Thursday, December 31, 2015

Kumquat Martini Season

Here's a picture of our dog Chowderhead contemplating the kumquat bush in the driveway.

Kumquats are among the few foods Chowder doesn't like.  He does sometimes help out by watering the bush - in his fashion

As you can see we have a good deal of fruit this year and that fruit has been ripening nicely.  Experience has revealed that if I pick them in large quantity they'll go to waste inside.  So, instead, I leave them on the bush as long as possible.  That way I can enjoy a few freshly picked bursts of citrus each time I walk by.

Yes, I like kumquats.  I'm like the dog in one respect; there are very few foods I don't care for, but our opinions about kumquats differ.

And I am the reason we even have a kumquat bush.  Leslie planted it.  She has occasionally attempted to grow certain plants simply because I like the produce.  She herself doesn't care for kumquats any more than the dog does.  She planted it for me.  The kumquats have been a great success.  Not so great successes have included strawberries and blueberries, those are both ill-suited to our climate.

One thing I've acquired a taste for as I've grown older is martinis.  I noticed that these always tasted better to me in restaurants than when I made them at home.  So I set out to make a better martini.

To this end, several years ago, I took an informal martini making lesson from composer Bill Kraft.  Bill makes a great drink.  I've experimented with his method and lately my recipe has formalized.

I realize that tastes and dogmas vary when it comes to cocktails.  This is just how I do it.  If this doesn't sound good to you, at least you'll know not to ask me to make one for you.

Mix together:
  • 4.5 ounces (3 shots) of gin (Lately I've been enamored of 114-proof Few gin.  It's potent stuff.)
  • 1/4 teaspoon vermouth (Yep, this is a dry martini.  I try to ignore Tom Lehrer's recipe: "Hearts full of youth, Hearts full of truth, Six parts gin to one part vermouth.")
  • A dash or two of Fee Brothers Orange Bitters (you might already have McCormick Orange Extract in your spice cabinet.  That'll work too.)
  • Crushed Ice  
Shake well.

Pour into a super-chilled martini glass.  I use a wine goblet from my Grandmother's etched pink depression stemware set.  My Grandmother was not a martini drinker.  The small size of this glass determines the quantity of gin in the recipe.

Garnish with two or three fresh-picked kumquats.  (In the off-season I settle for green olives.)

Drink up.  After all 'tis the season.  Best wishes for a prosperous new year to all three of my readers and everyone else as well.

The resulting libation looks something like this:

I've been using Carpano Antic Formula vermouth, a strongly-flavored dark-colored liquid.  I selected this brand mostly because it came in a small bottle.  I had been told that vermouths get old once the bottles are opened and you can well imagine that I don't go through the stuff very quickly.  I've started keeping it in the fridge to prolong its life.  I'll try another brand next time.

Listen to the source of Tom Lehrer's martini recipe:

Thursday, December 24, 2015

JB-AFAP Jingle Bells, As Fast As Possible

I haven't posted a 30 Second Spot in, like, more than a year.  (One year and four days to be precise.)

'Tis the season for my annual contribution to the War on Christmas, and let me tell you, this is not my best work.  It is scored for bass guitar, bass tuba, bass drum and sleigh bells.

The one thing JB-AFAP has in its favor, however, is short length.  You could listen to it twice in one minute - and that includes 10 seconds of silence.

Got half a minute?  Merry Melodies to all.

Click here to hear JB-AFAP (Jingle Bells, As Fast As Possible) by David Ocker, © 2015, 30 seconds

My personal history with Jingle Bells as an expression of my seasonal musical disaffections is almost as old as Mixed Meters itself.  Here's a complete list of the Jingle pieces so far:

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)
JB-AFAP (Jingle Bells, As Fast As Possible) (2015 - 30 seconds)

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Genial Idiot Discusses the Music Cure

There are a lot of books in our home, most of them Leslie's.  One set of old volumes has occupied a prominent location in our den since we moved here nineteen years ago.  We have long since stopped noticing it.  It's decoration, like an art object, just sitting there because, well, what else would we do with it?

The Wit and Humor of America, in ten volumes, edited by Marshal P. Wilder, published by Funk and Wagnalls Company, has copyright dates of  MDCCCCVII (Bobbs-Merrill Company) and MDCCCCXI (The Thwing Company).   The whole thing is online courtesy of Project Gutenberg.

So, anyway.  One evening last week Leslie and I were sitting in the den, probably watching something boring  and forgettable on television, when I happened to pick up Volume VI.  Thumbing through it, my eye fell upon the title "The Genial Idiot Discusses the Music Cure" by John Kendrick Bangs.

This turned out to be a short story in which our hero, the Genial Idiot, confers with his doctor, Capsule M.D., about the efficacy of using music to cure physical ills.  In spite of the medical professional's skepticism, the Idiot proceeds to offer copious anecdotal evidence that music does indeed have healing powers and eventually suggests it will soon become a dominant medical treatment modality.   What was apparently just a silly joke over a hundred years ago has now become an accepted treatment in our times.  Thus civilization advances, first comedy, then remedy.

Of course, from my all-too-modern viewpoint, the story is neither funny nor well-written.  I have no way to evaluate how someone would have reacted to it in 1907 or thereabouts.  Probably rolling on the floor laughing, or whatever acronym for ROFL the hipsters used back then.

So, anyway, my interest in Bangs' story was piqued by mentions of composer Richard Wagner, who would have been ever so popular during those times.   And, as you know, Wagner's awful, endless opera music is one of Mixed Meters' favorite bugaboos.

