Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Che Guevara and Ted Cruz

Here's a picture of two right-wing politically divisive U.S. Senators who happen to look a lot alike.

As things stand right now, the one on the left will be the next president of the United States, if only because he's the only person officially in the race.  I trust that's only a temporary advantage.

Here's another combination of very divisive politicians.

Same right-wing guy on the left - I did the best I could shoehorning him into the famous Alberto Korda image.  Red is a good color for a Republican.  On the right is left-wing revolutionary communist Che Guevara, possibly the most perfect example of a divisive political figure.

Guevara is known to some as only slightly less evil than the Devil or Adolf Hitler, nothing more than a mass murderer.  Elsewhere - like in rural Bolivia where Guevara was killed trying to foment class warfare - he's regarded as a Saint.  Fact is, both sides have good reasons for their characterizations: that's the most infuriating part of it.

I guarantee that today, nearly 50 years after his death, Guevara is much closer to becoming an actual Catholic saint than Father Junipero Serra was 50 years after he died in 1784.  Che has another connection with the Vatican: both he and the current Pope are Argentinian.

Here at Mixed Meters we're mostly interested in the famous photograph of Che Guevara, an iconic artistic visual meme of massive proportions, used over and over again for purposes even more varied than his reputations.

Two previous MM blog posts on the subject are called Che's Brand and Che's Image.   Check those out for some bizarre capitalist uses of the Che/Korda images.  The first one is a review of a book about the picture.  There's also A Combination of Jingle Bells and the Internationale a piece of my music. That post has pictures of the Che credit card and the Che Guevara Rolex ad.

Here are a few more I want to share.

Top to bottom - Chinese actress Fan Bingbing in Che drag; Adolf Hitler in the Che pose promoting  some website called The People's Cube; can't find this ashtray so here's a different Che Guevara ashtray on Amazon; Alberto Korda's heirs sued the maker of the Che dog image; you can buy Viva La Evolución throw pillows for less than twenty U.S. dollars here.

Want more?  You can see seemingly infinite variations on the Che image using Google Search.

I did two other variations on the Ted Cruz Che before I added some cheekbones..  I'm including them here just to prolong your agony.

Clicking on a picture might make it bigger.

Read about Joseph McCarthy.

Visit tedcruz.com.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Winter 2014 from The Seasons

It's hard to write a blog post like this one when you expect that no one will read it.

Mixed Meters posts announcing new long versions in my series called The Seasons get the lowest hit counts.   Writing an essay lamenting this fact would not be much fun.

In fact, the more I bitch the more likely you are to not to read what I write.

Go ahead, skip this essay.  Just do it quickly because I'm about to change the subject.

Advertising is everywhere. We are bombarded by messages telling us how to make our lives better. In reality these ads do not solve our problems.  They actually create problems which we can only solve by giving our money to the people who posted the ads.

Take diamonds, for example. Surely you've seen advertising suggesting that a diamond ring will tell your beloved how much she means to you - provided (of course) that you spend at least two months' salary for it.

Here's a NY Times article about the woman who, in 1947, wrote the line "A Diamond Is Forever". This is from the article:
Last year, Americans spent almost $7 billion on the rings. But in 1938, when a De Beers representative wrote to N. W. Ayer to inquire whether “the use of propaganda in various forms” might boost the sale of diamonds in the United States, their popularity had been on a downward trend, in part because of the Depression.
N.W. Ayer conducted extensive surveys of consumer attitudes and found that most Americans thought diamonds were a luxury for the ultra-wealthy. Women wanted their men to spend money on “a washing machine, or a new car, anything but an engagement ring,” Ms. Gerety said in 1988. “It was considered just absolutely money down the drain.”
Still, the agency set an ambitious goal: “to create a situation where almost every person pledging marriage feels compelled to acquire a diamond engagement ring.”
Promoting diamonds to men as symbols of undying love for women did solve a problem.  The problem was: how could a company with a lot of extra diamonds sell them at a high profit?

