Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Rudy Schwartz Project: Winter Dance of the Koala Sperm Harvest

In my previous post I mentioned Joe Newman of the Rudy Schwartz Project.  Then, a couple days ago I discovered a copy of the new RSP album Winter Dance of the Koala Sperm Harvest in my mailbox.  Apparently the album has not been formally released yet.  So let this be a lesson to you: if you want to be the first on your block to hear his music mention Joe on your own blog.

I'm sure you could buy your own copy at this link real soon.

This album has all the hallmarks of any good RSP release:
  • clever and amusing musical parody
  • up to the minute political outrage
  • encomia to or mockery of actors with familiar faces 
  • references to sticking things into people's butts
  • bits of fun ugly new music or avant-garde jazz
  • cultural references you can't quite identify
  • little bits of old movies or commercials
  • clever lyrics you can't believe anyone has balls enough to actually sing
And what other album dares to ask, in its opening track, whether you'd prefer to hear Schoenberg or Neil Diamond?

Clearly, when it comes to having an ear for imitating musical styles and using them to lampoon the buffoons who run the world in order to screw little guys, Joe Newman is a worthy successor to none other than Frank Zappa.  I bet he wishes more people agreed with me.

Other cuts on this album which deserve mention (in my opinion):

  • The Guy From the N.S.A. (a calypso tune; the chorus goes "Fuck the guy from the NSA")
  • Le twist gnossienne (Erik Satie as dreamt by Dick Dale)
  • Winter Dance of the Koala Sperm Harvest (a new genre: Tchaikovsky ballet parody)
  • A Better Tomorrow (clearly the best use of the word 'not' in any song ever)

Here's a sample track from WDotKSH. It's called In Cucamonga - video imagery by Zontar.  Yes, that's Jesus himself on vocals.

Here's a picture of Mount Rudymore showing the Rudy Schwartz Project pantheon - Don Knotts, Olan Soulé, Abe Vigoda, Bob Eubanks and Ernest Borgnine.  (click to enlarge)

You can like The Rudy Schwartz Project on Facebook.  You can listen to some of their albums on Spotify.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Allegro - Winter 2013 short version

I hope you'll listen to my piece Allegro.  My friend Joe Newman, the brains behind The Rudy Schwartz Project, said this about it:
If you could get a highly skilled Euro prog rock band to play this … I'll bet every pot head in Germany would be all over it. 
If only.

Click here to hear Allegro by David Ocker © 2014 - 804 seconds

One of the principal reasons I gave up actively pursuing careers as a composer and performer of new music, back in the early nineties, was that I often found myself experiencing anger rather than enjoyment from new music performances.

I happened to attend several such concerts this week.  There were pieces on these particular concerts, curiously all of them by New York composers, which brought back that same old anger.  I still dislike experiencing anger when listening to music these days, just like I did back then.  Maybe more.

The capper was when I read in the program notes to the most elaborately assaultive of these pieces, a work which made me wonder whether it had been written by a particularly unhappy and unfulfilled individual, that the composer thought he had written a piece about love.

I suppose that any piece of music without lyrics can be about anything the composer says it is.  What he says about it is his business.  And I suppose a listener can hear his piece and experience great love.  It's not my business to judge what you find loving.

Still, when I perceive such a vast disconnect between my response to a piece of music and the composer's apparent intent, it just reinforces my notion that music works best when it not about anything.  It's just music, just vibrating air, just, to paraphrase Frank Zappa, a decoration of time.

That is why I decided to give my piece such a generic music title.  It's also why I've decided to associate this particular rant with it.  I really like Allegro, although you might understandably think me somewhat biased.

Just remember:  Allegro is not about anything.  It is a mere time decoration.  If you can't listen on that level you're free to make up any description for it, one that seems useful to you.  It can be about love or about purple motorcycles.  What goes on in your brain is none of my business.

Because time is nebulous I have been decorating it in two different, um, timeframes.  To that effect Allegro is the shortened version of Winter 2013.  Exactly the same music, different amounts of silence.  They're part of my series called The Seasons.

These seasons, short or long, are not about anything - anymore than a calendar is about something.  A calendar just marks off hunks of time.  People have to put things into the calendar to give it any meaning.

