Sunday, February 26, 2006

In which the magic words are Hawk and Work

(c) 2004 Leslie HarrisSaturday, as Leslie and I were driving home from LAX at the end of her trip to Mexico, we watched two hawks, drifting lazily higher and higher on an air column. This was happening exactly at the Four Level Interchange - the very heart of our magnificent, disfunctional freeway system that makes urban sprawl and low population density (where nearly everyone has a detached house and a front and back yard) possible.

It wasn't possible to take a picture of the hawks from the car. Instead here's a picture Leslie took of a hawk sitting in our back yard. It's waiting for a little birdie to eat. This hawk (probably a Sharp-Shinned Hawk) is smaller than those we saw above the freeway (probably Red-Tailed.)

(c) 2006 David OckerJust to fill out the scene, the other picture was taken on a freeway.

Meanwhile, my life is filling up with work on new music by composers John Adams, Stephen Hartke and Anders Hillborg. Expect posts on Mixed Meters to be less frequent and more basic - since any free time left over for my personal creativity will go first into writing new thirty second spots. There might not be much room left for blogistic verbiage.


Thursday, February 23, 2006

30 Second Spots - That's Not Your Baby Concerto

Bored with long posts? Tired of short music? Click here or here or here (and then click Sabre Dance) to see the world's cutest Crash Cymbal player. No kidding.

A pleasant effect of doing Mixed Meters is that several long out-of-touch college roommates have started regular communication again. One of them is Kevin Tidemann, now valiantly serving a tour of duty in the Federal bureaucracy. Kevin wrote: "I love your 30 second spots, the ones I've found so far. They usually bring a smile, sometimes of puzzlement, sometimes of joy. You still have a truly great sense of humor." Thanks, Kev.

Puzzlement, of course, is a reaction composers are taught to tolerate. But being accused of "joy" or "humor" is more difficult. This has come up before. In these cases it is a tradition at Mixed Meters to post something contradictory, music for which "fun" is simply not the right word. Today's piece does that pretty well I think and, what's more, it comes in two sizes.

click here to hear the That's Not Your Baby Concerto Despite lasting only 33 seconds it has traditional 3 movement concerto form. No kidding. The movements are separated by short atonal interludes for those actually paying close attention. (Please don't feel you must pay "close attention" - I'd prefer you choose the level of attention most comfortable to you.)

Copyright © February 18, 2006 by David Ocker - 33 seconds

copyright (c) 2006 David OckerWhen Leslie heard that spot she said "It should be longer." And I had an idea of how to expand the length while maintaing identical form and content. So, if you're still interested, click here to hear the That's Not Your Baby Concerto - Long Version which is a whopping 2 minutes and nine seconds. No kidding! Talk about heavenly length. Talk more here.

Copyright © February 18-21, 2006 by David Ocker - 129 seconds

The title refers to a Starbucks episode wherein a young toddler ran up to a strange infant and began "fetishing" it. His Mother, probably trying to keep her son from sneezing in the baby's face, pulled him away and told him "That's not your baby" just at the moment I needed a file name.

Explanation of 30 second spots

30 Second Spots

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

In which Pandora has no Bachs

Pandora is a website that creates online radio stations according to your input. You suggest an artist or a song and starting from there Pandora's software picks a continuous stream of similar music. It decides what is "similar" by referring to data from the Music Genome Project

While I'm naturally suspicious of any effort to co-opt scientific buzzwords as artistic buzzwords, the MGP is a considerable undertaking. Apparently a panel of experts (possibly Wagnerian genomes or unemployed music school graduates) have been listening to a huge number of pieces and rating them for many different musical qualities. For example two pieces that both have "electronica roots, tonal harmonies, melodic part writing, a simple high-hat part, a slow moving bass line and trippy soundscapes" would be assumed to fit together well. (You must suspend your disbelief on that one, I think.)

You can rate each piece the program selects for you in two ways "like it" or "not". If you like it, those particular strands of musical DNA will be given greater preference; if you don't like it the piece disappears from that station for good. Give thumbs down on the same artist or band twice and they disappear forever. It becomes a dead end in intelligently designed musical evolution.

My first attempts at using Pandora struck squarely on its fundamental exceptions - neither world nor classical music is included.