Here's a better article on the subject, especially about how De Beers maintains its monopoly.  It's called "Diamonds Are Bullshit", written by Rohin Dhar.  Here are a couple quotes:
The next time you look at a diamond, consider this. Nearly every American marriage begins with a diamond because a bunch of rich white men in the 1940s convinced everyone that its size determines your self worth. They created this convention - that unless a man purchases (an intrinsically useless) diamond, his life is a failure - while sitting in a room, racking their brains on how to sell diamonds that no one wanted.
We covet diamonds in America for a simple reason: the company that stands to profit from diamond sales decided that we should. De Beers’ marketing campaign single handedly made diamond rings the measure of one’s success in America. Despite its complete lack of inherent value, the company manufactured an image of diamonds as a status symbol. And to keep the price of diamonds high, despite the abundance of new diamond finds, De Beers executed the most effective monopoly of the 20th century. Okay, we get it De Beers, you guys are really good at business!
The next time you see Leslie (the lovely woman to whom I am married) ask her to show you her wedding and engagement rings.

And if you're interested in actually maintaining a good relationship with your spouse or significant other, here's an article that rings true: Ten Habits of Couples Who Stay Together.  Leslie and I do all of these things - except number one.  I suggest you read the article quickly - because I'm about to change the subject again.

My musical project called The Seasons is now entering its fourth year.  There is one short bit of music averaging about 8 seconds in length for each day since Thursday, December 22, 2011, divided up into chunks corresponding to the calendrical seasons.

Winter 2014 (the long version) is over seventy minutes long.  Well beyond 80% of it is total silence.  Weird, huh?

What kind of crazy music has four minutes of silence for every minute of actual music?

Click here to hear Winter 2014 (long version) © 2015 by David Ocker, 4232 seconds and find out for yourself.

Links to all The Seasons articles are here.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Ice Cream Trucks Play Schoenberg at USC

Poor Arnold Schoenberg. In spite of being a pivotal twentieth century composer his music just doesn't get performed that much.

His early music represented the glorious excesses of late nineteenth century über-romantisch extremes. His later twelve-tone theories and his music fueled the imaginations of the post-war avant-garde. Some people, including Arnold himself, predicted that he would become one of history's great composers.

Ticket-buying concert audiences, many of whom prefer their limited repertoire repeated endlessly, have never found Schoenberg's music that interesting.   They, for better or worse, are the ultimate judges of who becomes a great composer. Perhaps audiences don't have the necessary familiarity with the history or theory of music to comprehend the importance of Schoenberg's music.  And there's no question that Schoenberg is definitely important.  The problem is that a lot of people don't find his music that interesting.

A good place to learn why important things are interesting is in academia.  That's where professors explain Schoenberg in the context of music history.  They can teach you why he believed that his radical twelve-tone composition theory was both necessary and inevitable. And they teach how later composers, ones who don't get performed much these days either, mutated those ideas into even less comprehensible theories and structures.

Once you know all that, maybe you'll find Schoenberg's music more interesting.

But first listen to this fun mash-up for two pianos by Kyo Yoshida.  Music by Arnold Schoenberg and by George Gershwin combined together into one piece.  The two composers were friends here in Southern California.

Last week, in an effort to drive up interest in Schoenberg's works, the University of Southern California, home of the most important music school on the Pacific Rim, decided to broadcast his music in a novel manner, by playing bits of it on loud speakers mounted on small electric trucks which roam the bucolic campus.

The intent, I suppose, was to attract the attention of some eager young college students. Maybe hearing a bit of Schoenberg would make them curious enough to attend a concert/lecture.  There they might learn why Schoenberg is both important and interesting.

This was the idea of USC art professor David Schafer. Read the press release here.  Here's a quote:
Avant-garde music will fill the air of the University Park Campus next week, thanks to a Visions and Voices project that will mount loudspeakers on five USC Hospitality trucks making their regular deliveries around campus. The trucks will be playing works from the late Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg, who revolutionized music with his 12-tone system that produced dissonant and asymmetric compositions.
How could any project which promotes dissonance and asymmetry not be a huge success?  Here's the USC picture of one of the trucks.

Here's my picture of the same truck, A221.

Notice the added signage:

TRUCK NO.3: Erwartung Op.17, 1909-1924
Presented by USC Visions and Voices: The Arts and Humanities Initiative.  
Organized by David Schafer (Roski School of Art and Design)
For more information, please visit the Visions and Voices website  
Visionsandvoices@usc.edu or 213-740-0483
Live event and recital at Ramo Recital Hall, March 7th, 7pm.
USCExpressCatering expresscatering.usc.edu (213) 740-6801

Don't laugh.  A scheme like this just might work.