Allegro just marks off a hunk of time.  If you want it to have meaning, you have to put something into it.   It should come as no surprise that what you decide to put into it is none of my business.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

You're Blaming Me For This

In the Classical Era of 30 Second Spots, back when I composed them on a laptop at Starbucks, my titles were selected from snippets of overheard conversation. These days, composing at home, overheard conversations are hard to come by.

I started a new Spot on Monday.  I needed a title in order to save the file.  So, I walked into the other room, flipped on the television and the first words I heard were "You're blaming me for this."  Great.  Problem solved.

In case you need attribution, it was the Fox show TMZ.  I turned the set off immediately.  I have no clue what celebrity indiscretion was being blamed on whom.

Click here to hear You're Blaming Me For This by David Ocker
© March 25, 2014 - 59 seconds

Click here to hear more 30 Second Spots.

Since the title of the 30 Second Spot came from television, a video parody of a television commercial seems appropriate.  It's flogging a big generic corporation.  Yes, this is one of "those" commercials.  You'll recognize the genre immediately.

Ask yourself: how interchangeable are big American corporations?   Big corporations cannibalize one another with billion dollar buyouts.  They keep getting bigger as their numbers decrease and they want you to like them no matter how evil they are.

We get shown an awful lot of this kind of crap these days. They're trying to project the humanity of the corporation.  Corporations are trying to avoid getting blamed.

Legalistically corporations are supposed to be people too.  I don't agree.  It's just a convenience for business purposes.  Sadly, right now, the Supreme Court is deciding whether corporations have religious rights.

You can find the script here.  I found the video here.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Winter 2013 from The Seasons

Today is an equinox, the cusp of the old and the new season.

That's why I'm posting another episode of The Seasons.  I've been doing that for every season for a while.  The latest completed northern hemisphere season was the winter which began in December 2013.

Click here to hear Winter 2013 © David Ocker, 4405 seconds

Winter 2013 is 73 minutes long.  Be warned!  One full hour of those 73 minutes is pure silence.

If you're new to Mixed Meters you're probably wondering why a piece of music is 80% nothing.  Frankly, I don't have the energy to invent yet another explanation of what this music series is about.  I suggest you try reading this instead.

If you want to explore the web of intrigue which is the entire series called The Seasons - lately I've been posting both long and short versions -  you can read all the posts.   Also, all the links are on this page.

The Seasons is my exceptionally loose way of keeping time.  Here's a cute video (which I found via this blog) about a guy who has it down to the nanosecond.

Today I learned that yesterday was Taxonomist Appreciation Day.   Everyday it's something, isn't it?

At Mixed Meters we appreciate a taxonomist every day.  That's because Mr. Mixed Meters is married to a polychaetologist named Leslie.  You can read all the Mixed Meters posts about Leslie.  There are quite a few.

I learned about TAD because Leslie left a browser window open.  Possibly she wanted me to see a definition of taxonomy ("The study of organisms and how you phylum.")  It makes more sense with the graphic.  She knows I like puns.

More likely she simply forgot to close the browser window.  That window is how I happened upon another cute video, an animation about a taxonomic expedition hunting for ants.  It's very tightly cut to the music of Rodrigo y Gabriela, a MM fave.

Leslie goes on expeditions like this.  The difference is that her expeditions always involve the ocean because she hunts sea worms instead of ants.  I steadfastly refuse to accompany her because I prefer to stay home and write music every day.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


This mural was located nearby in Pasadena.

There's a different mural on the side of Mark Allen Cleaners now.

I scoured the web for some other pictures of people playing sax.  (Note the optical illusion in the second one.)

And here are two of saxophones merely being held.

Don't worry. I found videos of Ernie and Bill playing their instruments.

The photos came from here, here, here, here, here, here, here.

Friday, February 28, 2014

These Stones Beneath Our Feet

(Want to avoid words?  Want immediate video instead?  Go directly to These Stones Beneath Our Feet.)

The Getty Museum in Los Angeles, high on what Angelenos might call a mountain top, is visible for miles around.  The Getty is a wealthy institution.  Many priceless, historic and beautiful artifacts of human culture are there. The architecture is stunning, monumental.  The views are breathtaking. Anyone can enjoy it free of charge.

Yet, when I visited there last, my most memorable and meaningful moments involved sitting in the entry hall looking at the floor.  While waiting for my companions to do their business in the bookshop I passed the time staring at some utterly unremarkable flooring.

