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.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Peter Schmid Quartet Plays Swing Left

Today's post is from the Things Which Get Lost In The Shuffle Department

Two years ago I composed a piece called Swing Left.  It was recorded by the Peter Schmid Quartet at the criminally out-moded Aphrodita Japonica Recording Studio.  AJRS is a crowded little room with inadequate sound isolation.  If you take your headphones off you can hear the Metro Gold Line trains whizz by every few minutes.  But hey, when you're a failed composer you take what you can get.

Back then, on August 16, 2012 to be exact, I uploaded Swing Left.  I even created a link to it on the Peter Schmid page.  For reasons lost in the mists of time, I never posted an announcement of Swing Left here on Mixed Meters.

Fast forward to today.  It's almost the end of the month and Mixed Meters is still two posts short of our very modest Three Posts Per Month goal.  So . . .

Click here to hear The Peter Schmid Quartet Plays Swing Left - © 2012 & 2014 by David Ocker - 253 Seconds

There's also a piece called Swing Right.  I might post that someday.  It was never finished to my satisfaction.  Once a long period time passes I forget why I was dissatisfied and the piece becomes completed by default.  Maybe I was waiting to share Swing Left with Swing Right at the same time.

The phrases "Swing Left" and "Swing Right" were intended as political references.  All the Peter Schmid pieces have more or less political titles.  Our country does a good job of swinging to the right.  It's been an awful long time since we've swung back the other direction.

The Ocker Scale, which features the voice of Leslie Harris, is another piece I never finished to my satisfaction.   I posted it online after waiting about two years.  By then I had pretty much forgotten why I was dissatisfied.

There's a moral to this story somewhere.  On second thought ... no there's not.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The New Point and Shoot In My Pocket

On this blog I've often referred to the camera I carry with me nearly all the time as "the point 'n shoot in my pocket".  I've always worried that the phrase had an element of sexual innuendo to it.   No one has ever mentioned being offended by any oblique phallic reference, so I guess it's all in my mind.  Probably no one read those posts.

The camera in question was introduced to Mixed Meters' three readers back in August 2007 after I received it as a gift from an anonymous admirer.  That post was called The New Point and Shoot In My Pocket.

This post is has the exact same title.  Can you guess why?

First, let's detour briefly into the world of sexual innuendo.  An alert Mixed Meters' contributor, Michael of Oakland, was amused by this book cover because it suggested male genitalia rather than a rocket ship.  I just don't see what he's talking about.  Do you?

A recent article on Alternet, 19 Best Double-Entendre Songs That Are Really About Sex, details the same supposed phenomena in the world of popular music.  People must have dirty minds.  Number seven on the list, Keep on Churnin' by Wynonie Harris, has always been a Mixed Meters fave.  Maybe that's because I grew up in Iowa where there are many farms.

Anyway, I was talking about cameras.

The new Point 'n Shoot In My Pocket is a Lumix, made by Panasonic.  It's a little bigger than my old one.  Every man wants something bigger in his pocket as he ages.  That's probably why they invented Viagra.

This camera was also a gift from my anonymous admirer, given as an early birthday present.  Thanks, Leslie.

Seven years ago I posted a picture of the new camera taken with the old one.  I wanted to do the same thing this time.  I felt it would be best to show it in animated format.

Nothing phallic about that.  Nope.

The photographic capabilities of this camera far exceed my previous one.  It's going to take me quite a while to learn to use it properly.  In my first evening I crashed it twice trying to set up the wi-fi link.

Leslie snapped the very first shot with the new beast, taking my picture.  I intended to smile.  Instead I was completely surprised by the aggressive focus lights and bright flash. The full-size shot focused too directly on my nose hair so I reduced the resolution.

And here's the second shot.  I took this one completely by accident at full 30x optical zoom from about the same position.  It shows the base of the television set behind my left shoulder.  The little patch of in-focus grid is the window screen.

Regular readers should expect my pictures here on Mixed Meters and on its sister blog Mixed Messages (and also my videos on YouTube) to improve somewhat more than this last picture might suggest.