First the Idiot tells the Doctor about claims for the healing power of music which he has read in the press:
It may not be able to perform a surgical operation like that which is required for the removal of a leg, and I don't believe even Wagner ever composed a measure that could be counted on successfully to eliminate one's vermiform appendix from its chief sphere of usefulness, but for other things, like measles, mumps, the snuffles, or indigestion, it is said to be wonderfully efficacious.  
Then, after describing his own experience of how his insomnia was cured by attending both Parsifal and Gotterdammerung, the Idiot adds this:
Clearly Wagner, according to my way of thinking, then deserves to rank among the most effective narcotics known to modern science.   I have tried all sorts of other things - sulfonal, trionel, bromide powders, and all the rest and not one of them produced anything like the soporific results that two doses of Wagner brought about in one instant, and best of all there was no reaction. No splitting headache or shaky hand the next day, but just the calm, quiet, contented feeling that goes with the sense of having got completely rested up.
Doctor Capsule is unimpressed.  He responds:
You run a dreadful risk, however.  The Wagner habit is a terrible thing to acquire, Mr. Idiot.
The Idiot is not worried about getting addicted to Wagner.
I am in no danger of becoming a victim to it while it costs from five to seven dollars a dose.
That's about $120 to $170 in today's money.  Sounds about right for a half-way decent seat at a live opera.  (If we're lucky maybe Martin Shkreli will buy up all rights to Wagner and raise the price by 5000 per cent.)

The Idiot then tells another story about his friend, an artist, whose upset stomach was cured by a neighbor playing Arthur Sullivan's The Lost Chord on a cornet.

As the story concludes our Idiot makes predictions on how music will, in the future, cure nearly all medical ailments and revolutionize the medical industry.
If a small boy goes swimming and catches a cold in his head and is down with a fever his nurse, an expert on the accordion, can bring him back to health again with three bars of Under the Bamboo Tree after each meal.

So, anyway, I'm sure that by now you're anxious to read The Genial Discusses the Music Cure.  It's available widely online.  You can even find audio versions.

For your convenience I scanned and OCR'd and posted the story myself.  Read it right here on Mixed Meters.  It might cure your insomnia better than a Wagner opera.

For further reading:

Monday, November 30, 2015

Out of Time Shuffled - Summer 2015 (short version)

This is the second of two posts.  You might want to consider reading the first one first.  If not, I'm okay with it.

You also might want to consider listening to (I'm Sorry We're) Out of Time Shuffled as you read.  Still no?  I'm okay with that too.

ISWOoTS is an alternate short version of my piece Summer 2015 from The Seasons.  The original short version is called (I'm Sorry We're) Out of Time.   "Short version" means all the silences of the original long version (entitled Summer 2015) have been removed.

Instead of presenting the daily segments in the order they were composed - as they were in (I'm Sorry We're) Out of Time - this time they are "shuffled" into a different order.  (I originally wanted to tell you that the piece was being played "sideways".  Shuffling, however, is much more descriptive terminology.)

There's method to my musical shuffling.  In the first three minutes you hear all the segments which I composed on Mondays in the order they were composed.  (That much, just the Monday bits, is also known as Garbage Days of Summer 2015.  Garbage Day versions for a few other seasons are online if you're curious.)

After the Monday segments come all the Tuesday segments.  Then Wednesday.  Then . . . you get the idea.  Eventually all the weekdays are accounted for and the piece ends.  (Don't you dare call this Serialism.  Well, go ahead, but please tell me you're only making a joke.)

To my ears the shuffle worked surprisingly well musically.  The two pieces are very different.  I'm hard pressed to decide which one I like better.  I think the shuffle works because Summer 2015 adheres to the Garbage Day Periodicity idea quite rigorously.  New ideas are introduced each week starting on Mondays and therefore the original music is quite episodic.

The shuffled version, however, is not episodic.  It has more of a periodic feel, like a set of seven variations, cycling through the sequence of a dozen or so weekly ideas before going on to the next day.  I think these segments are fairly easy to hear if you're attentive.  If you're multitasking, this time chart will help you identify when each new day begins:

Monday 0'00"
Tuesday 3'11"
Wednesday 5'28"
Thursday 7'28"
Friday 9'43"
Saturday 12'06"
Sunday 14'45"

I felt free to adjust the time between segments if I felt that was needed in the two versions, so I was surprised that they turned out exactly the same length.  The versions are, however, mixed quite differently because musical bits appear in quite different contexts.  I was also surprised when I listened to both versions simultaneously - there was cacophony, just not as much as I expected.

Click here to hear (I'm Sorry We're) Out of Time Shuffled (Summer 2015 short version) by David Ocker - © 2015 David Ocker, 1084 seconds

Links to all the Seasons in all their versions are here.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Out of Time - Summer 2015 (short version)

Autumn 2015 is almost over and I'm finally just posting the short version of Summer 2015.  Listen to it now.

Besides the generic seasonal titles which I give all my pieces from The Seasons, the short versions (those are the ones without the long silences) also get poetical titles.  I'm pretty sure this double titling is misleading or confusing to many people.  Sometimes it's just downright deceptive.  And intentionally so.  These additional titles often refer to some personal aspect of the music.  Most likely they're irrelevant for anyone except me.

I've titled the short versions of Summer 2015 "(I'm Sorry We're) Out of Time".  Imagine a game show host telling us that the fun is finally over and, if you want more fun, you'll have to tune in next week. For expediency's sake I often shorten the title to "Out of Time".

Musically, my principal intent was to create music no one can dance to.  (If you do succeed in dancing to this music, please please post some video.)