Gradually the stones became metaphor to me.  At first I equated them with the museum itself: "This floor is like the Getty."  Then they became a symbol of all the culture which the Getty holds: "This floor is like the history of human culture."  Finally I found myself comparing these solid, boring, gray tiles with the very history of humanity.  I began to ask myself questions; questions like:

  • How long would the floor last?  
  • How would it be destroyed?  
  • What events would cause these square tiles to break?

One thing for sure - it will take a long long time before those floor tiles are broken.  I'm assuming regular maintenance, of course.  I suppose it's possible that they would decide to remodel the Getty, although I'm sure the museum has better things to spend its fortune on.  A rich foreigner could, someday, buy the place, tear it down and move it, brick by brick, to some other country.

The Getty is like a castle or a church.  Grand residences and religious monuments tend to outlast the cultures which build them.  Think of the Pyramids or Stonehenge.  It's entirely reasonable to imagine that the Getty buildings will become a pile of rubble someday.  Within two or three thousand years, perhaps?  Ten thousand?  After the Big One?

Besides inert stone slabs, I was also watching shadows of people walking through the hall.  The afternoon sun was causing their shadows to move across the stones and through my field of vision.  I remembered the poor guy trapped in Plato's cave watching shadows - not that I understand what that's about.  Or care.

I wondered what the people of these shadows were thinking.  The end of our shared culture was the farthest thing from their minds, I'm sure.  After all, they were visiting an institution dedicated to preserving that very culture.  The people on their way out were considering the bookstore or the restrooms or catching the tram to the parking garage.  The ones still arriving were likely wondering which expensive, elegant artifacts of history they most wanted to catch a fleeting glimpse of before the place closed for the night.

The stones, I thought, were as permanent as anything humans have ever created while the shadows were as fleeting as light itself.  The shadows were, literally, light itself.  I suppose it was about this point when I pulled the old point'n'shoot out of my pocket and shot some video of the stones and the shadows.

Alas, people were not very co-operative.  Especially those on their way to the restrooms kept walking through my field of vision.  Later I edited the video, removing any legs and shoes.  I combined just the bits with only stones and shadows.  I separated these with a matte gray background.

Meanwhile, in my mind, all these convoluted, convulsive thoughts about stones and shadows began forming into short word patterns.  Eventually these became what can only be called a "poem": two short sentences expressing more or less the same vacuous ideas I've been spewing at you here.

I added a hint of politics, also a touch of anarchy - sentiments probably stemming from having visited such an august, respected institution only to discover that I had found more to think about in the waiting room floor than on any of the gallery walls.  That tells you more about me than it does about the Getty.

The Getty is a museum of gorgeous art and cultural memory.  It should not be faulted for the artifacts it choses to display.  After all, it is a work of an early 1%-er, J. Paul Getty, who lived during the "ancient" times when our country still had strongly progressive income tax rates that made it harder to become filthy rich.  That was back before men with more money than sense took over our country.  Getty was someone who used wealth beyond the dreams of avarice to hoard many exquisite rare objects, the best anywhere.  Then, after his death he allowed his stash to be shared with poor schlubs like me.

All Getty's money was used to build an overwhelmingly grand shrine, the very grandeur of which gives all the small, fragile items inside more significance, just because they are there.  The objects are like shadows on the stones, I guess.  The shadows need to be preserved.  They must be important.  Why else would they have been placed in such a grand mausoleum of culture?

Anyway, back to the plot.   You'll remember that I had created a video and defined a subject matter and had written a "poem".  The missing element was music.  I like writing music.  I would rather spend my time creating music than looking at superb stuff in a museum.  Writing music is much better than looking at boring stuff.  Certainly better than staring at a floor no matter how solid and stable.  If you have spent any time reading Mixed Meters, none of this will be news to you.

I started the music with some tuned gong sounds, a gamelan-like feel.  After a minute I added a very ominous trumpet theme, four notes.  This motif derives its menace in large part from excess reverberation.  I kept adding to it and actually liked the music I was writing.  I composed music for about half the video.  Then ... for some reason ... I stopped.  I put this project on hold for over a year.  I didn't think about it at all, except for the occasional vague self-deprecating self-flagellating thought.  "You idiot.  You never finish anything."

