Thursday, October 01, 2015

Two LA Philharmonic Festivals of California Music

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 25, 2015

Timeless Music

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

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

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

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

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


How long is "timeless"?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope for utopia.


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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 21, 2015

Finale - Summer 2014 (short version)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, it does that.

Yeah, there's more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 17, 2015

In which Mixed Meters Turns Ten

September 16, 2005, was the day I started Mixed Meters.   Ten years have gone by and I'm still writing this blog.  No, this will not be a navel-gazing, soul-searching post in which I ask myself 'Why the hell am I still doing it?'.  Suffice it to say I the hell am still doing it and I doubt I'll stop soon.  Best not to wonder why and just go with the inertia.

Sixteenth of September, it turns out, is the name of a 1956 painting by René Magritte.  I'll let you figure out what the title means.  Here is the painting:

I did the first Mixed Meters' anniversary post at the five year mark.  Back then I added a picture of me on the my fifth birthday.  Here's a picture of 10-year-old me with my birthday cake.  I know it was my birthday cake because the cake says "Happy Birthday David".

These days I don't remember anything about the occasion.   There's no one around for me to ask.   I'm pretty sure this cake picture was not taken on my birthdate because I found another picture of a baseball game with the exact date of my birthday written on it.  It was my Mother's handwriting. 

I remember going to the game in Kansas City. The Internet tells me all the stats: the A's lost to the Boston Red Sox.  I remember the several hundred mile trip on the train.  The train ride has stayed in my memory for over 50 years.  I don't remember the game itself.  Not one bit of it.  Nor do I remember that this happened exactly on my tenth birthday.

Here's some trivia: I don't like baseball and I've always hated birthdays.

Anyway, ever since MM's Fifth Anniversary, I've posted something self-absorbed about Mixed Meters on or near September 16.  Here are the posts:

In which Mixed Meters Turns Five - besides seeing me at 5 years old, you can read the email I sent to my friends when Mixed Meters was a month old.  And there's an annotated graph showing the ups and downs of five years of hit counts.  Here's a quote:
Sometimes I claim that Mixed Meters has only three readers. That's supposed to be a small joke.
A Thousand and One Redheaders -  in honor of the sixth anniversary Redheaders, the random tag lines at the top of every MM page, are explained.  I add more every anniversary.  There are now almost 1400 of them.  Here's a quote:
TagLine[9] = "Mixed Meters - Similar to the intersection of two country roads."
In which Mixed Meters Survives Seven Years - a description of the silly categories I put my music into: 30 Second Spots, 10 Minute Breaks, etc.  And, in a chart, I reveal how many seconds of music I had uploaded for your listening pleasure until that point.  A lot.  Here's a quote:
Do you wonder how long 55,393 seconds is in hours and minutes? Well, go ahead, do the math.
Mixed Meters Is Eight Years Old - without a doubt, my most self-absorbed post ever.  This is where I wondered why I bother blogging.  I discuss expectations, free time, the Four Ws, Garbage Day Periodicity and bucket lists.  There's a whole slough of my pen and ink doodles for you to identify.  Here's a quote:
During my lifetime the U.S. has invented the Tea Party, fracking, Miley Cyrus, megachurches, Shock and Awe, Dick Cheney, Walmart, the NRA, the rapture, Real Housewives, Three Strikes laws, Grand Theft Auto and mass murder in schools - to name just a very few things I would gladly live without.
Nine Years of Blogging - this was MM's 700th post.  I talk about birds, particularly a hummingbird named Red Thor and a nameless crow.  There's a silly moral at the end, it's photography advice.  Here's a quote:
Leslie saw me working on this post and asked "How long have you been married to your blog?
Here's another picture - me again still age ten, about to blow out the candles.  On the left is my Aunt Kate and on the right my Uncle Ben.  We still own the coffee table on which the cake is sitting.

So, that's the past.  And I hear you ask "What about Mixed Meters' future?"  I've hatched a plan for the next four posts.

You see, I have a small backlog.  There are three long essays and one piece of music which I never finished to my own satisfaction.  I never posted them.  These have been languishing in the "I'll get to that someday" pile.  I've decided that it would be a suitable Mixed Meters Tenth Anniversary Celebration to just post them as they are.  This will get rid of them and allow me to stop beating myself up for not finishing them.  Life is too short to have a "I'll get to that someday" pile.