The opening of (I'm Sorry We're) Out of Time was inspired by the annoying confirmation beeps of car alarms.  You know the drill, some jerk with an expensive car pushes a button on his keychain and his car yelps like a cat whose tail has been stepped on.  This serves two important purposes.  First of all, the jerk is secure in knowing that his car is protected from malefactors.  Also, he has the small pleasure of informing anyone nearby that the car is valuable enough that he feels entitled to startle and aggravate us with ugly electronic sounds.  It's a small social faux pas which our culture provides to people who spend too much money on their automobiles.  On the relative scale of vehicular sound pollution, locking your car with a beep is a far cry from the asshole who guns his Harley in a freeway underpass.

Anyway, keep your ears peeled for the Beep Theme right at the beginning.  It recurs periodically throughout (I'm Sorry We're) Out of Time. Enjoy.

Click here to hear (I'm Sorry We're) Out of Time (Summer 2015 short version) by David Ocker - © 2015 David Ocker, 1084 seconds

(I'm Sorry We're) Out of Time quotes a famous classical piece.  Be the first person to correctly identify said classical music and win a not-so-valuable prize.  Really, I'll send you a CD of my music which is otherwise unavailable online.

If you're not so sure you want to invest eighteen whole minutes listening to Out of Time - after all, time is money, right? - then you might want to gamble three of your valuable minutes listening to Garbage Days of Summer 2015.  This is a kind of time-lapse version comprised of the musical segments which I composed on Mondays.

One more thing - the undanceable nature of (I'm Sorry We're) Out of Time prompted me to make time-lapse versions for the other days of the week.  Those are the days when I merely created garbage but didn't share it with the world.  I've strung all those versions together to create a whole different version of Out of Time.  I called it (I'm Sorry We're) Out of Time Shuffled.   The two pieces are exactly the same length and have exactly the same music, only the ordering is different.  Listen to Out of Time Shuffled here or read more about Out of Time Shuffled here.

Links to all the pieces and articles in The Seasons are on this page.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Meaning of a Clarinet

Here's a movie poster I snapped today at a bus stop.  (View a high-res photo.)  Can you guess why it interests me?

Mind you, I'm not planning to see this movie.  To be honest, I'm not planning on seeing any upcoming movies, even the Star Wars reboot.

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are great comedians but this poster is not particularly funny.  It contains a collection of clues to their movie characters, carefully selected to separate us from our theater admission money.

Two grown women are taking a bubble bath together, presumably in the nude.  Strewn about are a series of artifacts from their lives.  Apparently the plot line revolves around selling the home where they grew up.  Am I interested in the bottle of wine?  The plastic Big Lots bag?  The pink bra?

The answer is . . . The Clarinet . . . that musical instrument I used to play.

You don't see ads with clarinets in them much any more.  Well, never.  This one must be there for a reason.  What exactly is this clarinet telling us about the movie character Maura as played by Amy Poehler?

First of all, clarinets aren't usually stuck in boxes quite that way.  That's a really bad way to store a clarinet.  You can also see the clarinet case peeking out of the box, behind a thick book.  So, this clarinet is not well cared for.  We can guess that Maura played in high school band for a while, then gave it up through a combination of lack of interest and lack of talent.  I'm guessing she does not much care for her old clarinet.  Or for any clarinet.

Lots of high school kids try playing the clarinet.  Marching bands need lots of clarinetists.  I wonder how many of them think back on the experience with any sort of fondness.  Probably very few.  In America, a lot of clarinets end up gathering dust in closets.  Still, for this movie, it was important enough to be included in a box marked "Maura's Special Memories".  Maybe she aspired to be a great clarinetist -- a sure way of becoming an unhappy adult.   I'd have to see the movie to find out if the clarinet really is important to the plot.  I'm not that interested.

Could the licorice stick be a kind of phallic reference?  After all, clarinets are longer than they are wide.  I found another picture of a scantily clad woman with clarinet, a magazine cover from 1937.  The clarinet was actually an important instrument in pop music then.  And this picture also shows a brassiere.  I wouldn't want to over-interpret this, but the girl certainly has a provocative way of holding her instrument.  The clarinet was sexy then.  Now, not so much.  (Her purple shadow however is the weirdest part of this painting - kind of like a jellyfish.)

Another idea might be that the clarinet in the movie poster is like countless bags of movie groceries
with a long French bread sticking out of them.  Just one item tells you immediately what is in the bag.  Here's actress Anne Hathaway carrying such a bag in real life.  It doesn't take much imagination or even a line of dialog to guess where she's been or what else she has in that bag.

In just the same way, a clarinet sticking out of a box, even if it weren't marked "Special Memories", quickly tells us that the box is filled with old, unfulfilled childhood dreams.  On the other side of the tub, Tina Fey's box is marked "Kate's Shit".  (Of course in America you can only show the "sh" and not the "it".)   Can you imagine what kind of shit we are supposed to be reminded of by that box?

And what have we learned about the semiotics of clarinets in popular advertising?  Has the clarinet become the go-to icon of abandoned, forgotten childhood fantasies and aspirations?  The advertising industry doesn't have much use for it otherwise.  Actually, you never see clarinets in advertising at all, so they must not have any use for it.

Here's a movie poster from a movie called Solo für Klarinette.  I suspect the instrument here is actually phallic and not musical.  Go ahead, read the plot description.

Here's a woman who actually played the clarinet.  (source)

Here's a Mixed Meters post about women in ads with tubas.

Some other MM clarinet posts:
What To Do With a Clarinet
Worst Clarinet Playing Ever

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Garbage Days of Summer 2015

America is all aflutter over the upcoming Star Wars movie.  Tickets for the first showings are already available.  Merchandising is being tied in.  More importantly, trailers are being released.  Expectations are being thoroughly stoked.