I have two other large unfinished projects which have been sitting around much more than one year.  Both of these pieces have texts.  One is based on Schubert's Unfinished Symphony.  Not finishing that one makes a kind of sense, huh?  The other is a very intensely self-referent work: a piece of music which describes itself as it goes along.  Hopefully These Stones Beneath Our Feet will encourage me to finish those as well.

Last December, I started work on These Stones again.  I was pleased that I could pick up the musical ideas where I left them.  It's hard to tell when listening where the long break in my work habits actually happened.  That's good, right?

The "poem" is not part of the audio.  It appears only on-screen, very tightly synchronized with the music.  Words flash quickly.  Take your eyes off the video and you might miss something.  And there can be long periods of waiting between words.  The only way to connect the words will be in your mind.

I thought about posting the entire "poem" online.  I immediately rejected this idea.  You'll need to pay attention if you want to read the whole thing.  (This is really just a silly trick to get you to pay more attention to the music.)

You can listen to the music without watching the video and, therefore, without seeing the words.  I hope the music will still be interesting that way but I fear that it won't mean as much.  Without the video the music strikes me as being like a movie soundtrack without the movie.  The reappearance of themes and textures makes more sense when you can see what is happening.

Whew.  That's it.  I'm all worded out.  So there's nothing left for you to do here but watch the video.

These Stones Beneath Our Feet by David Ocker © 2014, 666 seconds

Other Mixed Meters posts of somewhat dubious relevance:

Floor Shows (with a reference to the Shoe Event Horizon)

Tile Patterns (pictures of colorful stone tiles in a supermarket)

Elie Broad: Masterpieces, Money and Monuments (just another rich Angeleno with his own art museum)

The Preserving Machine by Philip K. Dick (not really relevant to this post except for one sentence: "Bombs fell, bursting the museum to fragments, bringing the walls down in a roar of rubble and plaster.")

Cool and Warm, Dylan and Waldo at SFMoma (my visit to a different museum where, unlike the Getty, the exhibits overwhelmed me with things to think about. Here's the final paragraph: "Outside, I felt relieved by the simplicity of a bustling city street with a stiff breeze and clear blue sky. I felt no desire to visit an art museum again any time soon")

Going Coastal by David Ocker (another video with my music about a day with friends doing things at the beach including visiting the Getty Villa in Malibu.  To be fair, I like that place better than the Getty Castle.)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Nocturne - Autumn 2013 short version

Autumn 2013 is the most recent season from my incomprehensible series of long, mostly silent pieces. There is an intro to the series plus details about Autumn 2013 here.  You can listen here.

The entire series is entitled The Seasons.  [Read] and [Listen] links to all the sections are here.

When a piece is 75% (or more) silence, the notion of removing the silences is not a big stretch.  Starting a couple seasons back I began posting the "silence removed" versions of  The Seasons.  I label them with the words "short version".

For these short versions I attempt to compose the music so it works both with and without the silences. I do enjoy this process.

I've chosen simple names for these silence-free pieces.  I called this one Nocturne for no specific reason.  I guess that it evokes that sort of nebulous nocturnal musical flavor especially toward the end.  The two previous names were Mantra and Caprice, chosen for much better reasons.

Click here to hear Nocturne (Autumn 2013 short version) by David Ocker - © 2014 David Ocker - 846 seconds

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Marion Shuman

Last month my Aunt Marion Shuman passed away in Jerusalem Israel.  She was 88.  Leslie and I send our profound condolences to her children, Ellis, Debby and Judy and their families.

I first met Aunt Marion nearly 60 years ago.  It was 1954.  I was three.  Engaged to marry my Uncle Ben, she visited Sioux City, Iowa, where I lived.  That would have been about a month before their wedding.

Don't imagine that I remember her visit.  I've refreshed my memory with old family albums.  Here are two pictures of Marion and Ben dated 1954 and 1955. (The boy in the second picture is me - age 4.)  Those are among the earliest pictures of Marion in the albums.

After they were married Ben and Marion made their home in Sioux City.  They had three children while Ben worked at the local newspaper.  In 1972 Ben and Marion moved the entire family to Israel, leaving the mid-West for the mid-East.  Their hope was to raise their children in a more Jewish environment.

Their departure was covered by that same local newspaper.  The article, Sioux City Family Leaving for New Home in Holy Land, quotes Marion:
I have a very religious feeling about this including the timing.  We were meant to go. The good Lord has been watching over us.  I know we will have hard times ahead, but we are prepared.
Here is a picture showing all five Shumans in 1972, soon after arriving in Israel.