The upcoming posts are:

Timeless Music (written circa October 2009)- I explore the notion of calling music "timeless".  I suggest religions exist for that purpose.  I mention famous musicians like Richard Wagner and Michael Buble.  Here's a quote:
Anyone can claim that certain music is timeless because choosing which music is timeless is a personal decision. Timeless implies that anyone, in any decade, any century, any millennium, will find the music meaningful. A genuinely timeless work ought to remain so regardless of changes in culture, economics or politics. It's a tall order.
Two LA Philharmonic Festivals of California Music (written circa January 2010) -  in late 2009 the LA Phil did a festival featuring California composers.  In this post I compare that festival to their previous festival devoted to California composers, way back in 1981.  So this is like a review of concerts 28 years apart.   Here's a quote:
Serious music in California desperately needs some sense of place.  My problem with these two Philharmonic festivals has nothing to do with the content chosen for them.  The differences between them no doubt reflect the differences of the times.  The big issue, however, is the length of time separating the two.
The Ring of Klinghoffer (written circa September 2014) - last year the Metropolitan Opera performed John Adams' opera "The Death of Klinghoffer".  There was a public brouhaha about it.  I tried to write a think piece based on the facts behind the opera.  Did you realize there were actually two murders and two hijackings?  I realized that one opera was not nearly enough to cover the subject matter and I started to outline plots for four operas which I proposed calling "The Ring of Klinghoffer".  I completely floundered on this task.  This is the longest and least finished article in this series.  Here's a quote:
Whatever meaning the life and death of Leon Klinghoffer could have had (should have had) for us has been buried by a war, more terrorism, several more wars and endless political and prejudicial propaganda.  Those things are all too real and all too deplorable and all too inevitable.  This can be an awful world.  No part of this story makes anything better.  Only worse.
Finale - Summer 2014 (short version) (composed in Summer of 2014) - this is not unfinished writing.  Instead it is unfinished music.  My series The Seasons in supposed to have one piece for each season on the calendar as the years pass inexorably.  I was never happy with how the music I composed in the Summer of 2014 turned out.  Time heals all ills, right?  Or some of them.  Here's a quote:
It took me more than 40 years to get around to using these ideas.  I'm old now and I'm allowed to dig around in my past without good reason.  I must have had lots of other ideas back then as well.  These two, for some reason, were never forgotten.
It's funny what gets forgotten and what doesn't, isn't it?

Here's another picture of ten-year old me, possibly taken on another night in another place, although I'm wearing the same outfit.  I think the little girl is my cousin Judy; she would have been about two.  The television is a Motorola.  Made in America.

If you've read this far you can congratulate yourself.  You've survived another Mixed Meters Anniversary post.  Expect me to pull out all the stops for the next major MM celebration, the Mixed Meters Centenary on September 16, 2105.  See you then.

René Magritte figured in this Mixed Meters post about rocks.
Here's a post about Ronald Reagan and my Mother.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Garbage Days of Summer 2014

Summer 2014, the heretofore long-lost season in my series The Seasons, is slowly clawing its way into the light of day.

Each Season now has three versions:
  • the Long Version - mostly silence interrupted by short bits of music.  I posted Summer 2014 last month.  Read about it here.
  • the Short Version - same as the long version but without all the silence.  The short version of Summer 2014 is still to come.  It will be entitled Finale.
  • the Garbage Day version - just the music composed on Mondays.  Monday is the day I take out the trash.  You can listen to Garbage Days of Summer 2014 right now.
I'm safe in saying that most composers would not choose garbage as a metaphor for their music.  I however find it an exceptionally pointed image of passing time.  It's a comfort knowing I'm still able to dispose of stuff each week.  Trouble will ensue when I lose that ability.

And waste can be useful too.  Think about those coprolites that help paleontologists determine what dinosaurs ate.   No one picked up the dinosaur's droppings for them.  Here in Pasadena, however, three huge dino-sized mechanical monsters pick up our trash every Tuesday.  They whisk it away somewhere.  As an article of faith I believe they're using it for good.  Hard to know for sure.

click here to hear Garbage Days of Summer 2014 by David Ocker - © 2015 by David Ocker, 133 seconds.

Previous Garbage Days of . .
Garbage Days of Spring 2015
Garbage Days of Winter 2014

A Mixed Meters posts from 2008:
You Can Pet Dinosaurs

Monday, August 31, 2015

Tenuous Connections - Richard Wagner and Bill Cosby

Ring Festival LA is gone and forgotten, pretty much.  Has it really been five whole years since the Los Angeles Opera tried to market their production of Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle to ten million people by holding a county-wide arts festival?