You can learn a lot about a work of art from a trailer.  In the case of Star Wars I'm learning that I'm not too excited about it.  There's no way I will thrill to this movie the way I did to the original back when I was 25.  Science fiction adventure movies now seem formulaic.  Special effects are predictably dazzling and overbearing, the Star Wars musical themes are excessively familiar and overamplified, and the old actors (who still can't act) will make brief appearances before dying heroes deaths.

What's more, in the end, Good will triumph over Evil.  I guarantee it.  Hollywood knows no other way.  There is definitely going to be a happy ending to Star Wars three more movies hence.

Trailers, however, can be used for other art forms.  Consider what a trailer might be like for music.  You could determine whether you'll enjoy a piece of music before you listen to the whole thing by  simply listening to the trailer first.   Then you can rush to judgement the same way I've rushed to judgement on Star Wars.

I've figured out how to create musical trailers for my ongoing daily composition project, The Seasons.  What I've done is excerpt one segment from each week and combined those into a shorter piece.  This gives a good overview in a fraction of the time.

The three minute trailer for Summer 2015 accurately reflects what happens in the entire 18 minute work, Summer 2015, (short version) also known as "(I'm sorry, we're) Out of Time".  Coming soon to this blog.  It's rated U for Undanceable.  (I've intentionally written music you can't dance to; don't even bother to try.)

To increase confusion the trailer has its own title, Garbage Days of Summer 2015.  I chose all the Monday segments because Monday is the day I take out the garbage.  Keep your expectations low and everything will make sense except possibly the music which doesn't require sense.  You don't have to trust me on that, simply trust the force.

click here to hear Garbage Days of Summer 2015 by David Ocker - © 2015 David Ocker, 198 seconds

The long version of Summer 2015 has silences between all the daily sections
Be teased by other Garbage Day trailers:
Back in 2008 I did a 56-second musical trailer for my piece Poof, You're a Pimp.  (I think the full Poof, You're a Pimp is still the strangest piece of music I've ever posted online.)

Friday, October 23, 2015

Summer 2015 from The Seasons

Summer 2015 is the fifteenth season of my endless musical series unsurprisingly named The Seasons.  Lately I've begun posting multiple versions of each season; Summer 2015 will have four separate versions.  This post marks the debut of the long version - the one where each of the 90 or so daily musical segments is followed by a long silence.  Listen to it here.

The title Summer 2015 reminded me of Samuel Barber's famous work for voice and orchestra entitled Knoxville: Summer of 1915.  I can think of two similarities between his work and mine: the word 'summer' and the number '15'.  Beyond those two things Barber's impressionistic tone painting of a six-year old boy's memories of idyllic life in Tennessee just prior to the death of his father could not possibly be more different than my music presented here.  Summer 2015 bears no relationship, connection or comparison to Knoxville: Summer of 1915 - in this universe or in any other.

Summer 2015 is more than one and a quarter hours long and it contains 57 minutes of complete silence.  If you're not a regular MM reader you may well wonder why anyone writes music which is 75% complete silence.  Actually, some Seasons have an even higher percentage of silence.  Answer: I hope that listeners will combine these long Seasons with other music at exactly the same time.  This requires someone to choose which Seasons to play simultaneously with which other music.  Feel free to choose from any music whatsoever.  There's an awful lot of music out there, too much; the possibilities are literally infinite.

(If you want to listen to several Seasons together - something I often do myself - go to The Seasons page and click on several [listen] links in the first section The Seasons.  You'll need a pretty good Internet connection.  Need a suggestion of what to click on?  You might try all the Spring seasons at once or all the 2013 seasons.  Four is a good number.)

Once you make the necessary creative decisions just carry on with life - let the sounds be background.  The result will inevitably be filled with many unintelligible moments, occasional bursts of intense chaos and the periodic bright flare of pure serendipity.  It does not make sense to evaluate the result the same way you would a conventional piece of music.  This is a random process, like life.

You could listen to Summer 2015 and Knoxville: Summer of 1915 at the same time.  I tried this.  At first I put the Barber on repeat play and Mr. Barber dominated the mix.  I was happier with the results when I listened to all four Summers (two of them are based on classical music) and then added Knoxville: Summer of 1915 just one time.    I'm sure Samuel Barber's publishers will spin in their graves when they read about this.

Click here to hear Summer 2015 from The Seasons  - by David Ocker, © 2015 by David Ocker, 4494 seconds

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Two LA Philharmonic Festivals of California Music

Dear Readers - this is the second of three unfinished Mixed Meters posts that have languished in my draft folder.  I'm posting them now to get rid of them in honor of this blog's tenth anniversary.

The line "Only now am I finding the energy to finish." seems quite ironic given the fact that it was written nearly 6 years ago.  (When I spoke of "January 16" I meant the one in 2010.)

This was not really intended as a concert review.  I have no interest in being a music critic.  Instead, I wanted to compare two music festivals, one held in November and December 1981 and the other in November and December 2009.  Both festivals dealt with the same general subject matter, music of California composers.

I have no idea what I wanted to add to this post.  My memory has deleted that information.  I've upgraded the links as well as I can.  Unfortunately the Internet has deleted some of that information.  I've been able to replace a few of them via  

I also added links to each of the composers represented on the 1981 marathon concert.  Curiously, a couple have Wikipedia articles only in Dutch or German.  Finally I've added  a few relevant pictures which I squirreled away back in 2009.   

As always, thanks for reading.  I encourage you to sing along if you know the words.


