Sunday, May 24, 2015

Gerry Fialka Interviews David Ocker

Last November I was asked by Gerry Fialka if I would consent to be interviewed on his series called MESS.  He set a date nearly 6 months in the future.   I announced the interview here on Mixed Meters and then promptly forgot about it except when I tried to imagine what it would be like, what he would ask me or how I would respond.  That happened only almost every day.  I had no answers for the first two questions so answering the third question with any accuracy became quite difficult.

Gerry Fialka interviewer at the UnUrban May 9 2015

As the date slowly loomed closer and closer I did some research by looking up Gerry's interviews on YouTube.  For example this one.  And this one.  Or this one.  While I didn't necessarily know who the interviewees were, I did get a sense of what Gerry wanted to know.

His questions definitely don't cover the who, what, where, when and why stuff.  You might call it more of a meta-interview.  Apparently he's been asking questions like this of all sorts of people for decades.  At one point Gerry says
"We try to talk with artists or musicians or filmmakers and not so much ask them to tell us what their art is about, because as I. A. Richards taught us, the artist is the last person you want to ask what their art is about.  But we talk about the philosophies of life."
The questions ran a gamut from what I thought was the best thing for a human being to what I would do if someone threw a bag a shit at me while I was in a vat of vomit.   My research into Gerry's previous interviews helped only a little.  I had a few prepared answers but was surprised to find that some of my spontaneous responses were much better.

Gerry Fialka and David Ocker at the UnUrban May 9 2015

Gerry suggested that I should take the task of recording the interview into my own hands.  I used the point 'n shoot in my pocket to record video of most of it and also made a backup audio recording.

As I've reviewed my performance, I am relieved not to be cringing too much at what I said.  There are a few places where I didn't express myself as well as I might have and other places where I wish I had expounded more.  I still pretty much remember what I meant to say so feel free to ask about the incomprehensible bits.

I decided to share the interview here.  I knew I would.  After all, this blog is specifically about things I have to say so what could be more perfect than two hours of me saying things.

Gerry Fialka and David Ocker at the UnUrban May 9 2015

Here are some points you should probably read before watching:
  • This video is as a massive selfie.  At Gerry's suggestion the camera shot was framed to show only me.  The room was not well lit, so the video also qualifies as film noir.  
  • I was distressed to learn at the last moment that my point'n'shoot would take no more than 30 minutes of video at one go.  I managed to stop and restart it twice.  If you're quick you can see my arm reach out to the camera just as a few words are dropped from the conversation.  Alas, I didn't restart he third time, so at about 90 minutes the recording switches over to audio only.  I added some fifty of my photographs to satisfy the visual nature of the medium.
  • In spite of all my facial and hand gestures and all my photographs, this is essentially an audio document.  If you listen without watching you won't miss much of anything.  In a hurry? YouTube gives the option of faster playback: 1.25 and 1.5 are still understandable.  Double time is not.
  • I am grateful to all the people who attended.  The room was small but well filled.  Some old friends showed up to mingle with Gerry's regular audience.  One questioner, who might well have been drinking, didn't belong to either group.  He's the one who asks me for a hug.
  • Gerry and I share the experience of having worked for Frank Zappa.  There are a lot of Zappa-related questions.  If you're interested primarily in my experience working for Frank, then you should check out this interview from the mid-90s.  Or this interview about Francesco and Frank.
Okay.  That's the end of my preamble.  Here's the main event . . . .

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Four Winters

The Seasons is not just some dead European's collection of four tired old warhorse violin concertos that everyone loves.  It's also my series of pieces that almost no one knows about.  You can find links to read about or listen to all my Seasons here.  Sometimes it seems that you can hear that other set of seasons just about anywhere.

One aspect of Vivaldi's Seasons that makes sense to most people is that there is one concerto for each season.  Old Antonio figured that's all he needed to do.  Once you hear his impressions of a particular season, say, Winter, you've heard as much Winter as you'll ever need.  The theory here, I guess, is that all winters are pretty much alike.

My Seasons are much more ambitious.  There will be a new piece called Winter every year, as long as I keep writing them.  So far I've completed four Winters.  To distinguish them from one another (and from Vivaldi) I add a year to the title.  My four completed winters are Winter 2011, Winter 2012, Winter 2013 and Winter 2014.

If you're one of Mixed Meters' three regular readers, you'll already know that these pieces contain huge amounts of pure silence - up to 80% has no sound whatsoever.   Listening to a piece like that would be madness, right?