Only a few really cared much about the underfunded festival one way or the other.  Opposition centered around the fact that Wagner himself was an antisemitic jerk and also that his music was favored by Adolf Hitler.  Absolutely no one in recent history is considered worse than Adolf Hitler. Although Hitler still serves a useful purpose: eventually almost everyone compares almost anyone they don't like to him.  Adolf is our go-to guy when we need to call something the most evil thing ever.

Supporters of the festival used the arguments that Wagner's music was supremely beautiful and his opera plots were about the power of love.  Neither of these points is even slightly true in my opinion.  I wrote a lot about Wagner and Ring Festival LA back in those days.  It doesn't hurt to mention it once in a while.

The notion that people who create successful, respected, well-loved art and entertainment can be totally awful people in real life is pretty widely accepted.  There are a lot of examples.  And irrespective of the personal qualities or intentions of the creator, works of art can be misinterpreted for evil purposes.  Wagner and his operas, used by the Nazis to promote Aryan superiority, are just one excellent example.

But Bill Cosby?  How does he fit into this discussion?

Cosby's fatherly personal image has abruptly crumbled under the weight of evidence that he has been a serial sex offender.  This has led some people to reassess the real meaning and effects of his iconic eponymous television show.  I came across one interesting article which made this point:  "How 'The Cosby Show' Duped America: The Sitcom That Enabled Our Ugliest Reagan-Era Fantasies” written by Chauncey DeVega.  Go read that now.

Here's a quote:
... the politics and values of “The Cosby Show,” which were so attractive to so many and for such a long time, are based on a distorted and inaccurate presentation of the black community, one that has enabled a pernicious type of right-wing “colorblind” racism to flourish.
Here's another:
... the Cosby family was an African-American version of the model-minority myth, one of the favorite deflections and rejoinders of white racists in the post-civil rights era, where there are “exceptional” minorities and the rest are failures because they do not work hard, are lazy, and complain too much about white racism. While unintentional, “The Cosby Show” enabled some of the ugliest Reagan-era fantasies. 
The idea, more or less, is that The Cosby Show presented America with a very upscale black family dealing with problems any white family might have.  The show avoided specific issues of race that would be unique to black Americans.  As a result those whites who were so inclined could reinforce their racist attitudes against less affluent black families.  (Really, go read the article for yourself.)

I claim even less interest and expertise with Bill Cosby than with Richard Wagner.  The Cosby Show show aired in the midst of a 16-year period when (by choice) I had no access to television.

I do remember seeing one episode.  Dr. Huxtable helps a young boy score points with a young girl by suggesting that he cook her a romantic dinner, cleverly substituting tangy BBQ sauce for the spaghetti sauce.  The flavors, he promised, would really impress her.  In the end Claire Huxtable sees through the plot because Cliff had pulled the same stunt on her years before.  Or something like that.  In light of recent revelations you'd have to wonder what other ingredients, ones unmentionable on television, the real-life Cosby might have considered adding to the sauce.

No matter how little familiarity I claim with that show or with television of the era, I certainly have far far less personal experience with the issues of being black in America.  Like many, in 2008 I expected that having a black U.S. president would inaugurate some sort of post-racial era.  Instead, by his very skin color, Obama seems to have heightened our long-term racial tension.  Somewhere I read a trenchant comment that while the U.S. might be "post-racial" it certain isn't "post-racist".

Being a rapist, however, doesn't make Bill Cosby or his television show or his comedy racist.  The argument here is that he presented himself and his fictional black family in such a way that certain white people could use it to convince themselves, as they looked in the mirror each morning, that they weren't really racists.  Liking the Cosby Show was tremendously reassuring to them as they went about their daily lives actually discriminating against the real, less affluent black people they encountered (and probably others as well.)  Sort of absolution by television.

So, what's the point here?  Is there really a comparison to be made between The Ring Cycle and the Cosby Show?  How can an endlessly turgid grand opera about gods whose petty squabbles result in the destruction of civilization and a situation comedy about the petty daily issues of wealthy New York family who just happen to be black people have anything in common?

The answer is not in the creative works themselves nor is it in the personal failings of their creators.  The answer is in the eyes of the beholders.  And in our ears.  And in our hearts and minds.  And if darkness lives in our hearts and our minds already - be it jack-booted Nazi antisemitism or good old fashioned American-as-apple-pie racism - then an otherwise simple entertainment becomes fertilizer for evil.

And when you mix shit into the earth it helps grow both flowers and weeds.   Sometimes you must wait a while to figure out which are the weeds.  Culture and civilization ought to demand that we do our best to pull the weeds.