No. Go ahead, laugh. E. Randol Schoenberg, the composer's own grandson, wrote on his Facebook page "This may be the funniest thing I have ever seen . . .". (Has he never watched a Mel Brooks movie?)

When ice cream trucks give you stuff that's good for you, important stuff like German expressionism, instead of fun fattening stuff, like say actual ice cream, they aren't as welcome.  This Far Side cartoon, posted on Facebook by Joshua Creek, drives the point home.

My friend composer Carlos Rodriguez even invented a word to describe the Schoenberg Soundways event: AUTOnality.   I think that's funny.  Would Mel Brooks get the joke?

Christian Hertzog shared a video of an early Steve Martin television special. Here Steve's working with a string quartet which performs music by Bartok, Schoenberg's contemporary.  Since our friends the paying concert audience actually like Bartok's music, Bartok is well on his way to being regarded as a truly great composer.

Steve Martin does his best to make this bit funny.  Mel Brooks would have been funnier.

I decided to visit the campus during this autonal event. I wanted to witness it for myself.  So, last Thursday, before meeting Leslie who works nearby, I spent an hour and a half searching the USC campus for Schoenberg in the wild.

The USC campus is a big busy place filled with students coming and going or just hanging out. The most common modes of transportation seem to be skateboards and bicycles. There were also many little white electric vehicles of various designs.

It took a while to locate any of the five special Schoenberg trucks. I found only two. They were number two labeled "Gurrelieder" and number three labeled "Erwartung".  These two trucks passed me four times. I recorded each drive-by on video. Then I edited these videos into a single 2-minute YouTube upload.

Please note that I have not altered the audio levels. The moment when the Erwartung truck driver honks at a bicyclist is the loudest sound I heard these trucks make.  Sometimes the sound seemed to be turned off completely.  I was only a few feet away.  Notice how interested in the music the students seem.

You probably want to ask "David, why do even you care about this?" Good question. On one level it's just a silly art project. Or maybe it's a badly executed on-campus concert marketing stunt.  It's certainly not doing Schoenberg's legacy any favors.

I do find the idea of playing music on mobil vehicles very interesting.  Not important, just interesting.  Doing this on a college campus has a lot of potential, in my opinion.

Done well, a project like this would blend musical sounds with environmental sounds.  Music from multiple trucks would also combine in unexpected ways. I like that sort of thing; I'm the kind of person who sometimes listens to multiple pieces of music simultaneously.

A proper presentation on a large college campus would require many more vehicles.  You could even mount small loudspeakers on bikes and skateboards and synchronize them all with some sort of wi-fi.  You would turn up the volume if you really wanted to attract any attention.

It might be better to have music specially composed for this situation.  I wonder if there is a student composer at USC right now who would risk jeopardizing their future career by composing for ice cream trucks?

If you insist on using already existing music Schoenberg is clearly not your man.  Still, an important big-name composer would give a project like this much more visibility.

Someone suggested Karlheinz Stockhausen because he's the guy who wrote a string quartet where each player travels in their own helicopter.   I suspect that if Karlheinz were a USC professor he'd jump at the chance to write a new piece for five ice cream trucks.  Or 500.

Karlheinz Stockhausen is definitely an important composer even if he isn't around any more to write new pieces.  Maybe a professor could present a lecture explaining why his music is also interesting.

Here's an interesting explanatory interpretation of a piece by Arnold Schoenberg:

Here's a picture of me, years ago, playing the clarinet in an actual ice cream truck.  This was taken by a photographer named Mike Bloom.  Now it dawns on me!  I must have written this entire article because I needed an excuse to publish this picture.

Check out the vast collection of Schoenberg self-portraits at the Arnold Schönberg Center.

The twelve-tone sudoku puzzle apparently originated here.

A Mixed Meters post about Schoenberg's life in Southern California: Schoenberg in Hell

Two other MM posts about Schoenberg suffer from missing Internet links.  They are not important, just somewhat interesting if you use your imagination: Schoenberg and Shostakovich for Marching Band and Mozart's Penis vs. Schoenberg's Penis

Mixed Meters posts about ice cream:  Ice Cream Wishes (which is mostly about Yoko Ono), Che's Brand (only because it has a picture of an ice cream bar called Cherry Guevara), or Four 30 Second Spots in the form of a Horoscope (a very early post where each short piece of music is illustrated with a picture of disgusting ice cream).

An Antenna Repairmen Performance - a recent post involving the Roski School at USC