Also, there's no intent on my part to portray Winter.  There's no tone painting here.  If you feel cold while listening to this music, I suggest it's because you forgot to turn up the heat.  My pieces are called "Winter" because they were written during the winter.  Simple, huh?

My intention, is that The Seasons are combinatorial - you play them with other music.  Yes, two or more pieces simultaneously.   Mostly I listen to my Seasons in combination with my other Seasons, although playing them with Vivaldi works pretty well too.

This process requires creativity on the part of the listener.  My sense is that listeners do not like exhibiting creativity when they listen.  Most listeners, whatever their favorite genre, don't like unexpected, unusual, abrupt cacophonous interruptions when multiple unrelated pieces of music are played at the same time.  Imagine that.

To make matters worse, most playback systems, analog or digital, do not facilitate multiple simultaneous streams of music.  To allow those few people who want to hear all four Winters simultaneously, I've mixed them together and uploaded a single easy-to-play file.  Just click and play.  No creativity is required.

Click here to hear Four Winters - by David Ocker
4384 seconds   - Copyright © 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 

If you are inspired to try combining some of my Seasons simultaneously on your own, there is a way to do that online.  First be certain you have a good Internet connection.  Then go here and in the first category, "The Seasons", click on "Listen" several times.  You can separate your clicks by a couple minutes for added variety.   Alas, these sound files won't repeat endlessly which would be a nice touch. (UPDATE: so I just tried this again and was surprised to discover that the sound files DO repeat endlessly. Oh joy. I have no idea what changed. Maybe it happened when I switched to the HTML5 player as default.)

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Repercussion Unit at Feed the Weed

We're having a serious drought in California, so when it rained here in Pasadena last Saturday most everyone was pleased.  The only possible exceptions were the members of Newtown, a local alternative arts organization, who had gone to a lot of work to plan an outdoor fundraiser for that day.

True Pasadenans will immediately associate the name Newtown with Oldtown, the local trendient shopping and eating district, more properly called "Old Pasadena".  Newtown's motto is a persistent weed in the garden of art.   The fundraiser was called Feed the Weed.

Since music was a large part of the offering of Feed the Weed and since I was likely to see a number of friends, the rain didn't stop me from attending.

Of course I took some pictures.  And if you hang on to the end of this post, there's even a video of the Repercussion Unit!

The setting was a large already-well-watered yard of a Newtown supporter's home.  Various  fruits were strewn on the grass for anyone who wanted to play melon soccer or possibly citrus lawn bowling.  Eventually the rain lessened.  The sun made a brief appearance - for like five minutes.  The show went on, more or less as planned.

Richard Amromin, whom I have known for nearly 40 years, is the out-going artistic director of Newtown.  Richard was involved with the Independent Composers Association back "in the day".  You can see several more pictures of him in the MM post Second Second Story Series - Portraits by Robert Jacobs, one of several articles about the ICA from 2008.

The musical events at Feed the Weed included the group Non Credo, fronted by Kira Vollman and Joe Berardi.  There was also a tribute to Arthur Jarvinen performed by Jack Vees, Miroslav Tadić, and M.B.Gordy.  Pianist Irene Gregorio-Stoup also performed some of Jarvinen's Serious Immobilities plus other works by Rima Snyder and Eric Satie.

The remaining musical ensemble of the afternoon was the Repercussion Unit.  I've written twice about the R-Unit: one was in my obituary for long-time CalArts percussion teacher and Unit founder John Bergamo and the other was about A Tribute to John Bergamo held last year at CalArts.

At Feed the Weed the Repercussion Unit consisted of three founding members Larry Stein, Gregg Johnson and James Hildebrandt plus newcomer Amy Knoles.  They dedicated their performance to Bergamo and to Lucky Mosko, another Unit original member who passed away in 2005.  The performance started with instrument building.  Each player constructed their own cajon.  (Cajons are wooden boxes that people who are impervious to pain sit on and slap with their hands.)

I happened to shoot some video clips of their carpentry work and also most of a performance of Wake for Charles Ives from Four Pieces for Drum Quartet by composer James Tenney.  Tenney was another respected CalArts composition faculty member who died in 2006.

I assembled the video clips into this:

At 2'03" of the video there's a short cut-away showing Robert Fernandez and Dee McMillan.  She's the one in the red hat.  At the very beginning of the video you can hear Bob's voice saying "At least my wallet stayed dry."   Bob and M.B. Gordy were featured in this recent post.

