Friday, October 28, 2005

In which David is driven to the Rite of Spring by Ravel's Bolero

A few days ago Leslie and I were driving home. The radio came on to the opening flute solo of Ravel's Bolero. I intoned (in my best WFMT-style-stuffy-classical-music-announcer voice) "And now our daily performance of Ravel's Bolero."

Turns out that Bolero improved my experience of driving down California Blvd. in Pasadena, very pleasant. At the end the announcer said (in her best perky-I-used-to-work-on-a-Classic-Rock-station voice) "We get a lot of calls for that."

This reminded me of two times in my distant past when Stravinsky's Rite of Spring became the Perfect Driving Music.

I was on California Highway 1 in Big Sur, the twisty-as-a-television-commercial-for-an-expensive-car highway squeezed between the sea and mountains. As I drove and listened, a storm rolled in. The waves and clouds and wind and music combined perfectly.

The second time I was driving on Chicago's freeway system for the first time, not knowing exactly where I was going. Rush hour. Cars were cutting and swerving, signs were whooshing past. Everything was grey and gloomy. The Rite blended in with the impervious metal and cement of Chicago just as well as it had with the imposing rocks and ocean in Big Sur.

Both trips included a bit of danger. Neither was an easy drive for me. But in spite of environmental differences, the music had a nearly identical effect.

Speaking of Ravel's Bolero - there was an article in the recent Wired magazine about a deaf man who can only hear because of a computerized implant in his brain. He desperately wants to listen to Bolero. The software isn't good at distinguishing pitch so he tries to upgrade the software in his head. I bet it makes you appreciate your own hearing.

Music Reviews

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

30 Second Spots - The Professor Tries to Say a Prayer in Class

"The Professor Tries to Say a Prayer in Class" - another little epic written in Starbucks on October 14, 2005. Presented in magnificent low-fi.

The little bit at the end of "The Professor Tries to Tell a Joke in Class", which I especially liked, has become the "religous" inspiration for this piece. You should listen to that one first, I guess, although they really have nothing to do with one another - except the title and one mordant little turn.

Explanation of 30 second spots
30 Second Spots

Monday, October 24, 2005

In which David Plugs a Song About Hearing 2 Radio Stations at Once

I've talked about how I listen to NPR (with a Tango radio playing simultaneously).

I heard a 2-minute novelty song on WFMU today which refers to listening to two radio stations simultaneously.

It's called Jazz versus Rock & Roll (yeah, that's the title) by Woody Byrd. I'm guessing it's a product of the 50's. It's on Jaro records.

The singer tells how he and his girlfriend disagree on music - he's all-jazz and she's all-rock. Little snippets in the music illustrate. Their conflict escalates until both are always blasting their own stations. You can hear this in the tune. (It's only slightly Cageian.)

As in any good song, the conflict is resolved at the end. I won't say how. My Grandmother would have approved.

Go to Todd-o-phonic Todd's archive page at WFMU , play the show from October 22, 2005. Jazz vs. Rock & Roll starts at 29 minutes and 35 seconds.

Music Reviews

Sunday, October 23, 2005

In which Doctor Phil has a big head

This is Leslie with Doctor Phil's head. She thinks it's a silly picture. (She's correct.)

Years ago I heard a lecture by Ram Dass who asked the question "How many personalities in popular culture, as revealed by People Magazine, do you experience as being fulfilled individuals?"

My immediate answer was none of them. Every pop idol, movie star, news anchor seems hung up somehow.

"Is Dr. Phil an exception?" He gives out serious personal advice all the time so his personal act must be together, right? But he must have issues about something. Can a person give out heavy advice to others day after day without developing some insecurities of his own?

National publicity has to make it worse. Imagine going to a movie and seeing your own head, twice life size & back lit, on the way to the parking garage. Imagine a picture of Dr. Phil himself standing next to Dr. Phil's head.

Maybe I just project my own insecurities on the blank canvass of famous people? No. That can't possibly explain Tom Cruise.


