Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Unqualified For President

California will hold a strange Presidential primary election Tuesday. Strange because the nominee is not already a foregone conclusion. We registered Democrats get to decide between Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards. You registered Republicans choose between Mitt Romney, John McCain and Mike Huckabee.

Tattered American Flag displayed in my neighborhood
Here's a quote from the radio version of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (Secondary Phase, part 6, starting at about 18 minutes 40 seconds) spoken by The Book (the voice of Peter Jones):
The major problem -- one of the major problems, for there are several -- one of the MANY major problems with governing people is that of who you get to do it. Or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.

To summarize, it is a well known and much lamented fact that those people who most want to rule people are ipso facto those least suited to do it.

To summarize the summary, anyone who is capable of getting themselves made president should on no account be allowed to do the job.
Zaphod Beeblebrox Galactic President and Ford Prefect drink a Pan Galactic Gargleblaster
I was reminded of Douglas Adams' monumentally and hysterically accurate observation by an equally accurate but deadly un-funny editorial entitled "Why They Really Run" by Michael Kinsley. Here's a quote:

When you hear the presidential candidates carrying on about democracy and freedom, do you ever wonder what they would be saying if they had been born into societies with different values?

What if Mitt Romney had come to adulthood in Nazi Germany?

What if Hillary Clinton had gone to Moscow State University and married a promising young apparatchik?

What if Barack Obama had been born in Kenya, like his father, where even now people are slaughtering one another over a crooked election?

Which of them would be the courageous dissidents, risking their lives for the values they talk about freely—in every sense—on the campaign trail? And which would be playing the universal human power game under the local rules, whatever they happened to be?

Without naming names, I believe that most of them would be playing the game. What motivates most politicians, especially those running for President, is closer to your classic will-to-power than to a deep desire to reform the health-care system.

In my opinion no candidate, Clinton or Obama or Romney or McCain or Huckabee, is really qualified to become President. I'm sure that having served in the U.S. Senate is helpful to a President. But if that is the only real entry in your resume you're not ready yet.

Likewise, if you've been a state Governor but never worked a top-level government job in Washington, you're equally unqualified.

Please, no more presidents who learn on the job.

Senator Hillary Clinton Boogie Doll - I guess it dances
Here is the list of qualifications I look for in a President:
  1. legislative experience on both the state and national levels: (get elected senator and representative a few times)
  2. executive experience on both state and national levels:( get elected governor or mayor of some megalopolis and also get yourself appointed cabinet secretary of something or other)
  3. be the Vice-President (a nice touch to your resume but not absolutely necessary because so few people get to be Vice.)
  4. real experience in international relations (hold a major ambassadorship and negotiate a trade treaty or two)
  5. run a business (this is NOT a sufficient qualification. Anyone who thinks they can run the country with a background only in corporate America is a darn fool. Ross Perot and Steve Forbes were spectacularly unqualified presidential candidates)
  6. run your political party (know how to manipulate the system, make deals, scratch backs and hide scandals)
  7. a good liar (Presidents must convince the citizens, our allies and our enemies that everything is under control - even when we know it isn't - and that we will damn well do what we say - even when we know we won't)
  8. be a good media-savvy speaker (yep, being a movie star is exceptionally good training for a future President)
  9. be capable of changing your mind (apparently there's an unwritten law which requires politicians to adhere to immutable principals of behavior. This is called "knee jerk" - like "no new taxes". These are usually derived from unprovable tenets of religious faith and economics. The President is free to privately believe anything he or she wants - but like the rest of us she or he should leave those ideas at home before going to work.)
  10. learn to apologize for mistakes (another unwritten law prevents Presidents from admitting they were wrong. There is no doctrine of infallibility for Presidents like there is for Popes. You're just this guy, you know.)
Some things are NOT qualifications, no matter what.

Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton in their youth
Being married to a former President is NOT a qualification.

Going to church, intense religious faith and straight-jacket morality are bad qualities for presidents. I want a President who could have an extra-marital affiar whether they choose to cheat on their spouse or not I want a President who will cheat and lie and steal - for the benefit of the entire country of course - and not get caught.

No one will have ALL of this preparation but can't we find someone who scores higher than 1 or 2?

Bill Clinton plays Saxophone to Boris Yeltsin
Having someone who agrees with me on a few issues would be nice icing on the candidate.

Using these standards the most qualified candidate in 2008 recently dropped out of the race. His name was Bill Richardson.

I'm not the least bit surprised by Richardson's lack of success. Most people want a tall handsome President who makes us feel good. A movie star or talk show host. That's no way to run a country.

