarinet.  The solo part to Frank Zappa's MO 'N HERB'S VACATION was written for him, and he has played on two of Frank's albums as well.  A recent recital of solo clarinet works was well received with the Los Angeles Times reporting: "Both brash and beguiling, he played with marvelous fluency and expressive nuance."  He holds degrees from Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota, where he also taught, and from the California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, California.  His principal clarinet instructors included Richard Stoltzman, Michelle Zukovsky, Phillip Rehfeldt and Cloyde Williams.
Since 1977, OCKER has worked for Frank Zappa as orchestrator, music librarian and copyist of both scores and parts.  As such he has been closely involved in the preparation of music for this concert. 
Also a composer of music for chamber ensembles and of sound environments for magnetic tape, OCKER was a founding member of the Independent Composers Association.  This presenting organization for chamber and electronic music, improvisation and performance art has provided many concerts of new music in Southern California over seven seasons.

When not working on some aspect of contemporary music, OCKER spends his time as a mediocre Go player, an amateur cartoonist and a member of the Los Angeles Goon Show Society.

1985 - Monday Evening Concerts
David Ocker is a musician with dark, curly hair, a beard and a raucous laugh who occasionally wonders why he lives in Los Angeles.  One of the things he likes to do best is play clarinet and bass clarinet, especially contemporary solo and chamber music.  In 1983 he recorded the solo part to Frank Zappa's clarinet concerto "Mo'n Herb's Vacation" with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kent Nagano, a part which had been written especially for him.  Recently Ocker has begun to expand beyond the interpretation of notated music in an improvisation trio with wind players Vinny Golia and Ann LaBerge.  Another thing David Ocker likes to do is compose music.  In 1976, in an attempt to provide an outlet for his composer's habit, he helped found (and was later President of) the Independent Composers Association, a co-operative presenting organization for chamber and electronic music, improvisation and performance art.  Another category of Ocker's musical efforts is that of music copyist, spending many hours at a desk writing out all manner of music.  He also feels that he spends altogether too much time in the preparation of resumes and biographies, and continues to wonder why he writes these things in the third person.

1992 (?) - Catalog for Leisure Planet Music
David Ocker's music, as described by the Los Angeles Times "can intrigue, fascinate and entertain even the jaded listener.  Eclectic in the most positive sense, Ocker reveals his influences - Brahms, Ives, Copland and jazz - sometimes eloquently, always without self-conciousness."
The largest portion of David Ocker's music is for acoustic instruments, although he has also created works on tape and in software.  His wealth of experience as a clarinetist and his love for the music of the past inform his composition, sometimes in very direct ways.  He has derived a bass clarinet solo from a movement of a Brahms symphony, and replaced the notes of a Bach prelude and fugue to create a new work for piano.  He has two works for chamber orchestra - Waiting for the Messiah and Melodic Symphony, as well as a chamber piece with soprano and narration aimed at younger audiences - Young Finny from Fwyynyland.
Ocker's music is characterized by infectious, propulsive rhythms which give his works a sense of being driven to their inevitable conclusions.  Whether it is the long slow arch of Waiting for the Messiah or the slippery metrical maze of Pride and Foolishness, his music is somehow simultaneously familiar and surprising. 
Ocker's music has been performed on the Los Angeles Festival, the Pacific Contemporary Music Festival in Seoul, South Korea, and the Monday Evening Concerts.  When the California EAR Unit played Pride and Foolishness at the Cal Arts Contemporary Music Festival in 1988, John Henken described it as having "the dark grace of some jazz arrangements of Bach, compounded in equal measure of minor mode moodiness and insistent rhythmic swing." 
A graduate of Carleton College and the California Institute of the Arts, David Ocker was a founding member and later president of the Independent Composers Association.  He was also a founding member of XTET, a chamber ensemble with a special interest in the music of the twentienth century.  He is probably best known through his long association with Frank Zappa, for whom he worked as clarinetist, orchestrator, copyist and Synclavier programmer.
My online Leisure Planet bio still lives here.