Friday, October 21, 2005

In which David goes Random in "only Music" mode

  • I heard Sandra Tsing Loh on KPCC talking about Van Nuys High School, home of the Zappa Institute of Technology to which Gail donated Frank's sound system. I found two ZIT website URLs but neither was working.
  • I watched an ABC Primetime article about the adolescent singing duo Lamb and Lynx Gaede, whose mother has made them stars of the White Nationalist movement. Imagine little Nazi Olsen twins. They even sang a song about Rudolf Hess.
  • Art Jarvinen's band The Invisible Guys played live on the Internet from Kulak's Woodshed. It sounded great and I could actually see them until my screen-saver came on which caused me to get just a blank screen & clicking sounds. Then they were invisible (and inaudible).
  • I like my latest CD purchase: Taste the Secret by Ugly Duckling. My third rap CD (I'm so old I'm not even sure if rap is the right word). It's a concept album - about waring fast food chains: Meat Shake (where everything contains meat) versus Veggie Hut (where everything doesn't). The samples are jazzy, show-tuney - the lyrics and dramatic skits are clever and funny.

Music Reviews

30 Second Spots - As God Intended

This one's called "As God Intended" - Starbucks on October 7, 2005 -
At 47 seconds it's a "spot and a half" Also it's not very loud - so you might want to turn up the volume a bit.

Explanation of 30 second spots

30 Second Spots

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

In which David tests his liberalism in a trial by radio

A few months ago this billboard appeared in Pasadena. "I'm a Liberal," I thought, "Let's find out."

They were right. I didn't like it. But not because of what they said.

I agreed with about half of what I heard. Half the facts. Half the conclusions. Sometimes a true fact was even matched with a logical conclusion.

But two aspects made me hate this station. Just like other talk radio I've heard - including the left-wing Air America.

First - I hated the commercials. Radio commercials generally suck, but these fell off the scale. Many are personal endorsements. Buying new windows and gold coins is supposedly very important. Hucksterism destroys these guys credibility.

And there's a lot of commercial time. Waiting for the actual talk to resume was unbearable. (I can withstand television ads better because I like video effects and I enjoy parsing the sublimnal plotlines.)

Second - I hated the attitude. The hosts and guests and callers were always - always - angry and offended about something. Either these guys actually have a personality like that (probably bad for their life expectancy) or they put on the attitude intentionally to keep listeners from tuning out during the endless commercials (that would be very cynical).

So I'm back to listening to NPR. By comparison it's like a court of law.


Saturday, October 15, 2005

In which David reflects on saxophones, Moondog and automobile ads

A NPR article on Friday flogged a CD complication of world music. In the intro one eight-second snippet of cool chords caught my ear while the announcer said "The Japanese offer up ten, yes ten, baritone saxophones."

"Let me hear the rest of that" I thought. I sat in the car for the entire interview but heard nothing more about saxes. I searched the Internet when I got home. Nada. (Except one curious reference to two ("Yuch") jazz bands with multiple bari saxes.)

A few weeks ago I heard a multi-saxophone cut ("Paris") by Moondog on WFMU. "Very Cool" I ordered the album The German Years. I'd heard Moondog's music a little when I was a student but have had no contact since.

In theory it's music I should like a lot: catchy tunes, interesting counterpoint, upbeat attitude without pop cliches. But after listening to the entire album I thought "This music is way too consonant." I guess he resolves all his dissonances properly. Nothing wrong with simple harmonies unless that's all there is. Gotta break the rules sometimes.

Two of Moondog's tunes are used to sell luxury automobiles on television (Paris and Bird's Lament). I've seen the ads dozens of times. For the life of me I can't remember which brand of car. I could look it up, but I'd really rather not know. Some mega-corporation is paying big bucks to entertain me with mysterious music and I can't even identify their product. All is well.

Music Reviews

Friday, October 14, 2005

In which David finds fauna at Starbucks

I removed the sanitary wrapping from my straw and a bit of paper was left, attached by static..