I started writing this post on January 16.  Only now am I finding the energy to finish.  My subject is two Los Angeles music festivals, one very recent, the other nearly 30 years ago.  Both of these events were devoted to music with a real, direct relationship to California.  Both festivals were produced by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.

The first, in December 2009, was called Left Coast, West Coast.  As far as I'm aware, this was the first time in nearly 3 decades that the Philharmonic had presented a series of events devoted solely to California composers.  The previous festival, in 1981, was called Festival of Music Made in Los Angeles.

In one of many pre-concert lectures he gave, the Philharmonic's Creative Chair, John Adams, indicated that the music of Left Coast, West Coast didn't really allow for any conclusion about California music.  The title itself suggested that our music could somehow be distinguished from Right Coast, East Coast music. That's not going to happen.

Personally, I found two interesting dichotomies of California music in the Left Coast, West Coast programs.  Turns out that it's not the longitude which is important.  It's the latitude.  In other words, the festival revealed differences between Northern California and Southern California composers.  It also displayed a split unique to Southern California composers.

You can still find a full program listing of the festival here.  My comments apply only to the four concerts I actually attended.  Other composers, mostly from the south, were presented by the L.A.Master Chorale, REDCAT and Piano Spheres   Other concerts were devoted to the worlds of pop and jazz.  And my comments should be considered very general - not hard and fast.  Exceptions abound.

The North California composers were John Adams, Lou Harrison, Terry Riley, Ingram Marshall, Paul Dresher, Mason Bates and Harry Partch (well, Partch moved around a lot.)  Their various pieces included elements of jazz, world musics, non-equal temperments, improvisation, found sounds, specially constructed instruments and electronic.  These all are cutting edge new music, valid, on-going trends.  They all have strong Northern California associations.

The Southern Californias were Thomas Newman, Franz Waxman, Leonard Rosenman, Jerry Goldsmith, Frank Zappa, William Kraft and Esa-Pekka Salonen.  These seven names divide neatly into two groups.  The first four are known primarily as film composers.  Except for the Goldsmith piece, Music for Orchestra (which was written specifically for concert performance and had my rapt attention from the very first note), these film-related pieces only strengthened my belief that film composing and concert composing require completely different talents.  I wish we could give a long, long rest to the notion that movie scores are worth listening to as pure music and without the visuals.

The three other Southerners, Kraft, Zappa and Salonen, were just as modern as anything from the North.  But these particular pieces revealed new music trends more attuned to East coast or European ideas.  (Let me note that Esa-Pekka Salonen lived in Southern California about the same length of time as Arnold Schoenberg, seventeen years.  Unlike Schoenberg, his music was strongly affected by California.)

It is good that the Left Coast, West Coast festival pointed slyly to this perennial issue of North versus South in California music.  Possibly, as Gustavo Dudamel comes into his own as music director of the LA Phil, we will see more consideration of North versus South, but on a hemispheric rather than statewide basis.

It's not particularly surprising to discover that Northern California boasts a more experimental music tradition while Southern California still struggles mightily to distinguish real art music from background sound tracks.   Still, for the time being, I see no sign that the South is any closer to resolving this musical schizophrenia than it was back in the days of, say, Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

Mention of Korngold brings up another unique musical cross which Southern California must bear: our history of great musical talents who came here in the thirties and forties to avoid European politics.  The most inescapable of these were Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky.  These days Arnie's and Igor's direct local influences are long gone.  I've said (via Twitter):
If you still think Los Angeles is a great musical city because Stravinsky and Schoenberg lived here, please set your clock back 50 years. 
Maybe I should have said 29 years instead of 50.  In 1981, the LA Bicentennial year, the Festival of Music Made in Los Angeles prominently featured music which both Stravinsky and Schoenberg had written while they lived here.  The two composers were given equal status on two concerts, performed by the LA Philharmonic at Royce Hall.

Back in 1981 it was still easy to find people in Los Angeles who had studied with and devoted themselves to these masters.  Lawrence Morton and Leonard Stein came immediately to mind.

The rest of the festival consisted of one concert - actually a marathon.  It featured music by a wide variety of other composers.  The only requirement for inclusion was that all the music had to have been written in L.A. - or at least nearby.    The list contains some names not often associated with California and, unlike the 2009 festival, few film-industry associated names but many academics.

Joseph Achron
Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Gerald Strang
Leroy Southers
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco
Frederick Lesemann
Gladys Nordenstrom
William Grant Still
Hans Eisler
Paul Chihara
William Kraft
George Antheil
Roy Harris
Dorrance Stalvey
George Tremblay
Robert Linn
Karl Kohn
Henri Lazarof
John Cage
Donal Michalsky
Ingolf Dahl
Ernst Toch
Adolph Weiss
Lukas Foss
Aurelio de la Vega
George Gershwin
Oscar Levant
Ernst Krenek
Halsey Stevens

The only composer whose music was presented on both the 1981 and 2009 festivals was William Kraft, who started his career as an L.A. composer in the mid-fifties.  He's still going strong.  He's also one of the few remaining local musicians who worked closely with Stravinsky himself.

Personally I can remember attending only one of the three 1981 concerts.  I also remember reading the lengthy erudite essays in the program book by Peter Heyworth and Lawrence Morton.  These were devoted to Schoenberg, Stravinsky and Otto Klemperer.

I vividly remember being absolutely bowled over by Michael Tilson Thomas conducting Schoenberg's arrangement of Brahm's Quartet in G Minor.  It's strange to think any piece by such a famous nineteenth century German composer might have even this small a connection directly to California.  Maybe that's enough of a connection to hold a county-wide Brahms festival, which is a much better idea than a Wagner festival.  It's also much less offensive in my opinion.  (Sergei Rachmaninoff lived and died in Beverly Hills.  I'm unaware of any music he might have written here.)