President Harry Truman plays piano to Lauren Bacall
In my continuing effort to throw my votes away on principle, I'm going to vote for Richardson anyway on Tuesday. He might have a chance at being picked for Vice. If Dick Cheney can be the devil incarnate just a heartbeat from the Presidency, maybe Richardson can have some angelic positive effects.


Bill Clinton sax with bass player
Someone named Joe Queenan (described as a "New York-based writer") wrote an editorial pronouncing Mike Huckabee unfit to be President because of his choice of musical instrument - the electric bass. Here's a quote:
The president of the United States is the most powerful man in the world, just as the conductor is the most important person in the orchestra, just as the lead guitarist is the most important musician in the band. The bass guitarist, I'm afraid, is more like the Commerce secretary or Uncle Fred, a solid, dependable fellow but definitely not the guy you want with his finger on the red button. Bass players are too bland and dull to run a society as classy as this one.
Mike Huckabee plays bass in Iowa with Blue Elvis Impersonator
Joe Queenan has got it completely backwards. In my opinion, a bass player has an awful lot of qualities that we should expect from our President.
  • bass players must know the structure of the tune
  • bass players play the entire show, every tune, non-stop
  • bass players need to be solid; they "lay it down" and then "keep it together"
  • bass players help the other musicians sound good
  • bass players don't demand the spotlight
Having a Pres with some of these qualities would be a wonderful change for the better. The President is a Suit not a Star. A functionary. A servant of the people. If the President can keep the inner workings of the country solid, the stuff on top ought to come out okay.

Bill Clinton plays Tenor - so cool in shades
Fortunately, musical talent is not a qualification that anyone should consider in picking a candidate. But if it were, Mike Huckabee would be the man for the job. That's the only way I would ever possibly consider supporting him.

Young Richard Nixon played the violin
A previous MM post, including this picture of Dick Nixon, discusses Artistic Politicians. The world would have been a better place of Nixon had stayed a second violin.

The Huckabee picture came from here.

President Jimmy Carter once "sang" Salt Peanuts at a White House jazz concert. Here and here and here are articles which mention this event in no detail whatsoever. But I heard the broadcast. Carter sucked as a singer. The last link also mentions that President Richard Nixon once played Happy Birthday on the piano for Duke Ellington.

Mixed Meters predicts the winner in November: John McCain or Mitt Romney. The Democratic candidate is going to get swift-boated into a historical footnote (unless some 3rd party right wing candidate siphons off votes Perot-sytle.)

Addendum: the current White House chief-of-staff (quick, can you name him?) also plays bass guitar in a rock band. Click here or here.

Swiftboat Tags: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Out To Lunch (aka Ben Watson)

I'm cleaning my office to promote good work habits. To that end I'm trying to throw out no-longer-needed clutter, including printouts of online articles which I find easier to read on paper than on monitor.

Other than this introduction this post will have no original writing by me (and no photographs). What it will have is several quotes which I highlighted in a scholarly paper given by Out To Lunch (aka Ben Watson), author of The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play and master of Zappa talk and double talk, to the International Conference of Esemplastic Zappology.

Surrounding these little bits of wisdom his paper/speech contains some fine opportunities to reflect on the differences between
  • England and America
  • musicians and academics
  • a bunch of isms and a bunch of other isms
  • the common language that divides the United States and Great Britain.
That having been said, I give you Ben Watson:
... Zappa's work is exciting because his art is not the product of an ideology or theory, it wrinkles and overlaps and concentrates bits of the material world so that the whole universe may be viewed in it upside down, tiny, like the image inside the convex mirror in the parlour of your great aunt in Chingford ...

... Zappa's albums present such an outlandish splice of complete madness and cutting sanity that he forces the listener to speculate about the relativity of madness and sanity, the dialectical involvement of opposites like order and chaos, rationality and irrationality. ...

... Zappa wanted to make an art consisting entirely of "sin" - of unabstracted, specific, personal expressions unrepressed by any generalised archetypes. That's why the records he produced are so delightfully knotty, gnarly and pleasing, even when you can't understand a word - and once you've worked out all the ingredients of "Debra Kedabara", all the stuff about B movies, Mexican rubber masks and dental flossers, you're really no wiser. Why did he put all that junk in there? Because it resists the abstract concept! ...

Esemplastic Tags: . . . . . .

Friday, January 25, 2008

Snow in Places

We're having what we call "winter" in Southern California - a period of steady heavy rainstorms. This is remarkable because we've skipped winter for the last several years. Last year was the driest on record.

Here's a newspaper pummeled by rain on a bed of greens.