BTW, over my right shoulder are two pieces of art featuring my face.  The top one is called Blood, Sweat and Tones by Robert Jacobs.   The bottom one, a sketch by the artist Spark, shows me composing music while seated at Starbucks.

Click this link to read all Mixed Meters posts which are labeled "penis".  You'll find such classics as "Celebrate Leslie's Birthday With Penis Fencing" and "Mozart's Penis versus Schoenberg's Penis".

Monday, June 30, 2014

Minuet - Spring 2014 short version

Back in 2006 I wrote a 30 Second Spot called Carpool.  You can still read the Mixed Meters post about Carpool.  It's dated March 12, 2006, a Sunday.  The Internet never forgets.  Usually never.

Better yet, if you read that post you'll discover that the link to listen to Carpool still works.  (Go ahead, listen.  I'll wait.  It's a short piece.)  I've had to update the link a couple times over the years in my efforts to keep my music from disappearing at the whim of some failing capitalist website entrepreneur.   Actually the Internet does forget.  Quite often.

Carpool, all 38 seconds of it, has a particular type of septuple meter which I discovered while listening to music on a streaming Internet radio station playing music of Afghanistan.  This particular song, whatever it was, divided the seven beats into three groups: three plus three plus one.  It was the kind of discovery that makes a composer's heart beat just a little more quickly.

This 3+3+1 meter, plus the hand drums, plus the semi-sinuous melody I cooked up give Carpool a kind of camel caravan feel.  I thought about calling it "Caravan" but reconsidered.  Hence my 2006-ish comment
I was going to call this spot "Caravan" but someone said the name had been used. I think "Carpool" gives that same sense of slow, long-distance travel via pollution-emitting beast.
The thing is, however, that you don't get a "sense of slow, long-distance travel" in 38 seconds.  Pollution control or not, a 30 Second Spot just isn't long enough for this particular music.

So, earlier this year, when I was beginning work on Spring 2014, yet another episode in my series The Seasons, I decided to use the music from Carpool as a source material.  For the next three months, ending last week, I wrote a bit of music every day.  For these bits I appropriated the melody, harmony, rhythm and most especially the meter of Carpool.

Spring 2014 turned out to be almost one and a quarter hours long.  Eighty percent of that time is pure unadulterated silence.  You can read all about Spring 2014 (and even listen to it) by reading the previous MM post Spring 2014 from The Seasons.

Grizzled, old time Mixed Meters readers know what's coming next.  For the rest of you, keep reading.

Once I'd finished Spring 2014, a.k.a. the long version of Carpool, all 72 minutes of it, I mercilessly removed all the silences, leaving only the music.  This revealed a piece of music nearly 14 minutes long.  I called this piece Minuet.  You'd be surprised how different it seems than the longer version.

Yes, I can hear what you're thinking, even over the Internet.  Minuet is a dull name.  Yup, I agree.  It is also a very musical name.  I especially like it because it's an antique.  It gives virtually no expectations to modern listeners.  No one, at least no one that I'm aware of, writes or dances minuets these days.   And if they do, they're probably professors or professors in training.  These days a composer has no problem living up to your expectations of what a modern minuet should be because you don't have any of those sorts of expectations.   Nor should you.

The musicologists amongst my readers will know that a minuet is usually in triple meter.  In my piece, the meter is also triple - if you ignore that extra beat crammed in there after every second measure.  Sometimes Minuet does have a kind of dance feel - a lopsided, bad-dancer, one-leg-shorter-than-the-other, Ministry-of-Silly-Dances dance feel, to be sure - but danceable nonetheless.  Go ahead, dance.  I'll wait.

Click here to hear Minuet (Spring 2014 - short version) by David Ocker  
© 2014 David Ocker, 833 seconds

You can listen to Spring 2014 (the long version of Minuet) here.
You can listen to Carpool (the short version of Minuet) here.
You can find links to all The Seasons, both long and short versions, and their associated Mixed Meters blog posts here.
You can't imagine what I'm talking about when I say "30 Second Spot".  Click here.