I do strongly believe in holding music festivals which feature strong California associations.  Serious music in California desperately needs some sense of place.  My problem with these two Philharmonic festivals has nothing to do with the content chosen for them.  The differences between them no doubt reflect the differences of the times.  The big issue, however, is the length of time separating the two.

I wonder if anyone planning the 2009 Festival was even aware of the 1981 Festival.  There have been other new music festivals between these two.  Most notable would be New Music Los Angeles in 1985 but that had a nationwide scope.

I can dream than more regular surveys of serious California music, past, present and future, produced by our major performing arts organizations, might lead eventually to a pre-concert lecture at which the speaker would be able to suggest some common aspects of "California music".  Maybe there will be, by then, a proto-california music style.  I should live so long.  In another 29 years I'll be in my mid-eighties.  If I'm around then I will, naturally, voice my disagreements with the programming right here at Mixed Meters.

Here's Mark Swed's review of West Coast, Left Coast
Read two Mixed Meters articles labeled William Kraft

Friday, September 25, 2015

Timeless Music

Dear Readers - this post, Timeless Music, was written sometime in the autumn of 2009.  I suppose that I was not quite finished and intended to make changes or add further thoughts.  In the six intervening years I've apparently forgotten what those changes or additional ideas were going to be.

What follows is, word for word, exactly the way I abandoned this article back then - although I've updated links and added the pictures.  Only the last picture is relevant to the subject matter while the others are from a series called Half Grassed.  I'm sad that the argumentative and occasionally bigoted comments on the LA Times story Loving Wagner Anyway don't seem to be available anymore.  At the end there's something I labeled "Footnote".  I'm guessing that was a sidetrack I'd cut out of the essay but hadn't yet gathered enough courage to delete.

In honor of Mixed Meters' Tenth Anniversary which was on September 16, I'm rescuing this and a couple other pieces from obscurity.  While I doubt they will get much attention on the Internet, they certainly will get more than they do in my draft folder.

Six years is the briefest of instants in the realm of the timeless.  This subject matter still seems relevant to me at the moment thanks to the Los Angeles Philharmonic's current Immortal Beethoven promotion.  Go ahead, call him immortal, I don't much care anymore.  Back in 2009 I cared a lot; that was a Wagner thing.

As always, many thanks for reading Mixed Meters - or at least for skimming through quickly.


How long is "timeless"?

Timeless could mean existing, without change, from the very creation of the universe (whenever that was) until the very end (if it happens). Actually, something that lasts longer than the universe would be truly timeless. Not a useful definition.

How about a geologic timescale? Could Mount Everest be considered timeless? Or, closer to home, the San Andreas Fault? Both features might last only tens of millions of years.

Billions of Years or Millions of Years? I can't grasp much difference. Both are incomprehensible. Understanding a millennium - a mere thousand years - is daunting by itself. And I've lived in two of them.

I'm bothering you with this silly bullshit because the phrase "timeless music" pushes my buttons. I've run across it several times lately in various forms. Anyone can claim that certain music is timeless because choosing which music is timeless is a personal decision. Timeless implies that anyone, in any decade, any century, any millennium, will find the music meaningful. A genuinely timeless work ought to remain so regardless of changes in culture, economics or politics. It's a tall order.

Mostly I hear the phrase used about so-called Classical Music, a term less than 2 centuries old. (Centuries!) Some people claim their favorite, most comfortable, friendly and meaningful Classical music is timeless. They assume others will agree thoughtlessly.

People with similar musical tastes, possibly the result of similar musical education, tend to gather together and agree about which music they think is timeless. That's great. But when they start suggesting that their music will bring personal, civic or cultural improvement to outsiders, I become upset. Such proselytizing does nothing good for the world of classical music.

I ran across a button-pushing use of the phrase "timeless music" recently in a Los Angeles Times letter to the editor. Someone named Mark A. Overturf wrote a response to this editorial about elitism, ethnicity, race and Gustavo Dudamel:

Or why not stop reading race into something as beautiful as classical music? Try going to a concert some night and listening to a world-class orchestra in a world-class venue performing timeless music -- hence the name "classical."
If the author is suggesting that it doesn't matter whether or not Beethoven was black, I'm in full agreement.

I suspect Mr. Overturf is really saying that matters of social class distinction will be more easily overcome if people would only listen "to a world-class orchestra in a world-class venue". His utopian ecstasy is available to anyone if they only have ears to hear. Certainly has a religious ring to it. Religion is an important element of timelessness.

Here's something I wrote in an online discussion about another L.A. Times article. I was responding to a writer named MarK who called Wagner's operas "timeless and universal". (I can't deal with "universal" right now. Please wait for the next rant.) I wrote:

Timeless? How can an opera that was barely begun 150 years ago be considered timeless today? Religions which are millennia old with billions of adherents might, just barely, be considered timeless. But the Ring could completely disappear from the culture in another century.
Needless to say, MarK was not swayed by my argument. (If you read "Loving Wagner Anyway" by Mark Swed, be sure to read all the comments. One rarely encounters such blatant old-fashioned, dare I say timeless, anti-semitism.)

Anyway, in that quote I was trying to compare the relative time spans of a much beloved religion (such as Christianity, now two millennia old and counting) to that of a much beloved classical composer (Richard Wagner - less than two centuries and counting).

Does 2000 years qualify Christianity as "timeless"? It might. Will Christianity still exist in any recognizable form in another 2000? Will any of the basic principles remain unchanged? Possible. But without an argument based on faith no one can be certain.

