Sunday, January 31, 2016

Winter 2012 (short version)

If you don't know about my on-going composition project The Seasons then this post might lean towards the obtuse. Sorry. There's no time for any but the most cursory explanations right now.  My goal is to do 3 new Mixed Meters posts per month.  This is the third for January; yet another "Last Day of the Month"-er.

I'm now composing the seventeenth season of The Seasons.  That would be the first season of the fifth year.  It's called Winter 2015.  The very first season was Winter 2011.

Each season has two versions, long and short. The long versions have silences separating the bits of music.  There's one bit o'music for each day.  The short versions have no silences but identical music. You can find all completed long versions here on Mixed Meters.  Until now I only posted short versions beginning with Mantra (Spring 2013, short version).

A few days ago, out on my walk, I set my iPad to shuffle play. It decided that I needed to listen to Winter 2012 (short version).  It had been some time since I'd played it.  And I enjoyed it.  I usually enjoy listening to my old music if I don't do it too often.  Sometimes, however, it depresses me.  I figured this piece was good enough to post.  Plus, it would make an easy third post for January.

After Winter 2011, the very first season, I tried different schemes for musical unification.  In Winter 2012 there is a 12-tone row used throughout.  There are no other serial techniques; it's just a kind of melody with all twelve pitches that pops up from time to time.  For the following season, Spring 2013, I figured out how to make the daily bits link together metrically.  I've been using that technique ever since.

In Winter 2012 (short version) the musical bits vary considerably in their musical style.  The shifts can be surprising.  Hearing it now reminded me of John Zorn's For Your Eyes Only which is filled with musical quick-cuts and stylistic changes.  I wasn't aware of the Zorn piece until several years after I wrote Winter 2012.  And, of course, my piece does has no movie references.

Anyway . . .

Click here to hear Winter 2012 (short version) by David Ocker -    © 2013 David Ocker, 889 seconds

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Harp of Life

Today, January 27, 2015, would have been Arthur Jarvinen's 60th birthday. It's been over five years since Art chose to take his final bow.  His decision left a lot of baffled and befuddled friends, family and colleagues behind.  He is missed.

Saxophonist and composer Eric Barber was a friend and colleague of Art Jarvinen.  And, for a while, his student.  Last fall Eric released a solo saxophone album entitled Harp of Life in Art's memory.  Here's the cover:

Eric provided this description of the album from his Bandcamp page:
This music is a tribute to my friend, mentor, and teacher Art Jarvinen. The years we spent together eating, playing, and discussing greatly influenced my musical approach and vocabulary. After his untimely passing in 2010, I began composing the music for this project. I think Art would appreciate the music, the meticulous dedication to the recording process, and the utter lack of any marketing potential or financial return on a multi tracked solo saxophone album. I miss him and will always remember the wonderful times we shared and all that he taught me.
Eric's precise order of "eating, playing and discussing" amuses me greatly.  Any friend of Art's will understand those priorities.  Via email Eric expanded on his relationship to Art:
I studied composition with Art for two years at CalArts (97-99) and he basically turned me on to everything good... Beefheart, Rweski, Feldman, Zappa. We had a duo called We Are Not Mailmen which was acoustic sax and his electronics setup. Our band Balkanova with Randy Gloss, Milen Kirov, and John Heitzenrater was a twisted Bulgarian gypsy wedding band with Art on bass, and we played a bunch of his originals too. And I had a trio with him with Art on drums, Scot Ray on trombone and Hammond. And I played a few cuts on Invisible Guy. Most of this was between 1999 and 2004. And we had a lot of Thai food, sea bass, and saunas along with all the Halloweenie fests and pig roasts. He really was like an uncle.

Harp of Life has six tracks - all for various combinations of tenor and soprano saxophones.  The tracks are entitled:
  1. Harp of Life (circa 2167 AD)
  2. The Folly of Primes (Libyan Fox Trot)
  3. Repose
  4. Simantronica
  5. 49 Halves of 14 (circa 2167 AD)
  6. Sabotage (via ledgerdemain)
I sensed allusions to Jarvinen in these titles.

For example Simantronica is clearly a reference to the East European musical instrument (similar to a piece of lumber) called the Simantron.  Art was expert on all things simantronic.  He wrote this article about it.   Here's a short lo-res video of Art using a simantron to call his dinner guests to begin consuming a whole roast pig.  There are no simantrons in Eric Barber's Simantronica; it is for 3 soprano and 3 tenor saxophones.

I asked Eric what the other Jarvinen references in his titles might be.  He wrote:
Yes the titles do [refer to Art] but are not based on his music necessarily. Folly of Primes (Libyan Fox Trot) is a nod to Art's Egyptian Two Step.  49 Halves of 14 is a nod to A Conspiracy of Crows.  Harp of Life is inspired by the Hymn string quartet he wrote that was performed at his memorial.  Sabotage has a relationship to Breaking the Chink, which I got to play at CalArts as a student and was my entree to Art.
Eric added that Harp of Life is a reference to composer Henry Cowell who also wrote a piece of that title.  (Here it is on YouTube.)   While you're at it you can hear Egyptian Two Step (listen carefully for the bursts of air at the beginning) and Conspiracy of Crows.