Addendum.  Here's a minuet by the great Slim Gaillard that's not in seven.  Nor is it in three.  It's in vout.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Spring 2014 from The Seasons

Summer has begun.  Spring is done.  Yeah, I know that this happened like 10 days ago - news travels slowly on the Internet.

The join between Spring and Summer is called the Summer Solstice, longest day of the year on the top half of the planet.  There's enough sunshine for me to go to bed at sunrise and still enjoy hours of daylight once I struggle back to wakefulness.  Bad season for vampires.

I finished my most recent Season, called Spring 2014, just before the Solstice.  I began composing Spring 2014 back on the Spring Equinox, and it, like all my previous Seasons, consists of one music event for each day.

Many of these events were composed on the actual day.  In the score each segment is marked with a date.  I add an asterisk if I actually worked on the music on that very date.  On Mondays I add a double bar because of something called Garbage Day Periodicity.

Spring 2014 is one hour and twelve minutes long which is an average length for pieces in this series.  Annoyingly, 80% of Spring 2014 is silence.  That's only one minute of music for every 5 minutes of actual time.  Listening to it as if it were normal music could try your patience.

I offer two better ways to listen.  One is to remove the silence.  I would be silly to expect you to do that yourself, so I do it for you.  I call these shortened versions The Seasons (short version).  With the silences removed a real piece is revealed.   You could almost call it "normal music".  Yes, I compose The Seasons with that in mind.  Think of it as time sped up.

The other solution is to play Spring 2014 simultaneously with some other music.  The best choice is to combine multiple Seasons, just play several at the same time and let whatever is going to happen happen.  You can also combine The Seasons with normal music.  Baroque music is a good choice.  So is minimalism.  In fact The Seasons is a perfect addition to any music which could use an added element of surprise, some extra variety or a bit of aural spice.

Click here to hear Spring 2014 by David Ocker  © 2014 by David Ocker, 4357 seconds

Click here for links to all The Seasons and The Seasons (short versions) and their associated blog posts plus some other stuff that I think is related to this musical project.

Here, for no particular reason, is a picture I took because I always try to post at least one picture.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

In which David considers Stuff while attempting to fall asleep

I should fall asleep now.  Close my eyes and wait.

If I try not to think of an elephant - or of anything else - eventually I"ll find myself, hours from now, twisting in this bed, slowly waking up, trying not to drool on the pillow or to kick the cat, thinking to myself that I could still get another hour if I just rolled over, kept my eyes closed and ignored the fact that I really need to pee.

As much as more sleep would be nice, more waking time would be nicer.  That is because I have "stuff" to do.  Every day (once I pee) I make a mental list called "things I'd like to accomplish today." Thankfully I'm not so anal that I actually write the list down.  Even so, the list is very real, always near by, in my brain.  Damn brain.

At the top of each and every day's list of "stuff" are my irreducible four double-ewes - "work, walk, wife and write".  These are the things my life is really about.  Unalliteratively you could think of these as "earn money, get exercise, devote time to my relationship with Leslie and do something creative". These are my essential daily goals.

I try to do some of each W every day.  This is not always easy.  The things one does everyday are the most important parts of life.  My Four Dubs are are important stuff.  Important stuff is still "stuff".  This stuff is always on my daily mental list.

And lots of other stuff ends up on my daily list as well.  That stuff is not so important in the long term. Sometimes it doesn't feel even the slightest bit important in the short term either.

Stuff can include taking out the garbage, shopping for pet food, gassing the car, mindlessly watching television in hopes of finding a good laugh, making "ice cream" out of over-ripe bananas, wondering why I'm not more successful than I am, washing the dishes, feeling lucky that I'm not a complete failure, browsing the net on my iPad, wondering if today would be a good day to make myself a martini, imagining what it would be like to be someone else, cleaning the cat box, dreaming about what a nice guy I'd be if I accidentally became a billionaire by winning the lottery.  It's all stuff.  It's the stuff of life.

Some stuff gets added to the mental list later in the day, on the spur of the moment.  Stuff erupts. Suddenly.  Sometimes unpredictably.  Spilling coffee on the floor and having to wipe it up immediately?  That's stuff.  Just sitting in a chair thinking "it's okay to just be sitting in this chair." becomes stuff.  Thinking "I could fall asleep in this chair." also becomes stuff.  Actually falling asleep? Yes, that too.