Photo albums tell many stories.  Over time things change - cameras, fashions, people.  One story that the pictures tell about Marion is the strength of her marriage to Ben.  Most of her pictures show them together.  I had to look hard to find shots of her alone.  These are dated 1973, 1977 and 1983.

Once the Shumans were nearly half a world away, communication with friends and family back in the Old Country (i.e. Iowa) became much more difficult.  Many letters were written.  Along with the photo albums I have an envelope stuffed with letters from Israel - spanning more than 20 years - a collection saved and cherished by my Mother.

Early letters, written with a manual typewriter on light-weight Israeli Aerogrammes, were intended for many different State-side readers.  These might begin with a salutation like:
Shalom from Jerusalem to Mother, Edythe, Al, Esther, Jack, family and friends!
Gradually, as people passed on, the salutations shortened one by one.  Later letters are addressed only "Dear Edythe".  After my Mother's death this becomes "Dear David".  The trusty manual typewriter was replaced eventually by a spiffy electric which soon gave way to a mysterious computer with dot matrix printer.  And then the letters stop.  Email had arrived.

The letter writer-in-chief was, quite naturally, the journalist in the family, Uncle Ben.  Letters from Marion were few.  These letters focus on daily life in Jerusalem - schools, jobs (Ben worked for the local newspaper), military service, weddings, births, trips, visitors from America.

Here are a couple more pictures showing Ben with his arm around Marion.  (These are vintage 1974.)

One letter from Aunt Marion stands out.  When my Mother passed away in 1986, Uncle Ben traveled from Israel to Iowa for the funeral.  Marion had to remain in Jerusalem but sent a personal letter of condolence.

Here are two short excerpts in Marion's own words on the subject of the loss of a mother.
Hopefully her children, her children's children and (someday) her children's children's children (when they learn to read) will take some comfort from them, as I repurpose them to reflect back on the woman who actually wrote them.
I guess what I am trying to say is that I really share your loss - but in my way.  A mother can never be replaced and you will remember how much she loved you and took pride in all that you have accomplished.  You surely must know that she shared this pride with us, and we loved hearing about it.
I hope you have been warmed by the respect and love many people had for your Mom, she was vital all her years, never showed her age, and was interested in people - a very important interest!  Keep her wonderful image in front of you always.
Judaism was important to my Aunt Marion.  Family was important to her.  Those two things infused everything she did.  She had purpose and determination, good qualities to have when moving a family with three teenagers half a world away.  Such a move must have posed one new challenge after another.  

Marion knew instinctively that Israel was a better place than Iowa to raise a Jewish family.  Looking back on her life and on the family she raised, it's pretty clear that her instincts were right.

Here's a picture of Marion and Ben dated 2006, 52 years after the first picture in this post.  It's not surprising that Ben still had his arm around Marion.

Ellis Shuman has inherited the mantle of Shuman family writer-in-chief from his father.  He has published a novel and a collection of short stories.  Check out his Amazon page.  Ellis also writes a blog called Ellis Shuman Writes.  

He wrote a blog post called The Comfort of Jewish Mourning Customs which describes Marion's final days and the Jewish traditions her family fulfilled to mark her death and remember her life.  She would have been proud to know these traditions continued after her.  Of course she did a lot to make sure that happened.

Blog posts about the recently departed are not traditional Jewish customs.  However Mixed Meters has been around long enough to make a few of its own traditions.  You can read my 2007 post remembering Marion's husband of over 52 years, my Uncle Ben Shuman, here.  Plenty more pictures of the two of them together.

One more memory ...  in 1992 I married Leslie Harris.  Since both of my parents had already passed away, Ben and Marion graciously traveled from Israel to California to serve as my honorary parents.  Here's a picture of the three of us, taken 37 years after the snap above (the one which shows the three of us slouching on a couch, just about the time of their first wedding anniversary.)

Monday, January 27, 2014

Adult Party Games and Bad Poetry

After Arthur Jarvinen's death in 2010 I decided that I needed to commemorate his life and work here on Mixed Meters. Today would have been Art's 58th birthday. Mentioning him like this isn't much. It is something.