Hey, I said it was a tenuous connection.

Here's another ending I wrote for this post:

Whether watching grand opera or television sitcoms, whether listening to singers or stand-up comedians, it is a dangerous thing to completely suspend your disbelief.  Enjoying a performance comes with a small bit of responsibility.  It's a really small bit, but it is a real bit.

Sure, it's super easy to give oneself up mindlessly to the massive numbers of seductive entertainments our culture offers us so casually.  There needs to be just a little bit of situational awareness somewhere way back in everyone's mind as they watch and listen.  This would help keep art and reality separated.

So, the next time you enjoy made-up stories about marauding zombies or conspiratorial politicians or young people on their own for the first time seeking love in the big city or black people or mythical gods or just about anything, remind yourself to take a quick step back and reflect on how you're reacting.  Consider whether this entertainment is reinforcing your better qualities - or your worse ones.  Remember that in reality, reality is a lot more complicated than you'll ever see on a stage or television.

Good luck sorting that out.

Read Mixed Meters' post Mommy, who is Michael Jackson?
Here are all the MM posts labeled "television"
Here are all the MM posts labeled "Wagner"

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Summer 2014 from the Seasons

Mixed Meters Three Readers - if they've been alert - will have noticed that there has been a missing season in my day-by-day, season-by-season, year-by-year composition project called The Seasons.

If you're not one of the Three Readers (or if you're not particularly alert, or both), I'll tell you that Summer 2014 simply never appeared on Mixed Meters.  After I posted Spring 2014 there was a six month wait until Autumn 2014 was posted.  I have a lot of reasons for this.  Or maybe they're excuses.

I resolved to finish Summer 2014 and get it online before I finished composing Summer 2015 which should happen in a few weeks.  Leaving major projects unfinished is a really good way of making yourself feel bad.  I hate when that happens.

I'll explain the reasons (i.e. my excuses) at length when I post the short version.  Real soon now.  Although the Garbage Day version will probably see the light of day first.

I will also explain more about the music.  Much of it is based on a short excerpt of a famous, beloved composer.  Identify that composer for extra points.

click here to hear Summer 2014 from The Seasons - by David Ocker © 2015 by David Ocker 4106 seconds

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Pets For Leslie

Leslie spent much of July in Mexico dealing with things wormy. Before she left, she asked me to post one picture of our pets to Facebook every day. When I suggested this might be a form of homesickness she disagreed, suggesting she was merely 'pet-sick'.

After a while, instead of still shots, I created short videos of the pets accompanied by bits of music from my pieces.  There were 18 posts in all.  I called the entire series "Pets For Leslie".

Since most Facebook postings disappear without a trace after about 8 hours I've decided to post everything here.  It's a kind of Pets For Leslie Archive.   After all, Mixed Meters is for ever, sort of.

Dramatis Personae:
Chowderhead as the Big Red Dog
Doctor Pyewacket as the Little Black Kitty
Spackle Puss as The Big Gray and White Cat
Crackle Pop (seen only in video) as her brother The Even Bigger Gray and White Cat

Click any of the stills for enlargements.

I've combined nine of the short videos into this one YouTube post.  I called it Pets For Leslie.  I think the random bits of my music form an interesting pastiche.

This music of Dr. Pyewacket in a Pot is Garbage Days of Winter 2014

Leslie found Doctor Pyewacket in the bushes near our home back in May.  You can see pictures and video of him when he was just a few weeks old in the eponymous post Doctor Pyewacket.

Not enough pet pictures for you yet?  You can still see the many previous Mixed Meters posts about cats and dogs and other animals.   Remember Mixed Meters is (seemingly) for ever.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Space Time - Spring 2015 (short version)

Space Time, the short version of Spring 2015 from The Seasons, is now online for your listening pleasure.  Some explanation will probably be helpful.

Last month the Peter Schmid Quartet had a chance to record some of my music with a guest vocalist. This young man is named Elgnis Gnivres Tekcap.  Everyone called him Elgin.  He hails from the country of Abstemia which he said was somewhere in the Middle East.  Or maybe he said it was in the Caucasus.  Far away from California.

Gediz Çoroğlu singer
Elgnis Gnivres Tekcap

Elgin studied music in his home country.   He was eager to show us the unique Abstemian vocal styles. Despite the vast cultural differences, I think the Quartet did an excellent job of blending with his singing.