Looks like an animal - if you use your imagination. (No imagination? Please borrow mine.) Posted by Picasa

30 Second Spots - Strange Happy Music

This one's called "Strange Happy Music" - Starbucks on October 12, 2005

I read an article in Wired Magazine about publisher Tim O'Reilly who asked people to describe their passions in 3 words. What would I have said? And the phrase "Strange Happy Music" was born.

Leslie said twice that she liked this one.

Explanation of 30 second spots

30 Second Spots

30 Second Spots - The Professor Tries to Tell a Joke in Class

"The Professor Tries to Tell a Joke in Class" - written in Starbucks on October 11, 2005

I like the little bit at the end.

Explanation of 30 second spots

30 Second Spots

30 Second Spots - I Clearly Can't Be Trusted With Water

This one's called "I Clearly Can't Be Trusted With Water" - also written in Starbucks on October 9, 2005

Explanation of 30 second spots

30 Second Spots

30 Second Spots - Not For Me, For You

This is the very first entry of 30 Second Spots

It's called "Not For Me, For You" - written in Starbucks on Thursday October 13, 2005

Explanation of 30 second spots

30 Second Spots

Thursday, October 13, 2005

In Which David Explains 30 Second Spots

In college I decided I wanted to be a composer. After surviving graduate school I pursued "being a composer" for a number of years.

Then it hit me - being a composer was ruining my life.
  • The initial idea of my pieces never seemed to make it through to performance.
  • Each missed opportunity made me bitter & I wrote out of revenge. ("I'll show them.")
  • Composing was making me unhappy.
So, I quit composing.
The problem was that I still thought like a composer like in the shower or while taking a walk. Musical ideas would still pop into my head. After several years I realized I could quit "being a composer" but I couldn't quit "making up music."
Three things contributed to my starting again.
  • I mastered the notation software Sibelius.
  • I inherited Leslie's old laptop which was powerful enough to run Sibelius.
  • I could write music on the laptop while drinking coffee at Starbucks - in fact, I enjoy all the distractions.
I set up some simple rules:
  • Each piece would be 30 seconds (or so) long - one piece per visit.
  • I would select the title when I save the file. Later the title would not change. Titles are often bits of overheard conversation.
  • There's no intent for real people with acoustic instruments to play this music. Midi output is the final product.
  • Once I leave Starbucks the piece is finished. On the next visit I (usually) begin a new piece.
I call this scheme 30 Second Spots
In 2 years I've averaged one per week. Sometimes I go every day, sometimes I skip months. A few pieces have become 4 or 5 minutes in length. Sometimes I like it a lot. Sometimes I wonder why I bother.
Part of the reason for this blog is to see if people would listen. Here's the plan:
  • I will post mp3s to a separate Earthlink webspace.
  • Each will have its own linked blog posting here. You can search for the text "30 Second Spots" within the blog.
  • There will be a limited number available at any one time.
  • If you click an old link and get File Not Found, it's gone. Sorry.
  • I might post them as I write them. Or maybe I'll put up old ones. Or maybe I'll be too busy to post any more.
Hey, I'm starting this off in a complete vacuum. Please let me know what you think.
30 Second Spots

In which David lists low points of his day

  • Our black cat pissed on an overstuffed chair tonight while I sat just feet away. A smelly future? (I had hoped the smelly past was passed.)
  • From the news: "Arnold Schwarzenegger has raised more money than any governor in history" He promised to use his own money and didn't need to fundraise. At least he's good at something.
  • I listened to a Green Day concert streamed over the Internet. My reaction was "This is really self-important." Why did I think that? Only one spot, a vamp not in 4/4, caught my interest. (It was in 8/8.)
  • I watched "The 39 Steps" and the DVD crapped out completely in the last 2 minutes.




Music Reviews

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

In which David's thoughts go random - again

  • My first $50 fill up today. (Actual total $50.02) People in Europe pay so much more.
  • I skinned my knee because of lack of sleep. Standing on the next to bottom step, in the dark, and I stepped into the void. If it had been the top step I could've killed myself.
  • Political Crazy Bumper Sticker on the Crown Victoria ahead of me in traffic "RSVP - Resist Socialism Vote Patriotic" - Google has no record of what it means.
  • Went to 2 movies in two days. Second Movie: March of the Penguins. I was disappointed, except in the photography. First movie (Wallace & Gromit) had the Madagascar Penguin cartoon short - didn't like that much either. My friend Johnn says the penguins are so gay.