Newspaper on the grass after heavy rain (c) David Ocker

When it rains down in our valley (the San Gabriel Valley not the birthplace of Valley Girls), it often snows at higher elevations. However, we can see higher elevations including Mount Wilson which towers above us. It's 5710 feet above wherever they measure from.

The clouds broke briefly this afternoon, suns shone, patches of blue sky were visible and, indeed, there was snow on high ground. You'll have to click and scroll this picture as it is quite wide.

Mount Wilson Snowfall panorama as seen from Pasadena CA (c) David Ocker

Snow Tags: . . . . . . . . . . . .

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Sousaphones on the Beach in Art and Advertising

In March, 2006, a Mixed Meters post entitled On the Religion of the Past and the Future included this picture from a perfume ad, a scratch'n-sniff insert from our Sunday paper. The picture shows a beautiful skinny topless woman in bright red pants sitting on a stool on a beautiful white sand beach as waves played about her feet. Unremarkable except that she is wrapped in a sousaphone.

The text reads:
Perry Ellis Fragrance - Robinson's/May

Topless Sousaphone Girl at the Beach selling Perfume
Maybe she's a member of an all girl topless marching band and synchronized swim team.

Here's another magazine ad from Playboy, September 1964. We see a different beautiful skinny model, not topless but wearing a skimpy bikini, while sitting side saddle on the back of a red Honda scooter. She too is wearing a sousaphone. Maybe she's on the way to a gig at the beach and the guy in the suit is the band director.

Honda motorscooter ad - woman with sousaphone
(Click any picture for an enlargement. The text of this ad is included at the end of this post so Google's bots can enjoy it too.)

The similarity of elements in these two pictures - pretty girl, sousaphone, references to the beach plus a bright red visual accent - are probably just a coincidence.

Here are two other pictures of art, one created with a sousaphones the other with a tuba (which is a sousaphone twisted differently.)

I took the first one at an art gallery in Carmel California which overlooks the Pacific. Another beach reference. The second one was sent to me by I don't remember who. I do seem to remember that it is from the garden of a local tubist - but again I don't remember who. It's not on the beach but there's plenty of water.

Sousaphone become sculpture - Carmel CA 2003
Tuba foundtain

The Honda ad:
Some tootin'

She likes to blow her own horn.

And she's got the displacement for it, too: 90cc compression ratio 8:1. And hits 6.5 hp at 8000 rpm.

There's a lot of lungpower for a lightweight.

What's more, she tops 55 mph without pressing. Delivers 165 miles to a gallon of gas. She's a four-stroker, OHV aircooled, of course, with a 4-speed foot shift. Never fails to meet you more than halfway.

Look for the new Honda 90. Always hits the right note.

For address of your nearest dealer or other information, write: American Honda Motor Co., Inc., Dept. CX, 100 West Alondra, Gardena, California.

HONDA world's biggest seller!
Here and here and here and here are links to a few women who play the tuba. I wonder what they think of the sousaphone/beach-bunny ads.

Read about the video game Sousaphone Hero

Tuba Tags: . . . . . . . . . . . .

Monday, January 21, 2008

Like Cats and Dogs

If I don't post a certain number of pictures of our pets I might lose my blogging license. So, here are some recent images of "the tails".

Chowderhead's nose, tongue and ball (c) David Ocker
Mis Ivy Turnstiles Perkette (c) David Ocker
Two Ackles in a Basket - Spackle left and Crackle right - (c) David Ocker
OJ appears to drink from a wine glass (c) David Ocker
OJ appears to sleep off his hangover (c) David Ocker
Our striped tiger - (c) David Ocker

Pet Tags: . . . . . .

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Paradise, Pomp and Puppets - Performing Zappa's Orchestra Music

I wanted to call this post "Seeking Stephanie Zimmerman".

I can hear you ask "Who is Stephanie Zimmerman? Why is she relevant to the subject of Frank Zappa's orchestra pieces?"

All you need to know now is that I'm using her name to create some artificial dramatic tension. You'll have to read on to find out "what's the deal".


As my three readers must know by now, I worked for Frank Zappa during his "late middle period" beginning just after the break with Warner Brothers and ending a year or so after he acquired the Synclavier. That's roughly 1977 to 1984.

Mostly I worked on his music for conventional acoustic ensembles - meaning pieces for symphony orchestra. I'm grateful for the opportunities he provided me. I learned many things; much of it still useful in my current life.

When Frank passed away in 1993 I realized that I would get one final opportunity from Frank. I would have a chance to watch Frank Zappa find his posthumous place in the history of music.