Another participant in Feed the Weed about whom I've written here at Mixed Meters is Susan Braig.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Life Time - Winter 2014 (short version)

Most music is written by just one person.  In this post you can hear a piece of music written by two people.  Here they are:

left: David Ocker in 1972, composer of Sonata; right: David Ocker in 2015, composer of Life Time

On the left is David Ocker in the year 1972, age twenty.  On the right is David Ocker in 2015, age you-figure-it-out.  David 1972 and David 2015 worked together to complete a new piece entitled Life Time.  It only took them 43 years to finish it.  Listen to it here.

For a while David 1972 kept a list of his "Completed Works".  David 2015 still has it.  The first piece on the list was "Dance Suite for Piano".  The second piece was a trio for piano, clarinet and tuba.  (No, really.  I had two roommates in my Junior year of college - one was a pianist, the other a tubist.  And I was a clarinetist.  There's a word for that sort of thing.)

Piece number three on the list was a piano sonata.  David 1972 called it Sonata.  There were three movements:
The first movement marked "very fast and loud" was dated May 1972.
The second movement, called "trivially (no so fast)*", was dated June 1972.  [The tempo marking continued in a footnote at the bottom of the page: "* Andante?"]
The final movement, Allegro Moderato, was finished in July 1972.

It is significant that it took three months to compose this piece.

I do remember that at one point my pianist roommate hesitantly read through the first movement for me.  Since then no one has ever performed Sonata because no one has ever known about it.  Also because it's not a very good piece.

At some point within a decade or two I completely forgot that Sonata even existed.  How do you pinpoint the exact moment when you forget something?

David Ocker in 1973 with his found-objects wall sculpture and his liquor collection

Flash Forward to December of last year.  The scene: David's office.  Begin David 2015's voiceover:

It was December 2014.  I was close to finishing my piece Autumn 2014, yet another installment in The Seasons.  I needed an idea for the upcoming season, Winter 2014.

Meanwhile, a large stack of plastic storage boxes cluttered my office.  One of these was filled with old manuscripts, composition notebooks and other vestiges of my early musical creativity.  I resolved to move them to a place where I wouldn't see them every day.

Jolted by a bolt of nostalgia, I peered inside of one.

There I found strange, oddly familiar papers.  They weren't particularly dusty or musty, just old.  Artifacts from my life.

One particular manuscript caught my attention.  At the top it said only "Sonata".  Did I write this music, I wondered.  It was in my handwriting.  I found my post-adolescent signature on the last page along with the date "7/72".  I wracked my brain to remember what this was.

As I listened to bits of the music in my head, familiarity slowly increased.  That's probably the moment when I hatched my plan: I would use this music, one of my first ever attempts at composition, as the basis for the upcoming Season.

The process began formally on December 21, 2014.  That was the Solstice, the beginning of winter.  I used the first measures of Sonata as source material for the first fragment of Winter 2014.  The next day I worked the next few bars into the second fragment.  The process continued more or less daily.

If you are one of the three regular Mixed Meters readers, someone already familiar with how The Seasons works, feel free to skip the rest of this paragraph.  I compose a little bit of music for every day in the calendar.  I try to compose it on the day itself, but it's no big deal to skip a day and write two fragments tomorrow.  I present these fragments in two formats: the Long Version (each fragment is separated by a silence, lots of silence; the ratio is about 4 to 1 silence to music) and the Short Version (the silences are removed to reveal an actual musical composition underneath.)  David Ocker 2011 was the guy who hatched this plan.  It's now in its fourth year.  Still going strong.

David Ocker in 2015 with his found-object-adorned plant but without his liquor collection

On March 19, 2015, I wrote the last fragment of Winter 2014.  I managed, through careful planning (and blind dumb luck) to divide Sonata into exactly the same number of sections as there are days in a season.  The fragment of the final day uses the last two measures of the earlier piece.

In fact the last fragment is identical to those last two bars.   It's the only fragment where I used earlier music without changing it.  All the rest of the piano music was re-scored for the Peter Schmid Quartet, guitar, piano, bass and drums.  Those guys are such talented musicians that they always know instinctively just exactly what I'm thinking.   Uncanny.

You're probably still wondering why I said it was significant that David 1972 took about three months to write Sonata.

It's significant because it took David 2015 the same amount of time to finish Winter 2014.