We asked him what he was singing about.  He told us he was riffing on one of the ancient legends of the native nomadic Abstemious peoples. This particular legend is called Tixe and the Elevator, which apparently runs to great length.  Modern Abstemian scholars have divided the epic into short segments, called books.  Here's as much as I can remember:


Tixe Retne lived in the small impoverished country of Teertsllaw, in the basement of the broken down shack belonging to his parents Pu and Nwod Retne.

Poor but honest, Nwod Retne plied the distinctive Teertsllawian trade of goatheading. You see, the local goats in those days grew small extra heads with the unique ability to breathe fire. A goatheaders job was to remove the dangerous second head before the obstreperous little bovid could burn down everything in sight.

Though Nwod found this work somewhat rewarding, the number of biheaded goats in Teertsllaw had dwindled ominously over the years and Nwod was no longer able to support his wife and son by beheading the biheaded.

"Tixe," Nwod said one morning, "you know that you are my favorite son."

"Yes Father. That's because I am your only son."

"Tixe, you must leave Teertsllaw and seek some small fortune with which to support your parents."

"I will do that Father because you are my favorite parents. But where shall I go?"

"Go to visit The Three Diabetes in the country of Gnosnaws. It is said that The Three can see the future. They are magical and will give you good counsel. And take this Goat Head with you."

Tixe look at the shriveled head with alarm. "Whatever for, Father?"

"Few people know this, but Goat's little heads still can breathe fire after they have been removed. But only once. Use it when things look darkest for you."

Tixe took the head from his father with a shiver.

"And here are five drachma - our family'e entire life savings. You may need to buy yourself a drink."

"FIVE drachma?" Tixe objected "That's not even one Euro."


Tixe set off immediately, trudging along the road to Gnosnaws, seeking The Three Diabetes, carrying a dead second goat head in a small sack. The five drachma jangled in his pocket. He had never left his home before and was definitely not looking forward to this obviously doomed journey.

As it turned out, Gnosnaws was extremely close to Teertsllaw and Tixe arrived that same day even before the sun had set. He had expected to have difficulty finding The Three Diabetes. Instead he noticed many billboards along the road advertising their magical fortune-telling services.

The first read: "The Three Diabetes - 5 Miles. Learn the future. Guaranteed".

Later: "Don't wonder what will happen next. Visit The Three Diabetes - 2 miles."

Each sign was more elaborate and brighter than the last. Finally Tixe came upon a massive billboard with an animated cat repeatedly pointing to a small run down shack. A mouse could be seen running into the shack. Periodically the cat would try to smack the mouse with a huge hammer.

The sign read "The Three Diabetes!!! 50 feet. Please have your question ready. Price: 2 drachma."

"This can't be right," Tixe thought as he looked at the building, "This looks just like my parent's shack."

Tixe paid his admission fee to a bored blonde Gnosnawsian girl wearing earbuds and was ushered into a small dark room. She handed him a brochure and motioned him to a chair. He sat there alone for a long time. There was no sound.

According to the xeroxed handout, The Three Diabetes are named Glipizide, Glimepiride and Glyburide. For some reason they appear to humans in the form of cats.


Tixe waited for The Three Diabetes. He heard what might have been a cat's meow in the distance. Startled, he looked up.

Tixe watched in amazement as two large gray and white cats and one small black one, the last barely more than a kitten, marched through a small cat door in exact formation, every movement identical, each pushing a small cat toy with their paws, their tails straight as arrows held exactly parallel to the floor. They marched in a circle for a long time and suddenly, all at the exact same moment, sat facing Tixe.

Still in perfect unison the cats moved their mouths. Tixe heard no sound. Instead there were three voices in his head. They spoke exactly together in a strange Gnosnawsian accent.

"What do you wish to know, Tixe?"

What Tixe really wished to know was how they knew his name but he had been alerted by the brochure to the fact that he was only allowed one question without paying additional drachmas.

"I am seeking a small fortune to support my impoverished parents." Tixe paused.

"Please state your question in the form of a question." said the three voices in his head, clearly irritated.  Still in perfect unison.

"How can I earn a small fortune to support my impoverished parents?"

"You must travel to the city of Ringburg in the country of Abstemia. There you must ascend the unclimbable mountain called Mount Foomboom seeking the mythical fire-breathing wooden bird Pegaleg.  Ride on Pegaleg's back and your fortune will be assured."

The Three Diabetes suddenly broke formation and began to scamper about just like cats are supposed to, stopping to lick their paws or swat at one another, completely ignoring Tixe. Even more suddenly, all at once, they ran off through the cat door. Tixe found himself alone again. He heard only the flapping of the small door.