Clearly his music will not be forgotten; there's too much of it. Equally clearly, as a maverick musician balanced between wildly different genres, he will not be regarded as a seminal influence. Zappa will not be another Beethoven, Wagner, Stravinsky or Schoenberg. Even so, his fans, together with the academic establishment, together with professional musicians, together with his heirs will create a "Zappa legacy" of some sort or other.

Using a roughly normal lifespan for myself I calculated that I had between 30 and 40 years to observe this process. I'm now near the midpoint. Things can still go either way.

My principal interest involves the pieces I worked on. If those pieces are accepted into the repertoire of orchestras and embraced by their audiences then Frank's legacy will not rest merely on his (not inconsiderable) activities as bandleader, guitarist, songwriter and (anti)social commentator. Instead he could be remembered the same way I saw him during his lifetime. That's the way he ought to be remembered: as a composer.

No matter what happens serious-composer-wise, all his albums and concerts and the stories about what he did and said will leave quite a legacy. But things won't be the same if he doesn't get that "serious composer" label. The difference is between entering the 250-year history of all Western Music or being a big fish in the 60-year pond of rock and roll.

Which would you prefer if you had the choice?

LA Philharmonic performs Dupree's Paradise on the Wells Fargo Stage
Three concerts of Frank Zappa's orchestra music have occupied my attention lately:
  • Dupree in L.A
  • Bogus in Budapest and
  • Seeking Stephanie Zimmerman.


On May 15, 1970, the Los Angeles Philharmonic performed a concert entitled Contempo 70 at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion. On that concert, along with Frank and the Mothers, the orchestra performed music from 200 Motels

Apparently no one went home from Contempo 70 happy - apart from the audience. Since my arrival in Los Angeles in 1974 I've heard stories of that night from many different people - including composer Mel Powell (who stopped the performance of his piece half way through). Recently my wife Leslie told me, for the first time, that she had attended that concert.

This January 5th and 6th the Philharmonic played Dupree's Paradise, a piece of Frank's for medium-sized instrumental ensemble. It represents the first Zappa performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic since the 1970 Pauley concert.

I'm aware of a few go-nowhere discussions between Frank and the Phil about possible performances in the intervening 37 years. The fact that our local orchestra finally played a bit of Zappa, even one of his easier ones, after all this time seems remarkable and positive.

Maybe things have settled down enough that the Zappa orchestra pieces can be regarded for what they are rather than for what the composer says or does surrounding the performance. I spoke to one Philharmonic member who performed in both concerts: 200 Motels in 1970 and Dupree's Paradise this month. She didn't talk about the music but she did remember several offensive things which Frank said or did at Pauley Pavilion.

For this program in 2008 Dupree's Paradise was squeezed between larger orchestra pieces. It got normal rehearsal time - almost none - but everyone was well prepared and the LA Philharmonic proved its brilliance once again.

The conductor David Robertson urged the players to achieve a proper Zappaesque feel by using some interesting images. In one spot, to enhance a string color change, he suggested that they think of "someone fiddling with the tone controls of an old radio." In another he said the music should sound like "Webern on a variable speed tape deck."

But there wasn't time for any experimentation during rehearsal (there never is) - and the music was unfamiliar all around. During Frank's lifetime he repeatedly said the only requirement for his music was that the performers play exactly what he wrote on the paper; Zappa didn't want his music "interpreted" by performers. Since that's what performers are trained to do, his comments weren't always received in the best humor.

Of course he hardly ever heard note perfect performances. My own experiences playing his music indicated that once I could play exactly what he had written (or at least get damn close) he responded well to interpretation.

Several times I remember him complimenting a performance by saying "That really talks." You know how actors and dancers (and just about everyone else) say that a good performance "sings". It's hyperbole because usually no actual singing is involved.

A high compliment from Frank Zappa was when he said that you had made the music "talk".

I think Frank would have had to admit that the LA Philharmonic performance of Dupree's Paradise accurately represented what he wrote on the page.

But it did not "talk".

David Robertson and LA Philharmonic after Dupree's Paradise
There are moments of romance in Dupree's Paradise that needed some loving. There are moments of humor that needed comic pacing. And there times where I think the music needs a big, old-fashion luftpause. A short wait, a fraction of a second out of tempo that will let everyone in the audience catch their breath and give them time to notice that something new is about to begin. That's what performers do in music of Beethoven, Wagner, Stravinsky and Schoenberg. They should do it in music of Frank Zappa too.

On this Philharmonic program of larger pieces Dupree receded into the background. It was probably not the best choice to end the first half. Better to have begun either half with it. But that by itself wouldn't have brought Dupree's Paradise to life. The audience, like the orchestra, received Dupree's Paradise politely - and everyone went on to the next victim.