1993 - Carleton College Music Department newsletter
DAVID OCKER '73  David has been active in the Los Angeles contemporary music scene since arriving there in the mid '70s.  He is a founded (sic) member of XTET, a contemporary chamber ensemble, that performs often in the Los Angeles area.  His compositions, such as Waiting for the Messiah, the Melodic Symphony, and Young Finny from Fwyynyland, have been performed at the Monday Evening Concerts, the Los Angeles Festival, and the CalArts New Music Festival.  He has appeared as clarinet soloist with the London Symphony Orchestra in London performing the world premier of Frank Zappa's Mo'n Herb's Vacation.  These are all avocational pursuits.  His true profession is music calligrapher.  He has worked closely with Frank Zappa and William Kraft and has just finished preparing the piano-vocal score for John Adams' recent opera, The Death of Klinghoffer.  But even more importantly, he just recently got married. 

2014 - Gerry Fialka's Media Ecology Soul Salon
Soon after David Ocker’s education at Carleton College and the California Institute of the Arts he was hired as “musical secretary” to iconic composer Frank Zappa. Ocker earned album credits from Zappa as clarinetist, synthesist and orchestrator and experienced his "15-minutes of fame" during a 28-minute solo performance of a Zappa work with the London Symphony Orchestra.  According to Zappa Ocker did "Synclavier Document Encryption" on the Francesco Zappa album.  He even asked Ocker to write the liner notes for that release.   Ocker also had a behind-the-scenes role in the "While You Were Art" incident.  Since leaving Zappa’s employ Ocker has earned a living in the exciting world of freelance music preparation, working regularly for noted classical composers such as John Adams, Esa-Pekka Salonen, William Kraft and Anders Hillborg.  Ocker was co-founder of a composers collective (the Independent Composers Association), a chamber group (Xtet) and an improvisation trio (with Vinny Golia and Anne La Berge).  Lacking commissions, awards, recordings or performances for his own music, David Ocker thinks of himself as a "failed composer".   He learned a valuable lesson, however, when he tried to quit writing music altogether: he couldn't stop.   Now he spends happy purposeless moments exercising his aural imagination via computer sound software, the results of which he posts to his blog Mixed Meters.  In the visual realm he publishes curiously-devoid-of-context photographs on a Tumblr entitled Mixed Messages and videos on a website called YouTube.

And he still wonders why he writes his biographies in the third person.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Two F. Zappas

Zappa means hoe in Italian.  Jacopo told me that.  Jacopo is Jacopo Franzoni, a fan of all composers named F. Zappa - of which there have been two.  One was Frank Zappa, famous composer and rock star guitarist of the 20th century.  The other was Francesco Zappa, unknown composer and cellist to royalty of the 18th century.

Jacopo recently organized a conference in Milan Italy devoted to both F. Zappas.  Before the conference he interviewed me about the Two Zappas via the miracle of Skype.  Then he edited video from several hours of our conversation down to a concise 8 minute long video.  This was shown at the conference.

If any one thing unites the people of Italy it is that they speak Italian.  Sadly, I know only a few words in Italian and these are all nouns which fall into one of two categories: music (e.g. "fermata") or food (e.g. "martini").  Please don't remind me that these have long since become English words.

To make it easier for those attending the conference to understand my palaver, Jacopo added Italian subtitles to the video.  When he told me that he intended to do this I expressed some curiosity about how I might look that way.  Jacopo replied that I'm much more handsome with Italian subtitles.  I'll let you be the judge.

Here's another of Jacopo's videos in which I appear briefly.  It's the trailer for the conference.  Jacopo called it the "appetizer".

You might notice that Jacopo Franzoni shares billing with Vanni Moretto.  Vanni is a conductor who specializes in Baroque and Classical repertoire.  His ensemble is called Atalanta Fugiens and guess whose music they've recorded.  If you answered F. Zappa you'd be correct.