Last summer an adventurous group of composer performers called Varispeed played selections from Art's piece Adult Party Games from the Leisure Planet. They did this somewhere in New York State at a place called Mount Tremper Arts.  Here's a picture (which I found on Facebook, there are more):

Each of the suspended cards you see is one of the 'games'.   These are short text pieces which Art described as:
a growing collection of works which don't fit conveniently into any particular category.
I don't know exactly which games Varispeed chose to perform but it looks as though they found a beautiful place to play them.  Here's the list of some Adult Party Games:
Eskimo piece --
Illegal music --
White painting for Robert Rauschenberg --
The valedictorian squats and scurries --
First principles of aerodynamics --
Haed --
Schematic --
For Bill Mullane --
For Giovanna Caicco --
For Mark Cunningham --
Zone --
No --
For myself --
For Linda Tadic.
Of course  Varispeed blogged about their performance.   They included one game called Advice for Young Composers:

Click on any picture for an enlargement.  The text to "Advice for Young Composers"
Tonight, astrally-project to Aaron Kernis's work place and plagiarize the last three measures he wrote.  Repeat as often as necessary.
The first game on the list, Eskimo piece, is available for you to watch online.  It is performed by another of these endlessly mysterious New York composer/performer ensembles, this one called thingNY.  thingNY is probably from Brooklyn.  (I'm told that anybody who's anybody in the new music world these days comes from Brooklyn.)

An excerpt from a performance art piece from a 1970s collection called "Adult Party Games from the Leisure Planet". This work was part of a string of fluxus-like sound and performance works composed by the late CalArts composer Art Jarvinen.
Eskimo Piece calls for loads of "Eskimos" to run around on stage while floor mics pick up their footsteps, creating feedback. Art originally thought of this work as absurd and chaotic, but we decided to "premiere" it in a pulse-driven style, letting the feedback ring out a bit after each clash.
It remains absurd though. There are no real Eskimos in this piece. There are no Inuits. There are a few Canadians

Closer to home and less musically, I discovered a small cache of "memorabilia" from the mid-nineties.  This was about the time Leslie and I moved into our current home. The cache, actually a basket, included a stack of old mail - things like birthday cards and invitations.

One invitation was to a party on January 27, 1996, at the home of Lynn Angebranndt and Arthur Jarvinen.  The occasion, although it doesn't say so on the card, was their shared birthday. Yes, Art and Lynn were a married couple both born on the same date.

First, here are quotes from the card:
O openers of the way, openers of the roads to bad poetry,
perfected in the house of Art and Lynn.
It's time once again
The event of the season:
May the divine beings, who make men to stand fast, cause my poetry to stink.
May my mouth be opened and pour out really bad poetry.
But the best part of the card was that it was a pop-up.  I remember Art once telling me that he had gotten into pop-ups, so I assumed this card was his work.  Recently, however, Lynn told me that the pop-ups were actually her idea and her work.  A lot of work.  And very cool work, to be sure.  Of course the two faces on the card are those of Art and Lynn:

I don't remember whether I was able to attend this particular Bad Poetry Soiree.  I did attend some of them.  At one of them I read from the works of William McGonagall.  Here, in honor of the Bad Poetry Soirees, is some bad poetry by that poet.  This one is about the eternal war between rich and poor:


Mr. SMIGGS was a gentleman,
And he lived in London town;
His wife she was a good kind soul,
And seldom known to frown.

’Twas on Christmas eve,
And Smiggs and his wife lay cosy in bed,
When the thought of buying a goose
Came into his head.

So the next morning,
Just as the sun rose,
He jump’d out of bed,
And he donn’d his clothes,

Saying, “Peggy, my dear.
You need not frown,
For I’ll buy you the best goose
In all London town.”

So away to the poultry shop he goes,
And bought the goose, as he did propose,
And for it he paid one crown,
The finest, he thought, in London town.

When Smiggs bought the goose
He suspected no harm,
But a naughty boy stole it
From under his arm.

Then Smiggs he cried, “Stop, thief!
Come back with my goose!”
But the naughty boy laugh’d at him,
And gave him much abuse.

But a policeman captur’d the naughty boy,
And gave the goose to Smiggs,
And said he was greatly bother’d
By a set of juvenile prigs.

So the naughty boy was put in prison
For stealing the goose.,
And got ten days’ confinement
Before he got loose.