The concert was recorded for iTunes. If you weren't at the concert you'll be able to listen yourself and disagree with me for some good reason.

One side note: the final piece was Edgard Varese's Ameriques - a piece for humungus orchestra. It barely fit onto the Wells Fargo Stage (yep that's the "stage name" of the stage inside the Ron Burkle Ralph's Food-For-Less Foundation Auditorium inside Walt Disney Concert Hall.)

The Ameriques orchestra is still quite a bit smaller than the orchestra for Frank Zappa's massive shoe-symphony Sinister Footwear. I wonder how they could squeeze enough players onto the Wells Fargo Stage to ever perform Sinister Footwear. I'd like to see them try.

Ron Burkle Ralph's Food For Less Auditorium


Thanks to the really fine Zappa blog called Kill Ugly Radio I became aware of an all Frank Zappa orchestra concert by conductor Adam Fischer leading the Hungarian Radio Orchestra (the MR Symphony Orchestra) in Budapest Hungary on October 13, 2007. It was entitled 100% Zappa. It was one of three concerts devoted to Franks music in the BOF (Budapest Autumn Festival). I couldn't attend due to other commitments. And money. I would have loved to hear the rehearsals and concert.

The program was four pieces: Envelopes, Pedro's Dowry, Bogus Pomp and Strictly Genteel. These were the orchestra versions premiered at the 1984 Barbican concert in London with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kent Nagano. I copied music for all of them and I worked as orchestrator on the last two (the music of those two comes from 200 Motels.)

Weeks after the 100% Zappa concert, again thanks to Kill Ugly Radio and the Hungarian Zappa blog., I learned that I could hear the concert online in Real Audio via the Hungarian Radio's website. The Real Audio files are still available if you're interested. (They're posted in hour by hour format but the concert broadcast started at 19:35 so you'll need the files for 19 o'clock and 20 o'clock from this page. Good luck.)

I was really enthusiastic about these recordings. The orchestra played very well and it was obvious to me that the conductor was contributing positive interpretation. I was asked by Balint Marosi of the Hungarian Zappa website to write a little bit of commentary. Naturally I wrote a big lot instead of a little bit. The article is entitled In My Perfect World. You can read everything I wrote here.

The Smoking Tubist - Hungarian Radio Symphony performs Zappa
Here's a quote from me:
"Pedro's Dowry is the most difficult of the four - both to play and to understand. I was very impressed with the way Adam Fischer brought out the connections between themes and enhanced the lyrical qualities. These things often get lost when the notes are so hard."
I conclude In My Perfect World with a flight of fancy about Bogus Pomp. It occurred to me that concert audiences, otherwise unfamiliar with Zappa's music, could be introduced to this piece as a symphony in one movement.

Bogus Pomp
is very much like a symphony; it has pretty clear sections and lots of thematic references. I suggest four possible orchestra programs that I would enjoy hearing. Each program ends with Bogus Pomp. None of the additional music is too heavy and none of it is generally associated with Zappa - there's not a Varese piece anywhere.

I found two other comments about this Budapest concert. One Hungarian website has this review of 100% Zappa (it's in Hungarian). Here's a paragraph in translation:
"Adam Fischer conducted with his habitual energy and enthusiasm. The humor and playfulness of the four pieces gave Fischer an opportunity to sometimes almost become az instrumentalist member of the orchestra."
Tom Trapp, who arranged Frank's music for a different concert in Budapest (the one with my buddy Ed Mann and another Zappa alumnus who I wish was my buddy Mike Keneally), mentioned Adam Fischer in this interview:
"I had a little conversation with Adam Fischer in the dressing room, and he was pleased too, and he seemed to be very into the music, which - for me - is the most important thing when you're dealing with Zappa. You have to almost "live" for that music in that moment, and I think he did that."
So what's the common thread so far? It's that I think Zappa's orchestra music needs some strong musical leadership to bring it successfully into the concert hall.

These pieces simply do not play themselves.


A man named Eric Peterson wrote to me. Eric is a digital artist, computer geek (that's a compliment, of course) and a fan of Frank Zappa. You can find his online stuff here and here and here.

Back in 1984 Eric attended a unique concert of Frank Zappa's orchestra music on the campus of U.C. Berkeley called A Zappa Affair.

The Berkeley Symphony, conducted by the young, unknown Kent Nagano, performed the really really hard Zappa orchestra pieces including Sinister Footwear.

While they played from the pit dancers manipulated life-size (and larger than life-size) puppets acting out the scenarios Frank had overlaid onto his music.