First, here's some 18th century F. Zappa, a movement from a symphony:

I'm very impressed by the quality of their performance.  I just discovered that Atalanta Fugiens has recorded all six Zappa Symphonies on an album from Deutsche Harmonia Mundi.  I look forward to hearing all of them.

Now some 20th century F. Zappa played by the same talented ensemble.

Now back to the 18th century guy.  This is Francesco Zappa's trio Opus One, Number One:

If you dare, compare that to the same music performed 30 years ago by the Barking Pumpkin Digital Gratification Consort, Frank Zappa conductor.  "Synclavier Document Encryption" for this was provided by David Ocker, Assistant Director of the consort, who all by himself was actually the entirety of the membership.

I know you can't resist asking "Who was Francesco Zappa"?
I've written about Francesco Zappa before, here.
Francesco has his own website, here.
Fascinating new information about Francesco's life and death, here.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Tribute to John Bergamo

One year ago composer, percussionist and CalArts faculty member John Bergamo passed away. He was a talented and inspiring man. Back then I wrote about him in this post.

Last night CalArts held a tribute to John.  It took the form of a concert on which all the music was John's.  Most of the performers were John's students.  Many other alumni were in attendance.  It was a pleasure for me to see and talk to those people who shared the same formative experiences which shaped my own musical life.

Naturally, many pictures were taken.

The concert took place at the Wild Beast, an outdoor high-tech performance space.  (Click on pictures for enlargements.)

Percussionists play multiple instruments - mallets, drums, gongs.  In John Bergamo's world just about anything could become a percussion instrument.  For example, the intermission feature, called On the Edge, was performed on a large metal aircraft engine cowling set up in front of the stage.  Look for it in the first picture.

The caution sign in the next picture is really an instrument, a wobble board played with virtuoso bravura by Gregg Johnson.  (I don't think Gregg and David are related, in spite of both being percussionists and having a common surname.)

The concert began with the CalArts Percussion Ensemble, i.e. current students.  They played John's early 1963 modernist piece entitled Interactions.  It has a modernist title to match.  Interestingly and positively, all the performers were women.  Percussion has been a traditionally male bastion.  I guess the future comes to CalArts first.

Two solo mallet works were on the program.  Three Pieces for the Winter Solstice for vibraphone (1963), performed by Jeff Brenner, is very coloristic and familiar to me.  Five Short Pieces for Marimba, played by Justin DeHart, was written in 2000 in a much more virtuostic manner.  First time I had heard it.

Here's an important fact about all-percussion concerts: it takes great amounts of energy and time to move and adjust the instruments.  Half way through the first half of this concert such a reorganization took place.  I made a video of this non-musical portion of the program.  Why I wonder.  The change was done very efficiently in a soothing blue light; it's like watching a cheap noir movie of avant-garde dance.

The voice you'll hear is that of David Rosenboom, a composer/performer who makes his living as Dean of the Herb Alpert School of Music at the California Institute of the Arts.  His job last night was to talk to the audience about John Bergamo during this particular transition.  David chose to take the very long view, putting John's career as a musician in the context of five millennia of human musical history.  He also talked about snare drum rolls and Christmas music albums.  Meanwhile, the stage is awash with moving performers and stage hands.  Or, if you will, imagine David Rosenboom is performing the part of John Cage, lecturing as a Merce Cunningham-like dance company performs randomly behind him.

I think David Rosenboom's assertion that the era of the imperial composer, one who writes but does not perform music, is coming to an end after 250 years is probably a bit premature.  John Bergamo was definitely a composer and performer, but then again so were Mozart and Beethoven.

Here's my favorite frame of the video.  This was a high tech concert, tastefully over amplified.

In the video they are setting up for a performance by The Repercussion Unit, an all-percussion rock band founded by John Bergamo and a bunch of other friends of mine way back in 1976.  The previous post about John has video from an R-Unit tour of Germany.

Among my pictures of the performance were several long sequences of nearly identical shots.  I was trying to get one where focus was right, the performers weren't moving too much and something interesting was going on.  As it turned out, these shots made for better animated gifs than for still pictures.  You'll have to imagine the music, but you can definitely get a feel for the energy of the performances.