Stuff is all inclusive.  Everything is stuff.  Stuff, stuff, stuff.  It's all stuff.  Life is filled with stuff.  Some stuff gets in the way of getting other stuff done.  Circular?  You betcha.  Would I wish for more time to do my stuff or for less stuff to do in the time I have.  Dunno.


Once again, I'm back in bed, poking at my iPad.   I could fall asleep right now.  I really should fall asleep, simply close my eyes and try to drift off while not thinking of an elephant.   It would be easy.

Exactly twenty-four hours have passed since I started this essay.  I've done yet another day of stuff including, on this day, all four W's plus a few unexpected bits of other stuff.  I killed a marauding ant colony in the kitchen and ran to the store for a carton of heavy cream because the one we had turned prematurely sour.  I spent a while trying to understand why Linux crashes so much.  I even found some time to edit this essay.

Now, however, I'm back in bed, finally lying between my wife and my cat, trying to convert the silly thoughts in my brain into conventional English.  Personally I'd much rather fall asleep.  Sleep would be better for me, but my brain is keeping me awake.   It's my brain that is the problem.  Damn brain.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Still More Musical Product and Business Names

It's a Mixed Meters thing.  This is the ninth installment.  If you want to see all of the previous posts in this series, click on this link.

This time around we begin with five businesses (the first three photographed hurriedly while driving past):
  • a tuned percussion instrument made from precious metal
  • a sexy dance number with combustible airborne particulates
  • a variation on that instrument Yuba played in Cuba
  • a specialty piece for three
  • an in-time HVAC
We follow up with potables:
  • a Beethoven Symphony
  • another metal percussion instrument
  • a piece sung in church or before sporting events (in two varieties)
  • a Renaissance part song
And, finally, to tie it all together, some dark, gentle and syncopated music to burn up and enjoy as we suck it into our mouths.

Yes, you can make the pictures bigger by clicking on them.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Towel Day

Today is Towel Day.   As literary holidays go celebrating the works of author Douglas Adams isn't quite yet in the league of Bloomsday.  That's because Joyce had a head start.

I'm not dorky enough to actually carry a towel in public on Towel Day.  Instead I will mark the occasion by posting some quotes from the later books of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  I marked these the last time I read through the canon.

Many of Adams' quotes are well known.  What other author can claim to have invented a whole new meaning for a single number?  (You know which one I mean.)   Some of his quotes have become life principles for me.  For example
"Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job." 
pretty much defines my attitude towards national politics these days.

The following quotes may not always be his greatest or most universal.  Instead, these are the ones that jumped out at me because of who I am, because I'm a musician, because I live in Los Angeles or just because I thought they were wry or twisted or funny.  Or some other reason.

From Life, The Universe and Everything (book three of the trilogy)

Prove it to me and I still won't believe it.  (Chapter 10)

He had been planning to learn to play the octaventral heebiephone, a pleasantly futile task, he knew, because he had the wrong number of mouths.  (Chapter 14)

He had returned to his own ship, the Bistromath, had a furious row with the waiter and disappeared off into an entirely subjective idea of what space was.  (Chapter 32)

In Relativity, Matter tells Space how to curve, and Space tells Matter how to move.  (Chapter 34)

from So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish  (book four of the trilogy)

They've discovered how to turn excess body fat into gold.  (Chapter 9, referring to Californians.)