Zappa and Puppets
Here's a scan of the program insert. The concerts were broadcast live over KPFA - meaning that there are plenty of bootleg copies floating around. Here's a rave review by Larry Kelp from the Oakland Tribune which gives a good description of what happend. Kelp says:
Zappa's concept, the orchestra, dancers and a dazzling array of sets and props, all coalesced into a huge, two-hour production that was funny, entertaining, mixed the various art forms masterfully, and took a bold step into the future.
Drawing for A Zappa Affair puppet by John C Gilkerson
Besides Zappa and Nagano, the creative team behind A Zappa Affair included choreographers Tandy Beal and Joan Lazarus. But it was the puppet creations of the late John C. Gilkerson which really made magic happen.

One of the pieces on the program was Mo 'n Herb's Vacation and I was asked to perform the first clarinet part. That was the part Frank had written specifically for me at my request. There wasn't much else for me to do so I got to watch a lot of the goings on surrounding the whole "affair".

It's not hard to guess that during production Frank caused grief by the things he said and did as he guided the whole megillah over the top. Tensions racheted and tempers flared.

Here's a 1987 article by pianist Sarah Cahill reminiscing on the experience from the orchestra's vantage point.

She wrote:
People who went to the Zappa concerts remember them as one of the symphony's best productions ever. Unfortunately, people who worked on the concerts still think of them as a painful episode.
I personally remember how adamant Frank was that the performance not be videotaped. But on the night of the concert a professional video camera appeared in the concert hall. Frank was furious and demanded that the tape be destroyed. Long ago I mentioned this fact online here.

Apparently Eric Peterson saw my comment about the video and wrote to say that he had started a personal search for pictures from those performances. All he could find was publicity shots taken before hand. Eric could find no pictures at all of the puppets in performance - video or still. He asked if I could be of any help.

I dug through my vast mess of old flyers and programs and reviews. I found a copy of the program book from those concerts.

Looking through this material I was reminded of the name of the producer of A Zappa Affair - the person Frank angrily ordered to destroy the video tape. He did this at an after-concert dinner in a Chinese restaurant somewhere across the bay in San Francisco. Frank stormed off and the rest of us sat down to eat.

The producer of A Zappa Affair was Stephanie Zimmerman.

Stephanie, if you're out there, Eric Peterson would like to ask you whether some pictures of the performance exist. I hope there are some.

I've scanned the Zappa-relevant pages of the program book and created a pdf. You can download the file here. About 3 megs. It includes a number of publicity pictures, biographies of everyone involved, a slightly different program listing.

There is also an article by Stephanie Zimmerman entitled "How It All Happened". She tells many more interesting details about the creation of puppets and the production itself.

One thing the program book does NOT include anywhere is my name. But I was there. I did perform. Really. I can remember renting a tuxedo.

My own question for Stephanie is "Did you really destroy the tape?". I don't expect her to answer. I sure hope she didn't do it. Trust me, it'll be a great video. I want to see it. You'll want to see it too.

John C Gilkerson designer of puppets for A Zappa Affair
Unfortunately, if the tape does exist, it will be the subject of, um, legal wrangling. I doubt there was any formal agreement among the creators of A Zappa Affair over the rights to reproductions. Probably that's why Frank was so against making it.

The surviving creators and the heirs of the other creators will need to make some kind of agreement before releasing such a document. Believe me, that will not be easy. It will be hard. It will be next to impossible. If you don't already know why that is, you're better off.

But it could happen. I would like to get the process started as soon as possible because I only have a couple more decades to see the thing. Time's a wasting.

Puppet by John Gilkerson with dancer - A Zappa Affair - photo by David Windt
Here's a nice chronology of Frank Zappa's life.

I discuss the Wells Fargo Stage in this Mixed Meters post.

Another Mixed Meters post: Varese, Zappa and Slonimsky.

Click here for all Mixed Meters posts tagged "Zappa".

My very special thanks to Barry and all the fine folks at the fine blog Kill Ugly Radio and extra special thanks to Balint Marosi of the equally fine Hungarian Zappa blog. Read about how the heirs treat the fans here.

Also thanks to Eric Peterson (see above) who pointed out that he didn't actually attend A Zappa Affair as I said. But he did listen recently to a recording of the KPFK broadcast. Here's his reaction in his own words:
I found the broadcast I put it on my iPod one afternoon in Feb ‘06, I went for a walk and I was blown away AND very significantly, I was laughing! I was laughing with an audience listening to modern compositions played by an Orchestra. I was so anxious when I got home to find some images of the performance, I mean, how could they not exist? This was a major event. I heard that much that day.
Also thanks to David Windt (see comments below) - who took the picture of the puppet on-stage with dancer attached (the dancer, dressed totally in black, is barely visible). This happened not at A Zappa Affair but at a public discussion with Frank (Speaking of Music, May 20, 1984) moderated by Charles Amirkhanian. See David's description of what happened by clicking here.