So Smiggs ran home to his dear Peggy,
Saying, “Hurry, and get this fat goose ready,
That I have bought for one crown;
So, my darling, you need not frown.”

“Dear Mr Smiggs, I will not frown:
I’m sure ’tis cheap for one crown,
Especially at Christmas time –
Oh! Mr Smiggs, it’s really fine.”

“Peggy. it is Christmas time,
So let us drive dull care away,
For we have got a Christmas goose,
So cook it well, I pray.

“No matter how the poor are clothed,
Or if they starve at home,
We’ll drink our wine, and eat our goose,
Aye, and pick it to the bone.”

Mixed Meters has many posts about the life and music of Arthur Jarvinen. All of them can be found by clicking this link.

Last year I wrote at length about Art's massive solo piano piece Serious Immobilities.  This has become one of Mixed Meters' most popular posts.

Art's anonymous blog Mister Composerhead is still online.  (Art told me that Aaron Kernis, referenced above in Advice for Young Composers, was the original model for "Mister Composerhead")

Art's lavishly annotated surf-music opera was called The Invisible Guy.   Listen.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Bald Soprano

I was a junior in high school when I discovered absurdity. I understood absurdity immediately because it reflected my life so perfectly.  Absurdity kicked me down the road of being a creative artsy type and it continues to have a strong pull on me to this day.  Thanks, absurdity, old buddy.

My first encounter with absurdity took the form of The Bald Soprano, the play by Eugene Ionesco, presented as a particularly arresting picture book.  Today, I guess we'd call it a graphic novel.  Here's the cover:

That's Ionesco himself substituting both tragically and comically for the O's in his name.  The full cast can be seen as well, left to right: Mrs. Martin, Mr. Smith, Mary the maid, the Fire Chief, Mrs. Smith and Mr. Martin.  The whole book is rendered in black and white.  Each couple's lines are rendered in a different type face, the women in italic.  Pictures, stark high contrast black and white, show who is speaking and give a sense of the action.  Here's the back cover:

I'm pretty sure I liked this play before I even opened the book the first time.  Here's the text of the cover:
ionesco THE BALD SOPRANO followed by an unpublished scene.  Translated by Donald M. Allen.  Typographical interpretations by Massin and photographic interpretations by Henry Cohen.  Based on the Niccolas Bataille Paris production. Grove Press, Inc.  New York
I found The Bald Soprano in the library - I don't remember now whether that would have been my high school library or the public library.  A couple of years later, in college, when I had an extra ten bucks, I ordered my own copy which I still have today.  When it arrived I signed and dated it: October 3, 1970.  This play, in this particular format, became one of my artistic touchstones.  Eventually I saw a live performance - which disappointed me greatly.

The scene is a middle-class English interior.  The plot is pretty simple, I guess.  Mr. and Mrs. Smith tell some stories.  Mr. and Mrs. Martin arrive and reintroduce themselves to each other.  The Smiths and Martins tell more stories, occasionally interrupted by the Maid and the Fireman who, unsurprisingly, tell stories.  Everything devolves into a screaming frenzy.  And then it ends by beginning again at the beginning - except that the Martins and Smiths have switched places.

Nothing makes any real sense, of course.  The lines make sense in only the smallest bits.  Responses have tenuous relationship to what has preceded.  I guess that's what makes it Theater of the Absurd.  It's definitely that aspect which seemed to me to correspond exactly with what passed for conversation in my family - although for completely different reasons.  My family came to its absurd interactions through a combo of age disparity, English as second language and hardness of hearing.  None of that has anything to do with Ionesco.  The resulting effects, however, were strikingly similar in my mind.

Here's a sample from the awkward conversation as the two couples are settling down for their social evening together:
Mr. Smith: Hm. [Silence]
Mrs. Smith: Hm, hm. [Silence]
Mrs. Martin: Hm, hm, hm. [Silence]
Mr. Martin: Hm, hm, hm, hm. [Silence]
Mrs. Martin: Oh, but definitely. [Silence]
Mr. Martin: We all have colds. [Silence]
Mr. Smith: Nevertheless, it's not chilly. [Silence]
Mrs. Smith: There's no draft. [Silence]
Mr. Martin: Oh no, fortunately. [Silence]
Mr. Smith: Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.  [Silence]
Mr. Martin: Don't you feel well? [Silence]
Mrs. Smith: No, he's wet his pants [Silence]
Mrs. Martin: Oh, sir, at your age, you shouldn't. [Silence]
Mr. Smith: The heart is ageless [Silence]
Mr. Martin: That's true. [Silence]
Mrs. Smith: So they say. [Silence]
Mrs. Martin: They also say the opposite. [Silence]
Mr. Smith: The truth lies somewhere between the two. [Silence]
Mr. Martin: That's true. [Silence]
In the book each of those lines gets two facing pages.  All the space represents the long silences.  The particular line "The truth lies somewhere between the two." has given me comfort many times in many different situations over the 45 years since I first read it.