The first thing I typed in was "Karnak" (see my post about Karnak here). Pandora never heard of Karnak. Never having heard of Karnak, I suppose, is better than what happened on - a site with another music-suggestion scheme. couldn't differentiate between the Brazilian Karnak and an Italian death-metal band called Karnak. (Their album is called Melodies of Sperm Composed.) That was the last time I tried

Then I gave Pandora the word "Bach" The only thing it could find was some very non-baroque music called "B.A.C.H." by Dierdre - two songs later I was listening to Bjork.

I typed in "John Cage" and the first song was by Esquivel, the master of 50's Space Age Bachelor Pad Music. That is a combination that merits further research.

I was more successful with "Big Bad Voodoo Daddy" - and with a few thumbs up and down I had a steady stream of classic swing.

Even more successful were the seed words "Frank Zappa". After I explained that I did NOT want to listen to Peter Frampton, Chicago or the Grateful Dead, Pandora started giving me tracks by bands I'd never heard of and many of those were very interesting. Based only on single tracks I actually purchased three albums. My reaction to those groups, More Dogs, Combustible Edison and the Lonesome Organist, will have to wait for a future posting.

I made successful stations starting with the Gotan Project (electronica meets tango, highly recommended) and Henry Flynt (imagine a country fiddler playing Violin Phase). If you go to Pandora you can click on "share", type in my email address (docker1 at ix dot netcom dot com) and actually access my stations. It'll be much more fun for you, however, to start your own.

Music Reviews

Sunday, February 19, 2006

30 Second Spots - Something I Need to Discuss With Arnold

click here to hear Something I Need to Discuss With Arnold . Not that Arnold. This Arnold was a financial advisor talking loudly on the phone to his client while I was working. He reassured her that if she felt there was "something I need to discuss with Arnold." (like the value of her account plummeting) he would be available to talk.

Copyright © February 7, 2006 by David Ocker - 33 seconds

If you thought I was referring to "Arnold Schwarzenegger" (the man who is so rich he wouldn't need to take donations as governor) click here to find out who has been giving him money lately. And click here to find out about how he intends to raise a mere $120 MILLION for reelection.

If you thought the title refers to "Arnold Schoenberg" (the first composer whose music requires a pre-concert lecture) click here or click there to find out just how popular Arnie is during the Boston Symphony's current season. (Alas you might have to register before you can read.) (Thanks to "S" for these links.) To see dozens of Arnold's self-portraits, click here.

If you thought the title refers to "Arnold the pig" click here or you can watch a video of our governor visiting Brazil and grabbing his favorite female body part here.

Explanation of 30 second spots

30 Second Spots

Friday, February 17, 2006

In which Bill Maher is paired with animation

Bill Maher wrote an editorial in todays L.A. Times (which I couldn't find anywhere on their website). It is entitled "We love a good wiretapping."

Here's the paragraph that caught my attention:

"This whole country is one big desperate cry for somebody to listen to me, photograph me, Google me. Read my blog. Read my memoir. It's not interesting enough? I'll make stuff up. Just somebody, please, notice me."

But what if I make things up and they're still not interesting?

While you're not reading the LA Times you might want to go to EatPES - Home of the Twisted Films of PES There are some cool short videos that ARE interesting. I'd recommend KaBoom and especially Roof Sex. Also some Short Short videos; watch Fireworks (25 seconds long) to get the idea.

Music Video

Thursday, February 16, 2006

30 Second Spots - Mozart & Microsoft - Early Death?

Could Dick Cheney Hit This?click here to hear Mozart and Microsoft - Early Death? The title is descriptive of my day today - I spent hours trying to get Microsoft Word to do what it has always done before. Simple stuff supposedly. And I failed. I wondered how long before Microsoft goes out of business.

Then, while I was writing this piece, two guys were talking about clarinets - Mitchell Lurie reeds, C Clarinets and Mozart. My past come back to haunt me.

This 30 Second Spot is a Work Song for a Gang of Convict Frogs.

Copyright © February 16, 2006 by David Ocker - 30 seconds

If Whittington dies will Cheney resign?
Explanation of 30 second spots

30 Second Spots

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

30 Second Spots - Clock Time

Fatima's Purse click here to hear Clock Time An Infuriating Concerto for Woodblocks. The title is relevant. That's never happened before. Or has it?
Copyright © February 14, 2006 by David Ocker - 31 seconds

Explanation of 30 second spots

30 Second Spots

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Long Lasting Valentines Day Gift

When Leslie and I were first married I made a joking mid-smooch reference to having a "Frequent Kissers Card" With the help of clip art and CorelDraw I created just such a card as a Valentines Day gift for Leslie. She still carries it in her wallet, shows it to people and recently said "I'm very proud of it."

As a couple we have never succumbed to the marketing and as a result we don't celebrate Valentines Day in the fashion of good consumers. Chocolate, Flowers, Kisses and Saying "I love you." are things best spread evenly throughout the year.

So give your honey a Frequent Kissers Card. Designing and making one all by yourself increases the value immeasurably.

Click on the small picture to see the front and back of the card in larger format. And apparently kissing is good for your health: click here to read about that.


Sunday, February 12, 2006

90 Second Spot - Mean Burn

Click here to hear Mean Burn. It's not really a classical "30 second spot" according to my rules because it's too long and I wrote it in two sessions instead of one. Think of it as Stochastic String Band Formal Recital Music.

And if you'd rather not listen to music, here's a link to Calvin and Hobbs snowman-themed strips.

Copyright © January 24-25, 2006 by David Ocker - 88 seconds

Explanation of 30 second spots

30 Second Spots

Saturday, February 11, 2006

In which a Dead Whale is Funny

Here's a video clip from the ABC (er, the one in Australia) - a news story and interview on the subject of a dead whale. It's the interview on the subject of whether seismic testing killed the whale that merits your attention. (Here's a transcript.) (ALSO: Scroll to the end of this post for the video.)

American politicians can be this dumb but not this honest.

The video is hosted by the blog Paul's Jokes (I also suggest the video about the German Coast Guard.)  More John Clarke and Bryan Dawe is available here.

This dead whale picture came from here.

The classic beached dead whale story (which involves explosives) and lots more is here.  (Watch video here.)

Video coverage of the exploding whale is here.

Here's another biology-themed Mixed Meters post you might enjoy about Penis Fencing


ADDENDUM: Here's the Clarke and Dawe 'Dead Whale' video (following the original news clip).

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Docker Award for Mainstream Avant Garde Music

not the Grammy AwardsModern orchestra concerts are steeped in silly ritual. The players' dress and behavior. The conductor's entrance. The audience remains very silent but applauds loudly during the gracious bows and curtain calls.

John Cage's piece 4'33" (it asks for complete silence from the performers) is one of 20th century music's coolest ideas. It tells us that musical sounds come from anywhere, not just from musical instruments on stage. Squeaky door or squeaky violin. For many people, including me, this was a very liberating concept.

not U2 Bono Green DayBut Cage combined his idea with a silly joke. He divided the silence into three movements - a very historical "frame" around the ambient sound - the same frame in which we hear classical concertos. Hey, it combines materials of the present with formal structures of the past. Most music does that.

I ran across a video of (get this) a full orchestra performance of 4'33" - televised live by the BBC. The BBC Symphony orchestra (looking very relaxed probably because they were were being paid an infinite amount of money per note) was conducted by Lawrence Foster - who went through all the motions - including wiping sweat off his brow. Here's a press release. ("A weekend of musical mayhem.") The video is available HERE(scroll down) and also HERE. Here is a REVIEW which reports that the orchestra tuned their instruments prior to the performance.

not Kanye West Mariah Carey Allison KrauseI found this performance pretty boring, actually. Even at high volume there wasn't much sound during the "movements". A couple of coughs and some hum. The large audience, dutifully trained in concert ritual, sat still as church mice. But between movements the sound was much more interesting - the audience shuffling and coughing. And applauding rapturously at the end to gracious bows and curtain calls. Everyone knew just what was expected of them. Cage would probably have been thrilled to have his music performed this way.

I think someone seriously missed the point. In such an antiseptic, indoor concert-hall environment with all the formal staging, 4'33" became little more than a group of people holding their breath. Afterwards the BBC's "colour commentator" remarks on "How much tension it generated. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife." They might have considered doing it outside where a car might have backfired or a dog barked. And in the January cold the conductor might have been excused for taking the tempo a bit faster. The most interesting performance of 4'33" is probably the one you're about the perform - starting now. Here's a MIDI performance (in one movement) to help you get started. Chuckle.

not Kelly Clarkson John Legend GorillazI'm awarding a Docker for the silly seriousness of this performance to be shared among the programmers of the festival, the orchestra, the conductor, the BBC and the audience. If anyone needed proof that John Cage, America's great philosopher masquerading as composer, is now accepted into the canon of classical music - here it is. And if anyone wants to stretch another of his ideas to the breaking point, they'll have a hard time competing with this. ASLAP notwithstanding.

What I'm really curious about, however, is where the young John Cage of today is. Is some young composer out there creating musical ideas that will challenge the next half-century the way Cage challenged the previous one? We can only hope. And in 50 years will the BBC have a festival of that composer's music, thus repeating the cycle and obscuring the point. Yeah, probably.

Music Reviews
Music Video

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Out of the Past - ICA Concert Flyer Scratch Pad

The Backstory. Years ago I was part of a group of composers, fresh out of school and criminally naive. We started the Independent Composers Association. ICA has been defunct now for years, but for a long time it produced concerts of composers who weren't getting performed anywhere else in Southern California.

Our production methods were crude. The largest part of the advertising budget went for printing a one-color flyer and then bulk mailing some to a select list. The rest were handed out where we could. Printing the correct number of flyers was a challenge.

We printed up far too many of the flyer you see here (click on it for a larger view). Afterwards the question was what to do with the reams of useless paper. Someone said "Have them made into tablets and use the back as scratch paper." That's what happened.

Cut to the present. Over the weekend I needed a blank piece of paper. I reached into a cubbyhole where I keep such things and was surprised to pull out the last few pages of this 23-year old scratchpad. Of course I'm a very different person now than in 1982; the first thing I thought this weekend was "Hey, this would make a good blog post."

Here's the complete text of the flyer so it'll get picked up by the search engines - my old phone number is the one in the middle.

The ICA Ensemble plays JOHN CAGE ATLAS ECLIPTICALIS In Honor of His 70th Birthday
Program: John Cage Atlas Eclipticalis (with Winter Music)
Giacinto Scelsi Four Illustrations
Burton Goldstein The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
Dusan Bogdanovic Pure Land
Arthur Jarvinen 110-^-011

Tuesday, November 16th, 8:00 p.m.
The House, 1329B 5th Street, Santa Monica
#5.00 general ($3.50 students, seniors, and ICA members)
For further information: (213) 390-6888, 661-8393, or 393-3962
This concert is funded, in part, by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency, and by the California Arts Council.

Music Reviews

Sunday, February 05, 2006

30 Second Spots x 3 - The Superbowl Baby Series

Here are three musical scenes. Listin in as our hero - The Superbowl Baby - participates in Superbowl Fun.

click here to hear The Hungry Baby Pregame Tailgate Party - in the very un-American French 20th-Century Imitation Dissonant Baroque style. Copyright © January 31, 2006 by David Ocker - 31 seconds

click here to hear The Crying Baby Halftime March - in the Self-Congratulatory Wartime Regimentation style (with just a hint of Charles Ives at the end.) Copyright © January 29, 2006 by David Ocker - 34 seconds

click here to hear The Sleeping Baby Postgame Wrapup - in the Plucked Folk Tune style. Copyright © January 30, 2006 by David Ocker - 33 seconds

Color Commentary About The Game That I Was Playing: I wrote the march first, in spite of a very noisy baby. Later I created the other two pieces using the exact rhythms, number of notes and tempo of the march. I allowed changes only to pitches, dynamics, durations, sound set and attitude. This is what is known as a compositional game. It is used to distract a composer's mind. A perfect substitute for a football game (which distracts everyone else.)

click here for an Explanation of 30 second spots

30 Second Spots

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

30 Second Spots - It Means I Don't Like Myself

click here to hear It Means I Don't Like Myself - in the style Swinging Bi-Lingual Enthusi-ism except for the end which is a waltz.

The title was an overheard bit from a conversation between two young women in Starbucks. One woman spoke Spanish, the other spoke Armenian - so they were talking in English while I worked. Mostly they talked about a possible phone call from a young gentleman. When the Armenian speaker tried to say something in Spanish she got this little lesson in syntax: "It means I don't like myself"

Copyright © January 22, 2006 by David Ocker - 36 seconds

click here for an Explanation of 30 second spots.

30 Second Spots