Friday, August 31, 2007

Dog's Balls and Elizabethan Collars

We're not quite sure what make of dog Chowderhead is. Obviously he's got a lot of Chow in him. But he also must have inherited the retriever gene. He seems to really enjoy running after thrown balls and bringing them back after slobbering on them. He produces lots of slobber.

Here's a filmstrip of Chowderhead and his ball in our backyard. The pictures enlarge if you click on them. Especially the last one with his purple tongue and dirty ball.

Chowderhead's ball 1 'Where'd it go?' - (c) David OckerChowderhead's ball 2 'I'm getting close' - (c) David OckerChowderhead's ball 3 'I got it!!' - (c) David OckerChowderhead's ball 4 'Here I come' - (c) David OckerChowderhead slobbers on the ball 5 'That's good dirt' - (c) David Ocker
You'll notice Chowderhead is wearing a fetching plastic collar. This is to prevent him from trying to lick his balls and I don't mean his rubber ones.

Of course if he didn't have the collar he couldn't lick them anyway - because they've been removed by our vet. The operation is called an orchidectomy and the collar is called an Elizabethan Collar (not a "lampshade collar" as I might have guessed.) I suppose it reminds people of the collars worn by people when an Elizabeth was Queen of England. Like this woman, who would have called it a "Ruff" (which is what Chowderhead calls it.)

Poor Chowderhead. I felt his pain. Well. I imagined the pain he would have felt if he had the slightest notion of what had happened to him.

Strangely I couldn't find a single woman who would agree with me when I expressed my empathy for Chowderhead's loss. Men and women seem to view the issue differently.

This man started a successful business (and won a prize) by allowing male dogs to keep up appearances. I bet a huge percentage of his clients' owners are male and most of the Ignoble judges are not.

Anyway, the last picture is of Chowderhead's little head -- which we aren't likely to be seeing quite as often in the future. (This was taken in his indoor cage. You can click to ... oh forget it.)

Chowderhead's Penis (c) David Ocker
Want to see more penis shots? Here's the website of the Phallological Museum in Iceland. (Just go straight to the Images section.) Here's a link to a tourist's photo of some specimens from that museum. (Leslie sent this to me.)

Read previous Mixed Meters mentions of the word penis here (several have a little bit to do with music.) Here's a post entitled Gender Marketing (it's about driveways.)

Here's a good page for pictures of Elizabethan ruffs.

And here are pictures of contemporary Elizabethan ruffs by artist Jesse Mathes

The Neuticles website.

The picture of Countess Frances Howard, born 1590 who managed to divorce her husband on the basis of his impotence, comes from Sex in Elizabethan England by Alan Haynes

Ball Tags: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The New Point and Shoot In My Pocket

In Autumn 2002 I purchased my first digital camera - A Canon PowerShot S200 Digital Elph. (Elph?) I bought it before a trip to New York City to hear the premier of The Transmigration of Souls by John Adams.

I've carried it in my pocket constantly ever since and taken twenty thousand pictures - more or less. Here it is, still working fine, looking a little like a flat fish with both eyes on one side of its head. It's a total antique now with a mere 2 megapixel resolution, but the vast majority of my original pictures on this blog were taken with this camera. It's somewhat the worse for wear. Notice the duct tape holding the memory card slot closed.

My old point and shoot - (c) David Ocker
Next is a self portrait I took with the old Elph several days ago. In the mirror panes you can see an auto body shop, some trees, the San Gabriel Mountains and white clouds behind them. Click any picture to enlarge it.

We're having a heat wave. Not Iraq hot. Not even Barstow hot. But plenty hot. The sunlight is intense and painfully bright. Southern California is a beautiful place in such light. I see possible photographs everywhere.

David in front of mirror windows Pasadena CA (c) David Ocker
The third picture is my new Point and Shoot (photographed with the old one of course). It's another Canon, the PowerShot TX1. But it's not an Elph, whatever that means. It was a birthday gift from an anonymous admirer who somehow knew just what I wanted. Thanks Leslie.

The new one is virtually the same size as the old one with the same basic features. But 5 year newer technology means higher resolution and better video capability. The lens protrudes from the body in a unique way. This gives the camera a 10X optical enlargement instead of a piddling 3X. There are lots of things I want to do with that extra zoom when I take it out of my pocket.

My new Canon TX1 - (c) David Ocker
On the LCD screen above you can see the fourth picture, another self portrait. I call it "Man wondering if it's working." This was the second picture I took with the new camera.