Here's a pair of pages showing the (much more lively) responses to Mrs. Martin's story about seeing a man on the street who had bent over to tie his shoe:

Notice that "fantastic" is divided up among three actors.  (Click on any picture for enlargements.)   Later in the play:
Mrs. Martin: Thanks to you, we have passed a truly Cartesian quarter of an hour.
Fire Chief: [moving towards the door, then stopping]: Speaking of that - the bald soprano? [General silence, embarrassment]
Mrs. Smith: She always wears her hair in the same style.
One more page for good measure.  Here the Fire Chief is encouraged to tell a story The Dog and the Cow - which I actually set to music sometime during my college years.  (That, along with the only other song I ever wrote, has since been lost.)

So why am I dragging this subject up now - beyond the need for basic blog padding, of course.  There's a story about that:
Leslie and I were having dinner in a local restaurant last month, one of those new-style buffets with the old-style trick of showing you the desserts while you're standing in line still hungry.  We didn't have much to talk about.  At the next table was a family - mother, father, grandmother and three tweens, two with smart phones.  They had a lot to talk about, most of which didn't seem too important.  There was an amusing lack of communication and several crises concerning the food.  Leslie and I found ourselves watching them as carefully as we could without being obvious.  They might have been somewhat embarrassed had they been able to watch themselves.  Maybe not.  On our way home, Leslie and I discussed various unresolved questions (like which parent was the child of the grandmother and the color of the mother's panties).  I was reminded of my encounter with The Bald Soprano and I explained to Leslie why this literature was important to me.  When I got home I re-read it for the first time in a very long time.  It felt good to experience The Bald Soprano again.  It brought back a lot of memories, although you can be very certain that none of them involved my mother letting anyone in a restaurant see the color of her panties.

Used copies of The Bald Soprano are available on Amazon.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Images Without Meaning

I'm sure that you know what karaoke is ... pre-recorded music for which some talented or courageous or drunken person supplies the missing vocals.  Not being either courageous or talented, I would never try karaoke.

You might also know what Music Minus One is.  It's a company which provides "participatory" recordings.  Those have recorded with some important element omitted, like a solo part, so that a student or other instrumentalist who can't yet afford to hire her own orchestra can play along with the real thing.  When I was in college I had a MMO recording of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto.

I created a music video over the weekend.  Like karaoke and MMO, this piece lacks one important element which it needs to be a complete experience.  I'm leaving it up to the listener to provide that one element: the meaning.

Okay - music is by nature abstract and doesn't need meaning.  I've done my best not to give any external clues - like lyrics or program notes or a descriptive title.

I have provided, via video, some images to watch as the music plays.  Alas, these images were selected without regard for their meaning.  They also have nothing to do with one another.

The images are:

  • four slightly swaying roses against a blue sky somewhere in Pasadena
  • part of a fiber optic art work at the Huntington Library
  • steps of a moving escalator reflected in its shiny metal side panel 
  • the shadow of a tree on the USC campus as it blows in the wind as seen through a venetian blind
  • water droplets landing in a Monterey Park fountain to which someone had thoughtfully added soap 
  • a tree reflected in the lake at the Chinese Garden, also at the Huntington.

My up-tempo music clearly has nothing to do with these images.  The music does manage to make transitions somewhat in sync with the changing images and it's as close to rock and roll as I'm likely to ever write.  Not very close.

Images Without Meaning  © 2014 by David Ocker 190 seconds

Let your imagination run wild.  If you're the sort of person who makes up stories to fit the music you hear, or if you create your own mental images of music, and if this piece produces such creativity in you, please feel free to share in the comments.  Leslie, who already heard the music, said that she was expecting MONSTERS.