Sunday, October 09, 2005

In which David awards another Docker

If you only can see one humorous, animated horror movie this year, you're in big trouble.

We just came back from Wallace & Gromit, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. It's funnier than Corpse Bride and it has more chase scenes and explosions. Those are important qualities in a movie, in my opinion.

W&G, TCotW-R had one spot that deserves a Docker Award. If only because I was the only person in the theater laughing out loud.

[Drum Roll Please]

The award for the Best Use of the Music of Gustav Holst in a Bad Pun goes to . . . . Gromit and his marrow.


Saturday, October 08, 2005

In which David has a Composer flashback

BACKSTORY: In 1980, before I gave up being a composer, I wrote a trio called The Pink Cactus Suite for three friends: violist Roland Kato, bassoonist John Steinmetz and bassist Janet Davis. After several performances the piece was forgotten.

TEN YEARS AGO I gave up being a composer. I decided that the work involved in live performances wasn't worth the payback. Lots of preparation, promotion and tension but afterwards I was not happy. I never felt there was really any communication going on. These days I'm much happier just making up music for my own enjoyment on my computer.

CUT TO THE PRESENT: Roland is now principal violist with the LA Chamber Orchestra. They produce a series of small house concerts - a few musicians and small audience in a nice living room followed by a good dinner. (Absolutely the proper way to hear chamber music.) Tonights event featured Roland and two colleagues from the orchestra (bassoonist Ken Munday and bassist Sue Ranney). They revived The Pink Cactus Suite. LACO asked me to attend to talk before the piece. In return I got sushi dinner. A fair deal.

The price I paid for this was doing things I had given up forever. I prepared a 5 minute speech while in the shower and while driving on the freeway. I attended a rehearsal. At the concert people seemed thrilled to have a composer around. I took a bow. I discussed the music afterwards. (One gentleman said the music reminded him of Stravinsky's Renard - everyone hears something different.)

Suppose you were a smoker who'd kicked the habit years ago. Then one night someone offers you a drag and you take it. The next day you wonder "Is this the beginning of a relapse?" (Probably not.)

In any case, I've been intending to set up a web page where I can post recordings of some of my music. There will be a rotating selection - The Pink Cactus Suite won't always be there. Something else will. Check it out.

Music Reviews

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

In which David remembers San Francisco people

I spent the weekend in San Francisco - for the premiere of Doctor Atomic by John Adams. (I worked on John's score for many months.)

Personal interactions with strangers in San Francisco seem more memorable and more frequent than they do in Pasadena:

1) A panhandler in North Beach asked for a handout. I replied "Sorry" . He shouted "That's not very Christian." I shouted back "I'm not a Christian and proud of it." He shouted something further which I missed.

2) An older, very courtly gentleman eating breakfast who borrowed my cream for his cereal. He was on his way to visit an ailing friend. He was a WWII veteran - at least 80 I guess. I would have liked to talk to him more. Somehow he figured out I wasn't a San Franciscan.

3) The woman in an elevator asking me about the quote "All roses seem the same sweetness". I suggested "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." She repeated that and added "or Pachuco". I have no clue what she meant.

4) A woman near me on Bart talking to a complete stranger in some detail about how the flesh was scooped from Jesus' body. She was certain that "it was just like in movie The Passion of the Christ". I betcha someday Mel Gibson's complete Bible movie will replace the written word altogether.

5) A man my age in Starbucks who bent my ear for half an hour about how many college women couldn't wait to have sex with him. His favorite word was "organic".

6) A group of us crammed onto a Muni train who became friends very quickly - imagine 5 strangers in a phone booth. I had my money in my hand but never got to slide it into the machine. Thanks for the free ride.