Tixe pondered the information which had cost him 2 precious drachma. When he looked up he saw that the little black cat, the one called Glyburide, or was it Glipizide, had silently returned. It spoke to Tixe in perfect Teertsllawian:

“Should you ever return to ask us how we knew your name," Glimepiride (or maybe Glyburide) said, "Please bring us some decent food. The canned stuff they feed us here is absolutely for shit."

The story I heard never had anything about an elevator.

Click here to hear Space Time (Spring 2015 short version) by David Ocker - © 2015 David Ocker - 1174 seconds

The Peter Schmid Quartet is:
Peter Schmid, pianos
Lori Terhune, guitars
Cornel Reasoner, basses
Luis 'Pulpo' Jolla, drums and percussion
with special guest: Elgnis Gnivres Tekcap, vocals

Curious about how the vocals were done? click here.  
Want to hear some real singing? try this.

Music of Space Time reformatted:

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Garbage Days of Spring 2015

In my previous post Garbage Days of Winter 2014 I unveiled a new way I figured out for recombining the daily fragments of music I write for my ongoing project The Seasons.  This is the fourth year now and I'm producing music that I find surprisingly enjoyable.  Or maybe it's enjoyably surprising.

The most recently completed season was Spring 2015, written between March 20 and June 20, 2015.  I've already posted the long version.  The short version, entitled Space Time, is nearly ready.  I've been trying to mix the sound so it isn't too embarrassing.  I'm nearly finished with that task.  Space Time should be the next post here on Mixed Meters.  Real soon now.

Do you want an idea of what Space Time will be like?  I've created a sampler.  Or a trailer.  That's 'trailer' like a movie trailer.  It's a two and a half minute piece which might entice you into investing 19 minutes in the full version.   What I did was excerpt one segment from each week.   I used every seventh segment, every Monday, into a shorter piece.  It works as well as any of my music works.  Why?  I haven't a clue.

I called this short teaser Garbage Days of Spring 2015 because around here, Monday is garbage day.  That's the day people in my part of Pasadena take their dumpsters out to the curb for pickup on Tuesday.  On Monday I must remember to clean the cat boxes, take out the recycling, empty the garbage cans: send a week's worth of our suburban waste off to whatever magical land the municipality of Pasadena has decided can make the most productive use of it.

What a privilege it is to live in an era when the disposing our old newspapers, yard waste and pet feces becomes a religious ritual - a weekly veneration honoring the cycle of life.  No, the recycle of life.  No, not life: the recycle of stuff.   If you think about it for a while, you'll realize that taking out the trash is cosmic. 

So either this music is cosmic or it's a shameless exploitation trick to entice you into listening to the full 19-minute Space Time which is coming soon.  Real soon now.

Click here to hear Garbage Days of Spring 2015 by David Ocker - © 2015 David Ocker - 155 seconds

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Garbage Days of Winter 2014

I'm always on the lookout for easy ways to reuse and recycle musical material.  And recycling is something you do on garbage day, right?

It occurred to me that I could excerpt segments from my ongoing daily composition series called The Seasons.  I would assemble these into a shorter piece.  If I selected one segment per week the length would be reduced by about one seventh.

Mixed Meters' Three Regular Readers probably understand the previous paragraph.  If you don't, try getting up to speed by going to The Seasons page and reading and listening and reading and listening.   Good luck.  This project is now in its fourth year and I'm still finding it difficult to explain.

It was easy to decide which day of the week to use.  I've imbued many of The Seasons with a musical quality I call Garbage Day Periodicity.  GDP just means that I try to add some sort of (more or less) noticeable musical change on Mondays, the day I have to remember to take out the garbage.

I picked the season called Winter 2014.  It is based on an extremely early piano sonata of mine.  I deleted everything but the Monday segments.  There was a little work pacing these properly (by adjusting the time between them) and a lot of work mixing the musical elements so everything balanced nicely.  The actual music is completely unchanged.  Just remember that the 13 segments of this piece were never intended to be combined this way.

The result worked out pretty well, in my opinion.  There are lots of little surprises.  It is sort of a time-lapse version.  Maybe movie trailer is a better simile.  I think this gives an excellent idea of the content of the longer versions but still reserving plenty of surprises for the full experience.

Click here to hear Garbage Days of Winter 2014 by David Ocker - © 2015 by David Ocker, 120 seconds

If you're curious about the other versions, here are the links:

Winter 2014   (4232 sec.)   [listen]    [read]

Life Time (Winter 2014, short version)   (814 sec.)   [listen]    [read]