Being like several thousand square miles of American Express junk mail, but without the same sense of moral depth.  (Chapter 15, a description of Los Angeles)

They agreed that the sense of dazzle stopped immediately at the back of their eyes and didn't touch any other part of them and came away strangely unsatisfied by the spectacle.  As dramatic seas of light went, it was fine, but light is meant to illuminate something, and having driven through what this particularly dramatic sea of light was illuminating they didn't think much of it.  (Chapter 30, describing the San Fernando Valley)

Their mood gradually lifted as they walked along the beach in Malibu and watched all the millionaires in their chic shanty huts carefully keeping an eye on one another to check how rich they were getting. (Chapter 30)

They were suddenly feeling astonishingly and irrationally happy and didn't even mind that the terrible old car radio would only play two stations, and those simultaneously.  So what, they were both playing good rock and roll.  (Chapter 30)

But the reason I call myself by my childhood name is to remind myself that a scientist must also be absolutely like a child.  If he sees a thing, he must say that he sees it, whether it was what he thought he was going to see or not.  See first, think later, then test.  But always see first.  Otherwise you will only see what you were expecting.  Most scientists forget that.  (Chapter 31)

If we find something we can't understand we like to call it something you can't understand.  (Chapter 31)

from Mostly Harmless (book five of the trilogy)

The last time anybody made a list of the top hundred character attributes of New Yorkers, common sense snuck in at number 79.  (Chapter 2)

When it's fall in New York, the air smells as if someone's been frying goats in it, and if you are keen to breathe, the best plan is to open a window and stick your head in a building. (Chapter 2)

Nobody likes a whistler, particularly not the divinity that shapes our ends.  (Chapter 8)

Being virtually killed by virtual laser in virtual space is just as effective as the real thing, because you are as dead as you think you are.  (Chapter 8)

Most of the ascetics, it turned out, had not known about chocolate before they took up asceticism. (Chapter 9)

"Oh, all right," said the old man.  "Here's a prayer for you.  Got a pencil?"
"Yes," said Arthur.
"It goes like this.  Let's see now: 'Protect me from knowing what I don't need to know.  Protect me from even knowing that there are things to know that I don't know.  Protect me from knowing that I decided not to know about the things that I decided not to know about.  Amen.'  That's it.  It what you pray silently inside yourself anyway, so you may as well have it out in the open."
"Hmmm," said Arthur.  "Well, thank you-"
"There's another prayer that goes with it that's very important," continued the old man, "so you'd better jot this down, too."
"It goes, 'Lord, lord, lord . . . ' It's best to put that bit in, just in case.  You can never be too sure.  'Lord, lord, lord.  Protect me from the consequences of the above prayer. Amen.' And that's it.  Most of the trouble people people get into in life comes from leaving out that last part."  (Chapter 9)

The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at or repair.  (Chapter 12)

All you really need to know for the moment is that the universe is a lot more complicated than you might think, even if you start from a position of thinking it's pretty damn complicated in the first place. (Chapter 17)

Old Thrashbarg had said on one occasion that sometimes if you received an answer, the question might be taken away.  (Chapter 19)

Other Mixed Meters' name checks of Douglas Adams can be found in these posts:

Floating Rocks ("What keeps it there?"  "Art.")

Unqualified for President (contains the full quote referred to above about being president)

In which a Docker Award goes to Oolong Colluphid (the 8th MM post ever)

Floor Shows (specifically the Shoe Event Horizon)

Making the Scene with the New Classic L.A. Blog   (expanding the body-fat-into-gold quote)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Rose Room

The title does not refer to your grandfather's Rose Room.  This post is about my own piece entitled Rose Room.

In this case "Rose" refers to Leslie's Aunt Rose Harris, who, after one of her gravitational accidents, very briefly stayed in our guest room.  That would have become the Rose Room.

This happened in September of 2009.  That's also when I wrote the music.  I've never posted Rose Room because I wanted to change it very slightly.  Now I can't remember what changes I wanted to make.  Something about the final chord.

Musically, Rose Room is about the conflict of accelerando and non-accelerando.  The drum sounds stay at a constant tempo while, simultaneously, the other music gradually gets faster.

Also there are ducks.

Click here to hear Rose Room by David Ocker Copyright © 2009, 2014
83 seconds

And now, variations on a theme:

Here's another piece of mine with duck references:

The blog post Water With Ducks has links to my other bird related music.

A book review:  Moby-Duck

The Ocker Scale is another piece I posted after forgetting what changes I wanted to make.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Some time ago I heard author Charles C. Mann interviewed on NPR.   He spoke about his book 1493.   1493 details the aftereffects of Christopher Columbus' "discovery" of the New World.  Mann grandly describes this as:
the greatest event in the history of life since the death of the dinosaurs.
I was fascinated by the interview and resolved to read his book.  First I read his earlier book 1491 about what the Western Hemisphere was like before the Europeans.  I blogged about 1491 last year.