I named the short version Life Time.  That's Winter 2014 with the silences removed.  The title is supposed to reflect the nearly 43 years between the first three months in 1972 and the last three months, mostly in 2015.

Forty-three years is just about two thirds of my life so far.  When I'm 86 years old the fraction will have dropped to half.  I should be so lucky.

Click here to hear Life Time (Winter 2014 short version) by David Ocker - 814 seconds - Copyright © 2015 by David Ocker

Winter 2014, the long version of Life Time, lasts 4232 seconds.  You can listen to it  or read about it.  Or both.

Links to all The Seasons by David Ocker, both long and short versions, both audible and readable, are here.

The picture of David 1972 , the one with his liquor collection, first appeared in the Mixed Meters post Philip Glass Enjoys a Cutty Sark.

If you're curious how much of Life Time was written by David 1972 and how much by David 2015, I scanned the original piano manuscript for you to study.  Download the Sonata (1972) in pdf format here.

A tangentially relevant Mixed Meters post/rant from 2007: Sonata Heaven.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Che Guevara and Ted Cruz

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

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

Here's another combination of very divisive politicians.

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few more I want to share.

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

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

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

Clicking on a picture might make it bigger.

Read about Joseph McCarthy.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Winter 2014 from The Seasons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links to all The Seasons articles are here.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Ice Cream Trucks Play Schoenberg at USC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notice the added signage:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The twelve-tone sudoku puzzle apparently originated here.

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Talking With Bob and MB

Last month, on the birth date of Arthur Jarvinen, I posted an article called An Antenna Repairmen Performance.   The members of the Repairmen were Jarvinen, M.B. Gordy and Robert Fernandez.  The post included a video of their magnificent joint composition Ghatam in live performance.  (Go.  Listen.  Watch.)

Yes, M.B. goes by his initials.  Everyone calls him M.B..  Most people don't know what the letters stand for.  I'm not even sure if I'm supposed to use periods.  Robert usually gets called Bob.  Everyone knows what 'Bob' stands for.

That post prompted the three of us to get together to talk about the Repairmen's history.  We met last Wednesday.  I recorded everything for use in future Mixed Meters posts.  This post is a quickie to say thank you.  Thanks, guys.

Here's an early picture of the trio - scanned from a xerox of a photograph.  Bob said it was taken in 1978 or 79 at CalArts where the Repairmen, all students of John Bergamo, met.

L to R: M.B. with hair and mustache, Art with hair and sideburns and Bob with hair and beard.  (I love the video camera on the left and the shadow of same on the right.)

You may well wonder what these guys are doing.  Certainly not conventional percussion music.  The tall cylindrical object is a resonant metal artillery shell to which long strips of masking tape have been affixed.  The shell was amplified.  The trio slowly pulled the strips of tape away from the shell creating sounds.  Neither M.B. nor Bob could remember a title.  We'll also have to imagine what it sounded like.

I asked about how the group got started.  Bob answered:
We gravitated towards each other.  We were in the new music ensemble together.  We had a lot of likes, our personalities.  Art could see that we had chops, we could play already.  We were getting better.  And he said 'You know, this might be something.'  It was his idea.  He said 'Let's do a trio.  Let's start writing.'  It was wide open.
M.B. added:
And it was going to be not just a percussion trio because it was pretty much going to be whatever it was.  Sort of a Performance-Art-for-Percussion trio because we did plenty of pieces where there wasn't a whole lot of percussion going on.
Back to Bob:
We started kind of sifting what was out there for trios.  Art started writing text, you know, just to push the boundaries.  We knew that text could be involved, that non percussion activities could be involved.  There was theater, how hard could [that] be?
In our discussion we covered the piece Ghatam in detail.  They gave me a lot of information about the history and structure of Ghatam.   Watch for that in some future Mixed Meters post.

After 3 hours of talk and laughter hunger overtook us.  Here's a picture of M.B. and Bob taken later that evening, before the food came.


I'm not very good at telling jokes.  One joke I do tell, however, is about how dancers count to three or to seven.  Musicians often find this very amusing.

Unfortunately the joke cannot be conveyed through written language.  It must be told by someone out loud and in rhythm.  I've mentioned this before in the post Counting to Seven.  Back then I didn't try to tell the joke.

It turns out that this bit of humor is based on reality.  It actually happened to M.B.  Here's audio of the three of us discussing how it happened.  (Note: To protect the innocent I removed some personal details about the dancer from the clip.)