David Ocker - self portrait (c) David Ocker

Elph Tags: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Mixed Meters Celebrates Its Bi-Sesquicentennial

The first Mixed Meters post, entitled In Which David Fails To Find An Interesting First Comment, was on September 16 2005. No one ever read it, so here it is again:
Every new adventure begins with the words "Why am I doing this?" It would be so much easier not to bother trying new things.

If you, future person reading these words, discover that this blog hasn't changed in months . . . years . . . then you'll know I couldn't find a good answer for the question.

My philosophy will be . . . keep it short.
This is the 300th Mixed Meters post. Or maybe the last one was. Hoo-ray! I must have found a good reason for blogging. I wonder what it is.

Sky Light 1 (c) David Ocker
Obviously keeping it short is not one of my talents. Except maybe over at Mixed Messages - which is much more what I initially imagined for this blog - short throwaway bits.

Sky Light 2 (c) David Ocker
On April 13, 2006, in honor of the 150th post, I misspelled Mixed Meters Celebrates Its Susquicentennial which featured several cool pictures of a dead tree.

Sky Light 3 (c) David Ocker
Looks like I've got a tradition started here. Expect a self-congratulatory Mixed Meters announcement every 150th post. It's just like doing it every 100th post, but also divisible by 3, in honor of my three readers. You know who you are. Yeah. Yeah. I know.

The next in the series will be the tri-sesquicentennial which this web page tells me could also be called the semi-nonacentennial.

Sky Light 4 (c) David Ocker
I've been working behind the scenes lately trying to clean the Mixed Meters code kludge - sweeping the virtual dirt under the virtual rug as it were. Trying to make it easier to find things, to make things look good even on pre-millennial video displays and forcing all the music links to work. I'd also like to create a footer, a section at the bottom to catch objects which fall off the screen.

It's all uphill work for this clueless web developer. I had hoped everything would be ready for this momentous celebration. Vainly hoped, as it turns out.

Sky Light 5 (c) David Ocker
I'm gratified that the Mixed readership has been increasing over these (nearly) two years. although I still get only a small percentage of the hits which The Rest Is Noise does. That's the biggest music blog. But what can you expect? Alex Ross lets you read his blog for free.

Sky Light 6 (c) David Ocker
Sincere thanks to all who check out whatever new non-sequiturs I come up with - and extra thanks to those who post occasional comments, gently pointing out when I overlook the obvious. If you're in the neighborhood, drop by sometime. I'll even get out the good scotch.

Sky Light 7 (c) David Ocker
And, of course, this wonderful person deserves the most thanks of all.

Tricentennial Tags: . . . . . .

Monday, August 20, 2007

A New Rhapsody in Blue

I turned on the car radio last month to the strains of Rhapsody in Blue. Ah, I thought "I must be listening to KUSC, LA's (one remaining) classical music station." Rhapsody in Blue, for all its jazzness, is part of the classical repertoire. It seems to be played by every symphony orchestra and every piano soloist over and over, each performance pretty much identical to all the others. Audiences appalaud dutifully.

After a few seconds I realized this was no ordinary Rhapsody in Blue. Along with the "classical" bits it contained actual improvisation. And I was not listening to the classical radio station. This was being broadcast on the (one remaining) jazz station - which normally never plays Rhapsody in Blue (because they don't play classical music.)

California Skylights - with palms and pylons (c) David Ocker
This rhapsody had soloists soloing (yep, multiple soloists along with the pianist including a big part for the lowly banjo). The soloists were making things up, they were being creative and individual. The familiar segues were different. There were new fascinating harmonies in the piano part; chord substitution is not a classical music talent (any more). This pianist, whoever it was, was a master of twisting the familiar into the fabulous.

In between all this was a regular orchestra playing the familiar bits which sounded, well, familiar.

It was still going strong when I reached our driveway. I sat and listened, enthralled, until it was over. Turned out to be a Jazz from Lincoln Center broadcast. The announcer (some guy named Winston or Wilton) said the pianist was Marcus Roberts. I marched inside and immediately ordered the album, Portraits in Blue by Marcus Roberts.. Here's more info.

When the album arrived I was surprised to learn that there were two sets of musicians; the improvising musicians and the classical musicians were not the same. The performance was credited to "Members of the Orchestra of St. Lukes and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra". I had naively assumed that there are plenty of musicians who could play both halves of this piece, the classical and improvisation. I guess not.

The music is a mix of jazz styles - the liner notes mention Errol Gardner and Thelonius Monk. There's a Mingus-like section. The final cadenza ends with a vamp right out of Leslie Gore. I guffawed when I heard that. Now, dozens of listens later and knowing full well that it's about to happen, I still laugh.

This arrangement of the Rhapsody gets various live performances.
Here's an excerpt from a recent review by Harvey Steiman in Aspen Times (about the Aspen Music Festival's survey of the relationship between jazz and classical music):
I­n a 1­998 p­erformance o­f “R­hapsody i­n B­lue” h­ere i­n A­spen, t­he j­azz p­ianist M­arcus R­oberts p­layed G­ershwin’s m­usic a­s i­f i­t w­ere r­eal j­azz a­nd e­xtended t­he c­adenzas i­nto full­s­cale j­azz s­olos. T­hat w­as i­mpressive. A­nd r­are.
And Marcus Roberts performed the Rhapsody in Blue last week at the Proms. Here are some notes. And here are some reviews.

In a BBC interview before the broadcast Roberts said:
It's been wonderful pretty much every time we've done it ... because people know the piece, so when you improvise on it they can follow what you're doing, even if it's fairly abstract, even if it's fairly spontaneous.

Sky Lights - two curvy lights (c) David Ocker
The live performance was less interesting to me than the recording since many of the solos reverted back to the orchestra players who played them really "straight". Well, it was a run-out concert. And of course the recording represents the best of several takes. I'd like to hear the Lincoln Center recording again - that seemed pretty wild.

It occurred to me that if many (or even a few) performances of classical music had this level of creativity in them - of even a small fraction of the creativity in this performance - I would not think of it as such a dead art form.

Other music in my current listening rotation (meaning on my iPod) have similar creativity within a classical framework:
What these have in common is that someone has taken classical music, or some aspect of the classical music style, and treated it creatively with new ideas and new elements. This is not re-creative work, as so much classical performance is these days. It is also not recreational entertainment product. It will not need to be rerecorded and reinterpreted.

However, this is stuff you'll need to think about while you listen. Afterwards too. And of course a grounding in the classics will help but it's not enough. Not nearly enough. If you already have fixed thoughts about the great works of music, then you'll need to think new thoughts in order to listen to these pieces. That, it seems to me, is what makes a living art form.

Clazzical Jassical Tags: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Sonata Heaven

Randy Nordschow wrote an article entitled on the website New Music Box. Yes, it is a completely self-referent title - the title is its own web address. Douglas Hofstadter would understand. Randy's article is not long. Go read it. Here are some quotes:
Yet I get the feeling that composers tend to employ these sorts of tendonitis-inducing strategies—i.e. creating work that only references itself—rather regularly. String Quartet No. 5, Symphony No. 1, Sonata No. 92. Yes, these pieces often also refer to the canonical tradition of western classical music, but what about the real world? ...
As polystylistic endeavors continue to gain momentum and younger composers begin to navigate more effortlessly between genre distinctions, maybe a fresh perspective will eventually emerge. Especially if we continue to stray even further from the path we so often look back to for inspiration and guidance. Yes, tradition is important, but not nearly as important as change.
I intended to write a short comment on New Music Box about "Sonata Heaven" and, as is my wont, I got carried away. I do go on and on about it sometimes, don't I? (Yep.)

Anyway, here's the verbiage:

Years ago, as part of the ICA composers group, I overheard a conversation between two composers one of whom had just written a piece called "Sonata". The second said "That's not a good title. It will just go to Sonata Heaven."

I believe the first composer took the advice and retitled her piece - and it went to "heaven" (the fictional final resting place for pieces no one ever hears again) anyway. The "Sonata Heaven" concept stuck with me and I expanded it. Every music genre has a heaven: "Symphony Heaven", "Pierrot Ensemble Heaven", "Improvisational Study Heaven", even "Pop Song Heaven."

"Music Heaven" is a big place with a lot of divisions. A final resting place for all the new music which is created beyond the little bit our culture actually wants. The rest are thrown away. The culture is obsessed with finding one more timeless masterpiece or one more next big hit. Those few chosen pieces are the relevant ones, relevance being bestowed by the context in which the music is heard - not that in which it is created.

But every piece, no matter how forgettable or irrelevant, is essentially a collection of abstract references (as long as you ignore any lyrics). Whether a tone row or a boogie woogie bass line or a Tristan chord - they're all complete abstractions that have been used in the past in ways which now give them meaning.

Some pieces point back to things in that piece itself, like Randy's title, but mostly they point to other similar, previous pieces. Hardly anyone can relate to a new piece music these days without knowing something about the prior history of its tradition.

These modern days are filled with the constant din, a Babel of many musics and sounds. It comes out of our radios, our computers, our iPods, blaring at us from behind television commercials, espresso machines or through our earbuds (possibly all at the same time.) It's intended to calm us down, pep us up, to serve the visual image we're being fed at the same moment, to tease us into downloading the album, or, most likely, to sell us product we don't yet know we want. Music is mostly something which tries to trick us into parting with our cash - for a concert ticket or an album which makes your baby smarter or a Jerry Garcia tie.

Overlapping with the actual composed music blaring forth at us are all the unintentionally musical sounds produced by the people or nature around us. Traffic noise or ringing cell phones or dogs barking or your neighborhood gangs shooting at one another, whatever. Last week, while walking and listening to the Goldberg Variations, I was startled by an entirely new harmony. Thanks to a low-pitch squeal of defective brakes on a nearby car Bach's music was suddenly given an exciting new twist. That's what is called thinking outside the Bachs.

These days music is not something which can easily be created out of silence since real silence is such a rare commodity. You could try moving away from these human sounds - become a hermit - but no matter how far away you get natural sounds will still be there (plus an occasional distant airplane.)

In this context, trying to think outside the box is exceptionally difficult. The cacophonous world - the box - is inescapable and trying to think outside of it will only make you crazy. This makes creating music kind of like sculpture, something which you carve out of a big block of daily cacophony. The artistry of a composer is more about which elements are left out and how the remaining ones interact to remind us of music and noise we've previously heard.

How about taking everything you hear around you and removing all the things which "don't sound like an symphony" (or a sonata or pop song). You might actually create a symphony (or sonata or whatever) with a chance of being accepted as relevant. Even though each listener will relate to the self-referent sounds differently - according to their personal experiences - they will still relate. That's what a composer ought to be working towards.

But doing this won't do you any good unless you can get people to pay attention Now that's the hard part. There's just so much other interfering noise (and music) getting in the way. Who has time to listen.

Cacophony Tags: . . . . . . . . .

P.S. I suppose there must be an imaginary music hell to balance the imaginary music heaven, huh? Someone else will have to write about that.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Bernard Shuman

I received word yesterday that my uncle, Bernard Shuman, whom everyone called Ben, of Jerusalem Israel, passed away suddenly at the age of 85. He was the last child of my grandparents.

Here are some pictures of Uncle Ben. He is most often seen here with my Aunt Marion. These pictures come from family albums, photos emailed to me and my own shots. Hold your mouse over pictures for a little more explanation, click for enlargements.

Ben & Marion Shuman - Jerusalem 2005Ben & Marion Shuman with Liberty Bell - Philadelphia - 2004
Ben and Marion raised three children, Ellis, Debbie and Judy. Each of their children has had three children. Ben was eagerly awaiting the first wedding of a grandchild this fall. He had many reasons to be happy. His life was a good one. We should be so lucky.

He was the family chronicler, eagerly researching the many branches of our family tree. He and Marion traveled from Israel to California in 1992 to serve as my honorary parents when Leslie and I were married.

Ben Shuman the child - they called him Bennie - in Lake Minnetonka
He grew up in Norfolk, Nebraska. Fought in France in WWII. Married Marion in Minnesota. They started their family in Sioux City Iowa where his Mother lived. My family too. About three decades ago Ben & Marion moved to Israel where their life was not as easy, I'm sure, but more meaningful.

You're not going to find a better role model than Ben Shuman. If I had to pick the best person from my family to leave behind a large pool of ancestors, he'd be the one.

Ben Shuman in 40's signed 'With Love, Ben'
The next snap shows newlyweds Ben and Marion with the Thanksgiving Turkey, Tallulah. For a while every Thanksgiving turkey was named Tallulah. The Tallulahs were given numbers. I'm not sure which number Tallulah is shown here.

Ben & Marion Shuman - Sioux City Iowa - Thanksgiving 1950's
Ben worked as a newspaperman for such diverse institutions as the Sioux City Journal and the Jerusalem Post. Lately he took to the Internet quite well. At the end of this post I'm including the last email I received from Uncle Ben - just 2 days ago! It's a forwarded meditation on the word "up". The subtext (which I can read quite clearly) says "Haven't heard from you in a while, David, what's UP?".

The Internet has made the world so much smaller. But when something like this happens, the true meaning of "half a world away" hits home so strongly. Leslie and I will miss my Uncle and our thoughts are with Marion and all the members of their family.

Shumans - Constitution Hall 2004
The 3 photographers above are Ben and two of his children Ellis and Debbie. Aunt Marion and an unidentified brass founder of our country are peeping out from behind. This trip in 2004 was the last time I saw him.

Below they talk to an actor at Constitution Hall, still bundled up against the January weather. Below that is a picture of Uncle Ben wearing a tri-cornered hat himself (for a part in a play.)

Ben & Marion Shuman with costumed actors Constitution Hall 2004Ben Shuman in Tri-corn Hat Costume - acting in a play
The Meaning of UP (the last email I received from my Uncle Ben)

Lovers of the English language might enjoy this . . .

There is a two-letter word that perhaps has more meanings than any other two-letter word, and that is "UP."

It's easy to understand UP, meaning toward the sky or at the top of the list, but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake UP? At a meeting, why does a topic come UP? Why do we speak UP and why are the officers UP for election and why is it UP to the secretary to write UP a report?

We call UP our friends. And we use it to brighten UP a room, polish UP the silver, we warm UP the leftovers and clean UP the kitchen. We lock UP the house and some guys fix UP the old car.

At other times the little word has real special meaning. People stir UP trouble, line UP for tickets, work UP an appetite, and think UP excuses. To be dressed is one thing but to be dressed UP is special.

And this UP is confusing: A drain must be opened UP because it is stopped UP. We open UP a store in the morning but we close it UP at night.

We seem to be pretty mixed UP about UP! To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of UP, look the word UP in the dictionary. In a desk-sized dictionary, it takes UP almost 1/4th of the page and can add UP to about thirty definitions.

If you are UP to it, you might try building UP a list of the many ways UP is used. It will take UP a lot of your time, but if you don't give UP, you may wind UP with a hundred or more. When it threatens to rain, we say it is clouding UP. When the sun comes out we say it is clearing UP.

When it rains, it wets the earth and often messes things UP.

When it doesn't rain for awhile, things dry UP.

One could go on and on, but I'll wrap it UP, for now my time isUP, so............ Time to shut UP.....! more thing:

What is the first thing you do in the morning & the last thing you do at night? U-P

Monday, August 06, 2007

Floor Shows

Floor Show - thresholdFloor Show - Kinko's carpetFloor Show - blue foam on brickFloor Show - contractor tileFloor Show - checkout line forms here in SearsFloor Show - ugly mats protect ugly tiles

The Shoe Event Horizon is a mock theory invented by Douglas Adams for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio series. The foundation of the theory is that when depressed, people tend to look down, and when they look down, they see ... (click here to read more)

Tile Math
Interactive Tessellation (drag the corners of the box, then hit the button)

Clicking on my pictures makes them bigger.

Floor Tags: . . . . . .

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Mr. ComposerHead Asks Himself – WHY TO BLOG?

I've posted a new Mister Composer Head article on Mister Composer Head which is Mister Composer Head's blog. You'll remember, maybe, that I have become Mister Composer Head's amanuensis - basically converting his emails into his blog posts by hand.

To read the entire post you must go to his blog. His new post is entitled
Mr. ComposerHead Asks Himself – WHY TO BLOG?

Mr. C.H. laments:
"It would be nice to hear a new album, a new artist, that excited me like I was in the days of my youth, the way Captain Beefheart, or Stockhausen, or the Beatles did."

Later he tells this story: "I attended a local event recently that almost made me wish I had a notebook handy. I jotted things down in the car later, so I wouldn’t forget. It is still possible to hear a concert of new music and go home inspired to write some more of your own." which leads him to make some comments about "The Guardians of Art"

Then he asks how one can find art that inspires - he makes references to
  • "Beginner's Mind"
  • Joshua Tree
  • mashed potatoes
Other creative artists Mr. Compser Head mentions in this post are:
  • The Handsome Family
  • Johnny Cash
  • Leonard Cohen
  • The Band
  • Frank Zappa
  • Richard Brautigan
  • James Joyce
  • Kurt Schwitters
  • Lawrence Ferlinghetti
  • Allen Ginsberg
Awww - why don't you go read the whole thing just the way he wrote it: Mr. ComposerHead Asks Himself – WHY TO BLOG?

Inspirational Tags: . . .