You might assume that because 1491 focused specifically on the Western Hemisphere before the year 1492 that 1493 would concentrate on what happened here after 1492.  You'd be correct only up to a point.  Many surprising things happened when the nations of Europe fell over themselves in cutthroat competition, sometimes comically, often unwittingly, to bring religion, greed, weapons, animals, diseases and slaves to this strange, dangerous new world.

The other half of the story concerns how the Europeans tried to exploit their discoveries back in the old world.  These discoveries included:
  • seemingly limitless quantities of silver, 
  • essential foodstuffs like corn (Mann calls it maize) and potatoes, 
  • rubber (which blew the European's minds) 
  • tobacco (which blew their minds in a different way) and 
  • (most remarkably) vast amounts of bird shit.
To describe the constant interactions between old and new worlds, he adopts the term Columbian Exchange.  Mann follows this subject matter in surprising directions:
  • How the life cycle of the malaria parasite affected the position of the Mason-Dixon line.
  • How silver from South America impacted Chinese monetary policy and the founding of the city of Manila.
  • Why the potato famine in Ireland was exacerbated by modern agricultural practices.
  • How a failed Scottish colony in Panama led to Scotland joining Great Britain.
  • Why the first Chinatown in the Americas was located in Mexico City in the 17th century.
  • How the mass deaths of American Indians might have caused temperatures to drop in Europe during the Little Ice Age.
Mann doesn't pass up chances to tell good tales about colorful characters, historical or modern. He follows several of his stories right up to the modern era, trying hard to bring his disparate subjects together.  Still there's only so much you can fit into a 500 page book.

Bringing it all together, however, is really what 1493 is about.  In a word, the book's subject is globalization. While we usually think of this in a contemporary context, Mann shows us that globalization actually started very soon after Columbus and has been going on ever since.

And Mann makes it clear that it is not just the human narrative which is important.  Plants and animals, especially microscopic animals, have big parts in his story.  Mann's overall approach is well summed up by a simple comment, tossed off in a footnote:
history is an interplay of social and biological processes.
He argues that the changes to the earth resulting from the human ability to encircle it are so massive that they constitute a whole new biologic epoch.  He calls this period the homogenocene era, now just entering its second half millennium.

Indeed, humanity is not likely to undergo such a massive sudden change in environment, resources or basic conditions until that day when someone discovers how to get back and forth to another habitable planet, filled with strange plants and creatures whose intelligence is hard to identify, where humans will once again try anything they can think of to make a buck, proselytize their gods and plant their flags without giving the slightest thoughts to what the long-term repercussions might be.

A book completely unrelated to 1493, except in the form of its title, is 1453 by Roger Crowley.

Are you wondering about my reference to bird shit?  Mann tells about the discovery of huge deposits of bird dropping on islands off the coast of Peru.  In the mid-19th century Chinese slaves were used to mine the stuff and ship it back to Europe as potent agricultural fertilizer - far better than any other known at the time.  It was especially useful for the potato crop.  Here are two quotes from 1493 which describe the far-reaching effects of the humble potato and this huge pile of guano:
Before the potato and maize, before intensive fertilization, European living standards were roughly equivalent with those today in Cameroon and Bangladesh; they were below Bolivia or Zimbabwe.  On average, European peasants ate less per day than hunting-and-gathering societies in Africa or the Amazon. Industrial monoculture with improved crops and high-intensity fertilizer allowed billions of people - Europe first, and then much of the rest of the world - to escape the Malthusian trap.  (p.280)
"Potatoes, by feeding rapidly growing populations, permitted a handful of European nations to assert dominion over most of the world between 1750 and 1950." Hunger's end helped create the political stability that allowed European nations to take advantage of American silver.  The potato fueled the rise of the West. (p.253)
So the next time you bite into a french fry at McDonalds, think about the global effects of that pigeon pooping under the bench next to you.