Listen right here:

(If that doesn't work try this page instead.)


Somewhere, back in history, I wrote a piece for the Antenna Repairmen.  It was called Bombed.  I've mentioned Bombed before here.  (That page has a story about how Frank Zappa reacted to Bombed.)

Bombed is in three movements.  Here are the program notes for each movement.

1. Into the Stone Age – Three young Americans, believing the sound-bites of their leaders, participate in the destruction of a less significant culture.
2. Pan Am 103 – Wrapped up in their own problems and fears, they have no conception of what is happening around them.
3. Out of Your Mind – Our heroes, trying to walk home after the bars close, cannot remember the music they heard that day.

Bombed came up in our three hour marathon Wednesday.  Here's Bob talking about it.
That was a fun piece.  That was a hard piece too.  We played it pretty damn well.  You know why I think we liked that piece so much?  Not because it was well written.  To me it epitomized the Repairmen, the kind of weird things that we did, the odd rhythms.  'You're playing seven?  I've got my six in that time.'  It was no problem for us, we got so used to doing that.
You can listen to Bombed here.  You can even download the score here.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

In which David encounters some forks.

Back in 2009 I posted this picture on Mixed Messages

I called the picture Fork in the Road.  Indeed it shows a fork, a very large sculptural fork located on a traffic island.  And there is a road.  However, the road does not fork.  The Robert Frost poem does not apply here.  Drivers have no choice about choosing the road more or less travelled by.  This is merely a spot where two one-way streets merge to form one two-way street.

Anyway, back in 2009 the fork appeared mysteriously and received considerable notice.  The local paper even wrote an article about it:  Pasadena's fork in the road is guerilla art installation.   I was under the impression that it was to be removed pending approval from CalTrans.   I hadn't noticed it for a long time.

Until last week.

On one of my recent walks I was surprised to encounter the fork.  It's been moved away from traffic and more securely mounted.  I stopped to take some pictures.  I saw no plaque explaining the origin of this culinary geographical sculptural pun.  People are left to wonder why it is there.  It's just there because ... well, why not?  Art.  Fork Art.

Google Street View confirms that the fork was not there in 2011.  The story of its reappearance is here.  Also here.  Old news.  Liability Insurance was needed.  This being America, nothing happens until the financial responsibilities are sorted.

Here's what it looks like now.

I know of another big fork in Pasadena.  It's on Holly Street, outside a restaurant.  Which restaurant?  (I don't remember the name.)

Finally, here are two pictures of an actual fork in the road, one with no artistic pretensions and no liability insurance.  You could eat with this fork, not that you'd want to.

You can click on the pictures to embiggen them.

Friday, February 06, 2015

My Day in Paintings

Thursday morning I downloaded a free Adobe IOS app called Paintcan.  It allows you to convert digital photos into virtual paintings just by waving your finger over them.

So here are some paintings from my day.  First there are scenes from my walk; I took the Gold Line to Old Pasadena.  There's also a picture of Leslie at the computer, a selfie of me, our cat Spackle sitting at the window and our dog Chowderhead on my office floor.

The app is simple and intuitive and fast and fun.  Click any of the pictures to see them full size.

Digital cameras have turned everyone into annoying photographers.  Maybe programs like this will make us all elitist painters as well.  Once again the power of personal computing lets everyone become a starving artist.

Compare the next "painting" with the original photo from Mixed Messages.  
(I called it Man in the Moon.)

Wanna see my Doodles?

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Down Time - Autumn 2014 (short version)

Does anyone still play bridge, two couples, tricks and trumps?  Always seemed like a waste of time to me.  Still, people are entitled to use their spare moments however they want.  Some people sure must have a lot of them.

Apparently I had enough free time to write this music.  I'll be stumped if I can think of anything to say about it that I haven't said a thousand times already about a thousand previous pieces.

If you happen to have enough extra free time to actually listen to Down Time maybe you'll find one more minute to leave a one-word comment explaining its meaning.  One.

Click here to hear Down Time (Autumn 2014 - short version) by David Ocker - © 2015 David Ocker - 990 Seconds

The performers are The Peter Schmid Quartet
  • Peter Schmid, pianos 
  • Lori Terhune, guitars
  • Cornel Reasoner, basses 
  • Luis 'Pulpo' Jolla, drums
The full version of Autumn 2014 can be heard here.