First gif is the Repercussion Unit - left to right Chris Garcia (seated), Jimmy Hildebrant, David Johnson, Larry Stein, (you can see just the head of) Charles Levin, Gregg Johnson, Amy Knoles.  And way on the right is one brief flash of the arm of M.B. Gordy.  Sorry, M.B.

On the second half of the concert there was hand drumming, one of John Bergamo's specialities.  Another performing group, also founded by John, is called the Hands On'Semble.  The members are Randy Gloss, Andrew Grueschow and Austin Wrinkle - also John's students.  Since they went to CalArts during a different decade than I, I'm not sure which face goes with which name or what to call most of their instruments.  They played magnificently along with two colleagues of John's, Swapan Chaudhuri and Houman Poumehdi.  The piece is called Shradhanjali - a Hindustani word which means "thanks to the teachers".

The finale of the concert was John Bergamo's most well-known composition, Piru Bol.  You can hear many different versions of Piru Bole on YouTube.  (The program says "Bol", You Tube says "Bole".  You decide.)  In any case Piru is a city near CalArts where John lived for many years.  Last night it was performed by a large group of percussionists - I count 16 in this picture.

For a while I focused on taking pictures of one quartet - Amy, Larry, Gregg standing and David seated - who had posed themselves artfully together.  Everyone else on stage was putting out this much energy at the same time.

The hand drumming performances were, for me, one of those magical musical moments.  I could hear something great happening without knowing what it was exactly or how it was being done.  I was experiencing the power of music.  It is a strong primal power.  It is the reason music has a 5000 year history and the reason music appears in every culture.  It is the power that long ago made me want to become a musician and, somewhat later, want to study at CalArts.

What I learned by studying music, alas, is that knowing too much about it can make you lose touch with the magic.  Friends of mine have often heard me complain about my education at CalArts.  Although my entire career is based on what I learned at CalArts and the people I met there, I've never really felt satisfied with my education.

Last night, as this performance was coming to an end, I felt tears in my eyes and recognized a strange idea.  I actually thought to myself "Gee, I'm glad I went to CalArts".  There's a first time for everything.  And indeed I am glad I attended CalArts, at least on that certain metaphysical magical musical level that I only get to touch on rare occasions.  The people on the stage of the Wild Beast let me channel a wonderful musical energy one more time.  I hope it happens to me many more times.  I hope it happens to you too.

It was a tribute concert and so there were speeches.  Many of the speakers talked of how John Bergamo had touched their lives through music.  And I knew exactly what they were talking about because John had touched mine as well.  And last night he did it one more time.   The spirit of John Bergamo was on stage at the Wild Beast during this concert.  So was his picture.

And then the concert ended.  You know what they say - every high must have its low.  I walked into the CalArts building, looking for the reception, and confronted a typical CalArts hallway.

Alone in the endless whiteness of hallway hell, you easily can believe that Walt Disney really is buried somewhere under the building.  It's an ART school, a DESIGN school, a MUSIC school, but the architecture can be simply antiseptic.  A little interior decoration - some art on the walls - couldn't hurt, could it?  A sound environment?  Something.

Then at the reception, more pictures were taken.  I like taking pictures of pictures being taken.  Here's one more.

Over the years I've written a number of posts that are tagged CalArts.  Click here to read them all. This is the third time I've ever mentioned David Rosenboom.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Phoney Religion 9-27-04

This post is the third of a trilogy on Mixed Meters.  A Trilogy of Anniversary Posts.

The first one celebrated the 40th anniversary of my arriving in Southern California.  The second, the 9th birthday of this here blog.  Now we will celebrate a decade of 30 Second Spots, my series of short musical compositions.

The record of exactly when I started the 30 Second Spot project has been lost.  There was, of course, an initial period of trial and error as the concept took shape.  Rules were made up (by me), some were kept (by me), others discarded (also by me).  At some point one of the rules became "30 Second Spots are written in one sitting."