Similarly, can anyone say that Wagner (or Beethoven or Bach) will still be revered or performed or even remembered after 20 centuries? To suggest such a thing requires a good deal of that pure simple faith.

Personally, I wonder if the talents needed to perform 21st century classical music will even be taught in the year 4000? I suppose that aspiring musicians then, just as now, will want to study what they need in order to get work. Will they have violins to play? Will people listen to mp3 files? Will the army of musicologists have grown enough to determine definitively if Wagner was an anti-semite?

Back here in the present, musical timelessness appears - hardly noticed - in curious corners, often part of a marketing campaign. I guess timelessness sells music with a familiar notion: "this music is good for you."

For example, I received a print brochure for the upcoming season of Los Angeles' own Monday Evening Concerts. It includes this anonymous audience member's quote:

It was really something that could not be described. And for me it verged on a religious experience.
There's no indication what indescribed music is being discussed. But apparently suggesting that an epiphany might be had by buying tickets is good marketing.

Recently I noticed the concept of timeless music at Starbucks. Starbucks once fancied itself a music store but today hawks only a few CDs. Right now they're selling albums by those immortal artists Barbra Streisand and Michael Buble displayed under a placard reading:

Music made to stand the test of time.
I wonder if "standing the test of time" is the first step canonizing "timeless music"? Will MarK or Mr. Overturf agree that Michael Buble might someday become "timeless". (I'm pretty sure they won't.)

I wish the idea of "timeless music" didn't bother me. It does because I am someone who searches for novelty in music. Novelty is getting harder and harder to find. These days I rarely hear anything new that does not remind me of something I've heard before.

There are a few pieces I enjoy hearing repeatedly. I would never suggest that others will react the same way. Certainly my all-too-unique listening habits plus my unusual educational and career background color my opinions about what music is good and which isn't.

I also wish that promoting music with religious overtones didn't bother me. I believe everyone should belive what they want - and everyone else should leave them alone.

Sometimes it is suggested that certain composers are inspired by God. In reality, composers are insecure, neurotic people, working under a deadline, trying to guarantee that each new piece sucks less than the previous one. God has nothing to do with it.

As my friend Armen said once: "I don't believe in Beethoven because there is a God. I believe in God because there is Beethoven." That's his choice, of course - and, because he has flipped the normal cause and effect, I find it a beautiful sentiment. Would that more of the classical music audience thought along these lines.

Personally I believe that the meaning of classical music comes not from the composer but, instead, from each individual listener. Through a process of consensus, so-called timeless music has achieved a kind of default meaning over the years. Eventually people begin to mistake the origins of that default consensus. They imagine it comes from out there, somewhere. In reality its real source is deep within each of them.

I believe that the consensus about classical music needs to be challenged. I hope what we have now is not permanent. I hope new meanings will be found for old pieces. I hope new pieces will find new meanings as well. I hope more of the audience will think independently. I hope fewer people will suggest that their favorite music is timeless. I hope they spend their time enjoying it and being moved by it right now.

I hope for utopia.


Only old pieces, the ones heard over and over again, become timeless. New pieces are never timeless. ("Never timeless" is quite a concept.) New pieces must be vetted over time to achieve their certification.

Long unchanging drone pieces might seem timeless - but the mere act of lasting a long time is not what is being discussed here. In today's musical climate a piece might last six hundred or a thousand years without the slightest claim to being timeless. There's even a Timeless Music Festival.

Often "timeless" music is actually "timely", meaning it is still relevant in society. Beethoven's Ninth is timely because there are those who need to hear the message of universal brotherhood. Suppose humans actually survive until an age of universal brotherhood. Will anyone have reason to bother with the Ninth again?

Of course, the meaning people find in the Ninth is largely based on its text. Maybe it's Schiller who is actually timeless, not Beethoven.

The one creative artist closest to achieving timeless status is Shakespeare. His plays have the advantage over abstract music because words have more specific meanings than notes. To my knowledge, no one ever suggests that watching Shakespeare can solve the world's ills. I suppose there are people who attend theater with the same fervor of the Bayreuth audience. People seem to need to believe.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Finale - Summer 2014 (short version)

(If you'd rather just listen to Finale, click here.)

Sometimes I have to wait for the forgetting before I consider a work to be finished.  It took almost one year for Summer 2014 from my The Seasons to be sufficiently forgotten.  I no longer remember precisely why I was unhappy with it.

When I finished composing it on September 22, 2014, I decided it needed revisions.  I listened to it every few months.  I was less unhappy with it each time.  Eventually I realized I no longer wanted it hanging over my head.  After a while it seemed okay, I guess.  Good enough.  It is what it is.  No worse than my other music.  Better than some.

So this summer (the one in 2015) I mixed the tracks and produced an audio file.   Now it's available online and you can listen to it and I can attempt to forget it again.

The conceit of composing The Seasons is that I write a little bit of music for each day of the calendar.  I try to actually write one every day.  The mistake I made with this piece, I think, is that I had too many ideas upfront about what I would compose.

This daily composing scheme seems to produce better results if I just make sure each segment flows out of the previous day.  Occasionally I check to make sure each week hangs together.  When I try to make grand overall form or concept ahead of time, the way I was taught back when I studied composition, trouble ensues.  I'm not that kind of composer.

The grand form I imagined this time was a finale to a five-movement romantic symphony.  Mahler's Seventh would be a good example.  Mind you, I would not be writing grand romantic five-movement symphonic music.  Instead I would merely hint at the overall form of a five-movement symphony.   Each movement would be one season.  I would call it The Five Seasons - going Vivaldi one better.  I'm still going to call it that.

The five movements, composed in consecutive seasons, are:
  1. Caprice (Summer 2013, short version)  (June 20, 2013 through September 21, 2013)
  2. Nocturne (Autumn 2013, short version)  (September 22, 2013 through December 20, 2013)
  3. Allegro (Winter 2013, short version)  (December 21, 2013 through March 19, 2014)
  4. Minuet (Spring 2014, short version)  (March 20, 2014 through June 20, 2014)
  5. Finale (Summer 2014, short version)  (June 21, 2014 through September 22, 2014)
As you can see everything was composed consecutively.  The final result allows you to listen to 15 months of my musical ideas in order.  They come and go, ebb and flow, wax and wane.

I hatched this plan about the time Minuet completed.  At that point, early June 2014, I envisioned the last season/movement would be a loud bang-up conclusion.  I had already given the four seasons single word musical terms as titles so the name Finale sprang easily to mind.  I set out to write music which rushed headlong to an obvious, inescapable and completely blatant final chord.  I wanted an ending no one could miss.

Yeah, it does that.

Yeah, there's more.

I decided the music would be based on a fragment from the Egmont Overture by Ludwig van Beethoven.  In the five movement form this would balance the first movement written in Summer of 2013.  I called that one Caprice because it is based on the 24th Caprice by Nicolo Paganini.  Formal structure, huh?

The Beethoven and Paganini pieces were written at approximately the same time (roughly 200 years ago) and both inspired compositional ideas in the student me decades ago.  It has taken me more than 40 years to get around to using these ideas.  I'm old now and I'm allowed to dig around in my past without good reason.  I must have had lots of other ideas back then as well.  These two were never forgotten.

I remember that the Beethoven idea happened in a momentary flash the very first time I heard the Egmont Overture.  I was in college, studying classical music and hearing recordings of famous repertoire for the first time.  It happened at a specific point in the music, let's call it the "inspirational moment", not too far from the end, at bar 309 to be precise.

First you hear this theme (measure 307-8):
Then, immediately, this happens:

This was not at all what I was expecting.  I was really surprised.  "Whoa," I thought, "how did Beethoven think of THAT?"   It happens so fast there wasn't enough time to wonder exactly what I did expect.

I began to ponder Beethoven's brain. (Here's a picture of what might be Beethoven's skull.)

Specifically I pondered how he got from the first idea to the second.  I decided it might be interesting to explore that briefest of moments.  Essentially I was interested in what happens exactly at the barline between measure 308 and measure 309.  Barlines are silent things.  They happen between sounds.

I decided to use this mere instant, the "inspirational moment", to generate a piece of my own.  It wasn't the themes that interested me.  I was interested in those mere milliseconds of time during which the idea seems to be created.

I have no idea how, in reality, Beethoven came to juxtapose those particular musical ideas.  Nor do I much care.  He probably worked hard at it.  If you're interested I suggest you ask your Doctor of Musicology.

Initially I imagined a minimalist process piece, beginning with the eight-note theme repeating over and over.  And over.  Repeating things over and over was a radical idea back then.  Slowly and imperceptibly the music would evolve into the second theme.  Somehow my music might reveal Beethoven's thought process.

Had I actually accomplished this, the piece could have been inserted directly into Ludwig's original overture right at the "inspirational moment".  Beethoven time would suddenly stop and the listener would be hurled deeply into the workings of my brain.   Eventually things would return to the Beethoven brain exactly at the same point where I took over.  Egmont Overture would then continue as if nothing unusual had ever happened.

Does this remind you of every movie about a time machine ever?  (This is Beethoven's death mask.)

I never pursued the idea.  Decades passed.  However, each time I heard the Egmont Overture I remembered my unfinished idea.  There could be no forgetting because Egmont is a stirring, heroic concert opener and it gets programmed.  Apparently classical concerts need stirring, heroic concert openers.

Finally on or about Saturday, June 21, 2014, the date I began Summer 2014 from The Seasons, I decided it was high time to try putting paid to this idea once and for all.  I began to incorporate the eight-note theme into the daily fragments.

And of course, the final result of Finale (Summer 2014 short version) bears only a small resemblance to what my imagination was predicting on June 21, 2014.  Finale does end definitively.  I got that right.  There is a lot of Beethoven worked into it.  I got that right as well.  Even the "inspirational moment" happens in my piece just as it does in Beethoven's.

And, as you remember from the beginning of this post, I was never happy with the result.  It's different than whatever it was I had set out to write.  Oh well, it is what it is.  No worse than my other music.  Better than some.

Finale is completely, totally different than the original idea I imagined as a student.  I have not put paid to that idea.  In reality I doubt I could have made an interesting piece, either back then or right now.  I wonder if anyone could, especially without being totally pedantic and boring.

Unfortunately I have made forgetting my idea more unlikely than ever.  I will remember it because now there are two pieces, one by Beethoven and one of mine, that will remind me of how I failed to follow through.

click here to hear Finale (Summer 2014, short version) by David Ocker - © 2015 David Ocker, 720 seconds

You might be interested in the long version (fragments with silences) of Summer 2014 (4106 sec.):    [listen]   [read]

In a hurry: listen to Garbage Days of Summer 2014 (133 sec.):  [listen]  [read]

Here's another piece of mine that required two years of forgetting.

Here are all Mixed Meters posts about poor old Ludwig van Beethoven.

Here's a video of facial reconstruction of Beethoven's face based on his death mask (shown above).

If you must know, the "inspirational moment" in Finale happens at 8'19".  And if you insist on skipping ahead and listening to only that one spot, please do me this favor: leave a comment saying how much you enjoyed the entire piece, even though you only listened to a few seconds.  Just lie about it.  That seems fair.