More to the point, you can hear Eric Barber's Harp of Life on Bandcamp.   Better yet, you can purchase the whole album for the outrageously reasonable price of $7.  Talk about the utter lack of financial return.

The opening cut, Harp of Life, begins with several minutes of mournful solo tenor.  You might mistake this for the beginning of a jazz tune and expect a piano, bass and drums to enter.  Nope.  After this invocation Barber introduces a simple ostinato pattern taken up by more saxes.  The music with rich harmonies evokes a church hymn.  The relationship to Jarvinen's music is much more than in name only. Solos over the pattern search higher and higher for meaning.  

Barber's music on this album comes from the world of minimalism - often with multiple contrapuntal lines fusing into textures.  Much of the music is rhythmic but without an overall sense of meter.  As a composer Barber has an excellent feel for just the right moment to add bits of new material.

The piece Repose uses a muliple sopranos glissandoing in a narrow range.  You can hear difference tones being produced.  It would probably be devastating done live.

My favorite piece is 49 Halves of 14 (circa 2167 AD). This consists only of a series of complex chords, almost clusters, held for various lengths of time, separated by silences.  There is a great sense of anticipation.  You're forced to listen, to wait, because you never know when that next chord will explode, interrupt.

I agree wholeheartedly with Eric's statement "I think Art would appreciate the music."  And I commend Eric Barber for producing a well-crafted artistically challenging album.  He called it a "labor of love".

One way of honoring Art Jarvinen's memory is to play his music.  Another is to let Art's memory inspire us to make new music.  That's a very good thing and something Art would certainly have understood and approved.

There are many Mixed Meters articles about Art Jarvinen and his music.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Winning the Lottery in 1984

Today's Powerball Lottery is worth one and half billion dollars, the biggest jackpot ever.  I bought my tickets.  Of course, I'm not going to win  -- and neither are you.  Buying a ticket doesn't change the chances of not winning. You have a nearly identical chance to not win if you don't buy a ticket as you do if you buy some.  Either way, you'll lose.  I guarantee it.

They say "the lottery is a tax on people who don't understand mathematics".  Here's a website that convinces me that I don't understand mathematics.  I say "Screw math.  The fantasy of a big win is worth a few bucks."  I enjoy immersing myself in the occasional delusion of sudden, unlimited wealth.

I wonder how big the jackpot would have to be before Bill Gates or Warren Buffet purchased tickets.  And if someone who was already obscenely wealthy won another billion dollars in the lottery, how long would it take for people to start believing that the lottery is rigged.

I'm reading George Orwell's 1984.  I read it once when I was much younger, before the year 1984.  Orwell seems to have accurately predicted some annoying features of our society.   He was even better at describing life today in North Korea.

Here's a passage that seems relevant.  Our hero, Winston Smith, resident of Oceania and member of the INGSOC party, has taken a walk in the bad part of London, the part of town where the lower-class proles live, a place where Winston is not really supposed to go:
     In an angle formed by a projecting house-front three men were standing very close together, the middle one of them holding a folded-up newspaper which the other two were studying over his shoulder.  Even before he was near enough to make out the expression on their faces, Winston could see absorption in every line of their bodies.  It was obviously some serious piece of news that they were reading.  He was a few paces away from them when suddenly the group broke up and two of the men were in violent altercation.  For a moment they seemed almost on the point of blows.
     "Can’t you bleeding well listen to what I say?  I tell you no number ending in seven ain’t won for over fourteen months!"
     "Yes, it ’as, then!"
     "No, it ’as not! Back ’ome I got the ’ole lot of ’em for over two years wrote down on a piece of paper. I takes ’em down reg’lar as the clock.  An’ I tell you, no number ending in seven -- "
     "Yes, a seven ‘as won! I could pretty near tell you the bleeding number.  Four oh seven, it ended in. It were in February -- second week in February."
     "February your grandmother!  I got it all down in black and white. An’ I tell you, no number -- "
     "Oh, pack it in!" said the third man.
     They were talking about the Lottery.  Winston looked back when he had gone thirty meters.  They were still arguing, with vivid, passionate faces.  The Lottery, with its weekly pay-out of enormous prizes, was the one public event to which the proles paid serious attention.  It was probable that there were some millions of proles for whom the Lottery was the principal if not the only reason for remaining alive.  It was their delight, their folly, their anodyne, their intellectual stimulant. Where the Lottery was concerned, even people who could barely read and write seemed capable of intricate calculations and staggering feats of memory.  There was a whole tribe of men who made a living simply by selling systems, forecasts, and lucky amulets.  Winston had nothing to do with the running of the Lottery, which was managed by the Ministry of Plenty, but he was aware (indeed everyone in the party was aware) that the prizes were largely imaginary.  Only small sums were actually paid out, the winners of the big prizes being non-existent persons.  In the absence of any real intercommunication between one part of Oceania and another, this was not difficult to arrange.
"The absence of any real intercommunication"  Orwell predicted that truth was something which could be controlled.  Of course Orwell didn't predict the Internet.  Nor could he predict that the Internet would enhance the absence of intercommunication.

If you can imagine that you're in Australia, 1984 might be available to read online.