That rule (broken more than it is adhered to) quite naturally led to adding a date to the file name.  The first dated 30 Second Spot was called Phoney Religion.  The date was September 27, 2004.

Don't expect much from Phoney Religion.  I can modestly claim that my work has improved since then.

I don't remember anything about the origin of the title.  It may have been suggested by the A Mighty Fortress reference.  Or maybe I added the music quote to match the title.  Most likely this piece was written at Starbucks on Leslie's hand-me-down 286 Gateway laptop using its sleazy onboard midi synthesis.  (Translation for non-computer musicians: "It doesn't sound very good").

Anyway, take a listen while you try to image how long a decade really is.

Click here to hear Phoney Religion 9-27-04 
© 2004, 2014 by David Ocker, 31 seconds

Here are two pictures of a ceramic yard ornament which we named Irving.  Irving is part of a couple.  His spouse (not shown here) is Happy.  The first picture of Irving, who had recently been installed in our backyard, was taken in late 2004, a few months after Phoney Religion was composed.  The second picture was taken last week.

Irving is showing his age - his complextion problems are noticable.  He also seems to have a lost lots of colorful succulent hair.  To his credit he appears to still have all his teeth.

Phoney or Phony?

You're Blaming Me For This is the most recent 30 Second Spot posted to Mixed Meters.  That was way last March.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Nine Years Of Blogging

I've named this hummingbird Red Thor.

Red Thor usually looks kind of orange in color.   Hummingbird markings seem to change according to the light.  For all I know Thor might be actually be female.  Guy or gal, Thor thinks he owns our driveway.

I see Thor most mornings.  I watch as he perches on a high exposed tree branch from which he flies short sorties to catch insects, hovering briefly in mid-air, then returns to his spot.  When another hummer tries to use one of the several feeders I've put out, Thor immediately dashes down from his branch at top speed, chirping menacingly.  Hummingbirds can move at tremendous velocity when motivated.

Although the little fellow may be all of two inches long, when he's mad you can definitely hear it in his voice.  Not until he has driven the intruder away does he stop chirping and return to catching insects.  One morning I heard angry hummingbird noises quite close to where I was standing.  It was Thor, feistily explaining that I (thousands of times his size), was intruding into his territory.  Eventually I did leave.  Thor had defended his territory once again.

Sometime this week Mixed Meters achieved the ripe old age of nine years.  The actual birth date of this blog is September 16, 2005.  Leslie saw me working on this post and asked "How long have you been married to your blog?"  I'm not really sure what she meant.  I don't spend nearly as much time with my blog as I do with her.  For good reason.

My only anniversary celebration was to update the RedHeaders list.  There are now over 1300 of the little buggers, one of which was randomly displayed at the top of this page.

According to Google this is Mixed Meters' 700th post.  Other sources indicate that they are nearly correct.

Here's a picture of a crow.

I haven't given Mister (or Ms.) Crow a name.  I can't tell one crow from another.  They all look identical and they are very stand-offish.  Crows are not friendly to humans.

Crows thrive in our neighborhood.  I often see them foraging for food in small groups, so I guess they differ from hummingbirds in that they know how to get along with certain members of their own species.  And they grow quite large.  I've watched birds whose wingspan must have been close to two feet across.  In that sense they differ from hummingbirds as well.

Crows seem to dislike sitting in sunlight.  I suppose being such a dark black color, absorbing all that light, keeps crows toasty warm.  A picture of a crow in the shade shows few details.  This particular crow obligingly sat in full sun while I took his (or her) portrait from 20 feet below.

Our local crows don't claim territory the way little Thor does.  They don't squawk or attack intruders.  They simply move away.  I've read that crows are among the more intelligent species which live successfully in proximity to humans.

Just what, you may be wondering (and rest assured that I have been wondering the same thing) do a greedy mean little hummingbird in our driveway or a big black standoffish crow on a utility wire have to do with the anniversary of  Mixed Meters, the personal blog of a barely known nearly senior citizen musician who updates it only a few dozen times per year and which most people don't know about, let alone read?

The moral of the story might be that we should be careful about which light we choose to sit in when someone takes our picture.  Otherwise the camera won't see all our feathers.

TagLine[1306] = "Thinking those things which cannot be thought."
TagLine[1310] = "Place fear-inducing headline of your choice here."
TagLine[1312] = "Topped with aged Parmesan."
TagLine[1315] = "Today is malarkey day."
TagLine[1316] = "The truth is not out there."
TagLine[1317] = "Mixed Meters - Ignore it and it will go away."
TagLine[1318] = "Mixed Meters - lacking false pathos"
TagLine[1326] = "Mixed Meters - the only place in the entire universe that is all about me."
TagLine[1327] = "Damn, have we fucked things up, or what?"
TagLine[1328] = "I*m thinking of a number between four and six."

Haven't had enough yet?  Here are some previous MM posts about animals:
Bird Brains of Pasadena (an old one, the pictures were taken two cameras ago)
What Is It Like to Be Dead  (one of MM's most often read posts)
Graffiti Animals of California
Russian Bestiary (pictures from Leslie's trip to Russia)
Stalking the Christmas Penguin

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Forty Years In California

Here are two pictures of me taken by my mother in 1974.  The date is September 8, 1974, one month to the day since Richard M. Nixon resigned the presidency.  The location is my hometown of Sioux City Iowa outside our family home (although our house is not shown in either picture).  I had just turned 23 years old.  The car is an infamous 1974 Chevy Vega purchased used earlier that summer.

My father is standing behind me in the first shot.  In the second you can clearly see bags hanging in the back of the car.  I was about to leave on a long trip.

I was going to California to attend graduate school in music.  At the moment these pictures were taken I thought that I would be attending the University of California at San Diego, although my first choice was the more exciting but less practical California Institute of the Arts.

If you figure three days driving from Iowa to Southern California, today is exactly the 40th anniversary of my arrival in Los Angeles.  Or maybe yesterday.   Anyway, I've been here ever since.  The longest I can remember leaving California is three weeks - and that only happened once.

During my undergraduate years in Minnesota, I remember telling my clarinet teacher that I would be continuing my education in California.  His response was that he had noticed musicians who go to California were never heard from again.  I thought that a little strange.  Turns out that he was right, because he never did hear from me again.

I still have two copies of the Cal Arts Admission Bulletin from that year.  In it composer Mel Powell, then the Provost, began his message so:
A scholar of the bizarre, having read the bulletin of several hundred American universities, colleges and conservatories, proclaimed the discovery of a curious new language of garniture.  He found that bulletin prose tends to vibrate with fervor as the distances that separate description from reality extend themselves and promote euphoric envisionings by students, parents, teachers, administrators and trustees.

Despite this oblique warning (written in a curiously common double talk I had never encountered before), I was strongly, yes, euphorically attracted to the California Institute of the Arts, especially to studies in electronic music.  I was also seduced by their lack of Eurocentrism which I understood at the time only with relief that foreign language proficiency was not required for graduation.

On my first day in California I drove directly to Valencia - home of CalArts - intending to retrieve my admissions deposit.  They had not offered me enough financial aid and I needed that deposit money back.  The original plan was to drive on to my second choice school the next day.  Apparently being present in the flesh makes bureaucracy move more quickly because a couple days later, with offers of sufficient money, I found myself enrolled at CalArts.

All my major career opportunities during four decades in California can be traced directly back to people I met at CalArts.  My time there was, for all its faults, a life-changing experience for me.

If you had asked me in 1974 where I would be in 2014, I don't know what I might have said. I'd probably first wonder whether I'd even still be alive.

If you had told me that I would still be a musician whose only tool is a computer and who works exclusively with people I never see - some of whom I've never even met - using something called the Internet, you would of course have been correct.  I expect that I would have laughed at the absurdity of such a notion.  "Not likely.  That's science fiction."