Bogus Tags: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Saturday, January 12, 2008

LAX and Back

This afternoon I was a passenger on a trip by automobile from Pasadena to Los Angeles International Airport and back. I amused myself by taking pictures out the window. Except for the two Terminal 2 pictures all these shots were taken from a moving vehicle somewhere on the Pasadena, Harbor or Century freeways.

Freeway Wall 1 (c) David Ocker
Freeway Wall 2 (c) David Ocker
Freeway Wall 3 (c) David Ocker
FedEx Plane, the old Tower and the light column art thing at LAX (c) David Ocker
Fence on LAX approach road (c) David Ocker
Here is Sammy, Mixed Meters' Oxford reader, who we were delivering to his Virgin, standing with Leslie outside Terminal 2.

Sammy & Leslie Outside Terminal Two (c) David Ocker
Here is a close-up of the previous shot.

Blue Terminal Two (c) David Ocker
The next four pictures were taken while driving through downtown L.A.

Freeway Signs (c) David Ocker
Indian Casino Giveaway (c) David Ocker
Construction and GROWL graffiti (c) David Ocker
Skyscraper Shadows (c) David Ocker
The remaining pictures are the bridges of the Pasadena Freeway.

York Avenue bridge (c) David Ocker
Gold Line Trestle (c) David Ocker
Blue Sky & Green Pedestrian Overpass (c) David Ocker
Click any picture to enlargen it. If you've never been to Los Angeles these pictures will give a better idea of what it really looks like than anything you've seen in television or movies.

LAX Tags: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Saturday, January 05, 2008

30 Second Spots - The Rhino's Medallion

I've taken two previous 30 Second Spots (The Flight of the Rhino and The Medallion and combined the music into this piece The Rhino's Medallion. It might be helpful to go read about and listen to the two earlier pieces before listening to this. But then again ... maybe not.

Although I created this on the level of musical notation rather than audio mixing, it might be helpful to imagine this process as a strange form of "mashup" or "remix". Maybe it's a collage. Or a montage. It's definitely not a montuno.

Listen here.

133 seconds - Copyright (c) David Ocker

Last week I had a few minutes to cruise through a store devoted to Christmas ornaments. I was looking for more Christmas Penguins to photograph. There wasn't a single penguin in the store. When I saw this statue of a woman playing a violin my jaw dropped. I wanted to buy it just for the kitsch value - but even at half price it was too expensive.

statue of woman with big butt playing a violin  (c) David Ocker
Why an artist would want to portray the female form with such a huge, distended, horse-like hind section is beyond me. The object was quite tall, so maybe the ass serves as ballast to keep it from toppling over. They also had the same statue with the woman playing a flute instead of a violin.

I don't suppose she's any more non-anatomical than Barbie, just more abstractly offensive. If I were still doing Docker Awards this would be a great statuette to symbolize them.

If the embedded mp3 player doesn't work, click here.

Big Ballast Tags: . . . . . . . . .

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

David's Favorite Things From 2007

This is kind of like a Ten-Best List. The things on this list were not new to the world in 2007, they were only new to me - which is good enough for this blog.

David Ocker Self Portrait After Escher (c) David Ocker
1. iPod (number one with a tag)

I bought the thing to avoid the ugly surfeit of Willie Nelson songs at Starbucks. What I've discovered is that the iPod enhanced my enjoyment of music all around by taking the music I want to situations where I want it. Waiting for a train. Sitting on the beach. Taking a walk at 5 a.m. It's now definitely my favorite way to listen.

Certain music seems to fit my iPod habits - for example Terry Riley's A Rainbow in Curved Air, Bach English Suites and Scarlatti Sonatas. Morton Feldman and Conlon Nancarrow got deleted quickly.

Shuffle play is a wonderful thing. Since the iPod is filled only with music I like, random order turns it into a radio station that plays only my favorite tunes. Some of the segues are truly transcendent and compositionally inspiring..

Alas, nothing is perfect:
  • iTunes sucks (a marketing device designed to tether you to digital rights management; I stopped using it almost immediately)
  • Headphones are the weak link- if only someone could design a set of headphones as well as someone designed the iPod - with cables that adjust in length, don't tangle and don't catch on anything.
  • mp3 tags are an unmitigated disaster. You ought to be able to mark your files for easy, flexible and universal access. But I can't. Maybe if you only listen to pop songs you can; but you probably can't.
Plant growing inside a street light (c) David Ocker
2. The New Point and Shoot in My Pocket (number two with a zoom)

I blogged about the new camera here. Since then I've been nothing but pleased with it. Just where do you think all these pictures come from? You can see hundreds of my pictures (mostly taken with the new and old Pocket Point and Shoots) here.