Here's a video of Arthur C. Clarke being interviewed in that same year 1974 about the future of computers.  He was not far off in his predictions, although he suggests that only businessmen and executives will be able to live wherever they please thanks to computers.  Thankfully I've become neither of those things.

Arthur C. Clarke might have said some really dumb things in the rest of that interview.  This clip makes him sound prescient.

By attempting a career in music I was aware, even in 1974, that I wasn't likely to earn piles of money.  I admit that I had faint hopes of getting famous.  Getting rich seemed especially unlikely.  I do feel extremely lucky that 40 years later I'm able to spend my life involved in music and even still make some money at it.

Do you notice that money keeps coming up in this post.  My parents and I shared the uncertainty over whether I would be able to make a living as a musician.  There was no way to know whether graduate education in music, especially at such a strange institution, would just be a waste of resources.

Financially the United States has changed a lot since 1974 and it hasn't been getting better for most people.  In fact, according to this article, The 40-Year Slump by Harold Myerson, 1974 was a watershed year for the American economy:
        But no one could deny that Americans in 1974 lived lives of greater comfort and security than they had a quarter-century earlier. During that time, median family income more than doubled.
        Then, it all stopped. In 1974, wages fell by 2.1 percent and median household income shrunk by $1,500. To be sure, it was a year of mild recession, but the nation had experienced five previous downturns during its 25-year run of prosperity without seeing wages come down.
        What no one grasped at the time was that this wasn’t a one-year anomaly, that 1974 would mark a fundamental breakpoint in American economic history. In the years since, the tide has continued to rise, but a growing number of boats have been chained to the bottom. Productivity has increased by 80 percent, but median compensation (that’s wages plus benefits) has risen by just 11 percent during that time.
Driving off to start my adult life in 1974, I was really quite optimistic.  I was taking a big chance on my dream of being a musician.   Back then there was no way I could have predicted the details of what would happen to me.  Or to the people around me.

I graduated from CalArts two years later and within a year I was working for Frank Zappa - starting salary was $410 per week.  (Adjusted for inflation, that would be about $1600 today.)  After putting over 100,000 miles on the Vega I traded it for a new Toyota.  In September 1984 I quit working for Frank and started freelancing.  I'm still a freelancer 30 years later.   It was a few years more before I shaved off my beard.  In 1991 I met Leslie Harris and we were married the next year.  She has done far more for the positive quality of my life than being a musician ever has.  We're living happily ever after as best we can.  Life is good for us.  I can only wish that were more universally true these days.

In 1974 I was driving off into an unknown future and I had no idea of what would happen.  It's fair to ask what useful advice I would give my hopeful young self based on my 40 years of the California experience? A few things that come to mind:
  • 1) When your father told you to save your money, listen to him.  
  • 2) Be honest with yourself about what you really want.
  • 3) No matter how much you weigh, you will always feel fat.
And where, I wonder, will I be forty years from now.   The odds are good that I will be merged one way or another with the ecosystem by then, well separated from consciousness, remembered only faintly by a few, mentioned infrequently in biographies of Frank Zappa.  Hopefully, if my life means anything, I will have proved that life really is too short to spend it listening to ugly music.

Here are Mixed Meters posts about Cal Arts.
Here are Mixed Meters posts about Iowa.
Here are Mixed Meters posts about California.
Here are my expectations of what death is like.
My essay on the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Pet Pictures

New camera.   Lots of work.  No time to blog.  What does that add up to?  Yes - it's a long overdue Mixed Meters' post with pictures of our pets.  Bloggers are supposed to publish pictures of their pets.  It's the law.

Dog.  Cat.  Another cat.  The line-up hasn't changed since Ivy died.  The dog: Chowderhead,  now with gray hairs amidst the red, chaser of the red rubber ball, always outside except under supervision.  The cats: siblings Crackle and Spackle, gray and white, big and small, afraid of strangers, always inside.

The two species never mingle because, frankly, we don't trust the dog.





Click on any picture for a larger view.

Crackle and Spackle were SO cute when we got them.