Caution Hot - Deli Warmer (c) David Ocker
3. Chowderhead, our dog (number three with a tail)

Chowderhead, also known as "Mister Big Nose", has become a permanent fixture in our back yard. He's in charge of barking at small animals, chasing balls (especially the one that sounds like a wounded hamster when he bites down on it), chewing things beyond recognition and ripping out the grass.

No human, even a cynical old fart like me, could possibly be immune to the tidal wave of enthusiasm of this dog. Watching this passionate puppy is enough to make me feel good. Here and here are the two principal blog posts about Chowder.

They say people tend to look like their pets. Not true for us, but I think Leslie and I share a psychological profile with Chowderhead: we're all stubborn and obstinate. Training him has become an uphill battle. If he would only come when he was called. Is that so hard?

Colored Toy Bowling Pins in Package (c) David Ocker
4. Rhapsody in Blue performed by Marcus Roberts (Number four with an altered chord.)

I actually blogged about this. Go here.

Blue Pillar of Joy (c) David Ocker
5. Firefly (Number five with Chinese obscenities)

Although I'm a musician, the only kind of opera I really like is Space Opera. The movie Serenity made last years list. Firefly is the television series which begat that movie. We watched all the episodes on DVD and we were disappoint how few there are. More please.

Red Face on Wooden Telephone Pole (c) David Ocker
6. The Great Black Way by R.J. Smith (Number six-a-roonie)

The Great Black Way is a book about the vibrant black community around Central Avenue (it goes south from downtown Los Angeles) in the '40s. I thought it would be mostly about music - but Smith managed to relate the music to the politics and social movements of the period. Fascinating. Imagine, a time not too far gone and a place very close by where music was actually relevant to society. The book tells about dozens and dozens of cover versions of the song Open The Door, Richard. I'd like to find a compendium of those.

Black on Yellow on Gray (c) David Ocker
7. The Third Reich in Power by Richard J. Evans (number seven with an armband)

I blogged about this recently. Go here.

Missing Sign - Comedy & Tragedy (c) David Ocker
8. TMZ (number eight with shadenfreude)

There's a pandemic of television tabloid "news" shows. I've heard this called "hypertabloidization". TMZ is such a show. TMZ stands for "Thirty Mile Zone". Why? I have no clue. Click here for the TMZ website.

There are a lot of competing television tabloids. This one is presented by real looking people, instead of wanna-be beautiful people. Of course it doesn't hurt that it comes on right after The Simpsons, and I undergo a kind of lethargic non-kinetization after watching television for a while.

But mostly the shambles that famous people make of their real lives is far more interesting than any performances any of them are capable of. Television is providing anti-role models - although I'm not sure whether anyone realizes it yet.

Two Train Track Fences (c) David Ocker
9. Ma Meeshka Mow Skwoz by Mr. Bungle (number nine with an organ and a scream)

An acquaintance from Starbucks suggested I might like the music by the group Mister Bungle. He was wrong, I didn't much care for it. Too heavy. Too punky. Too rock 'n roll.

But one tune out of three albums I purchased captured my fancy. From the album Disco Volante. It's kind of a gothic horror sound track with trad jazz influences, disconcerting silences, incomprehensible lyrics (the best kind) and lots and lots of noises, including the greatest moment of pure musical static in the history of the world. It only lasts about 2 seconds but in rhythm. The tune has many mixed meters as well, whatever they are.

Shadows of something (c) David Ocker
10. Katra Turana (number ten from the '80s)

I don't know where I got these mp3s but they're a permanent feature on my iPod now. I don't know much else about this group either. Katra Turana was a Japanese trio in the 80s. Their music fascinates me because of it bizarrely combines sometimes wistful, sometimes dippy pop style melodies with avant-garde free improvisation, carefully worked out arrangements, strange vocal techniques from a soprano with a range beyond human hearing, and a manic, minimalist sense. Or something like that.

Stairway Sign at LAX (c) David Ocker

That's ten things. The list begins with two pocketable portable electronic devices followed by a large red dog with obedience issues. The rest of the list includes two television shows (one cancelled years ago), two books (one about the '30s the other about the '40s) and three musical selections (2 over 10 years old and the last over 20.). These are just some of my favorite things. Go figure. Maybe it makes more sense to you.

2007 Favorite Tags: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .