Sunday, October 31, 2010

Prostitution, Obscenity and California Politics

Election season is almost over again.  Because I don't own a television station I can't rake in the bucks selling time for sleazy political ads.   I do have a blog and I can rant about politics - that's what blogs are for.

We Californians are enduring a gubernatorial combat between former California governor Jerry Brown, who wants his old job back, and former E-Bay CEO Meg Whitman, who apparently can't find work elsewhere.  Brown has been a politician all his life and has achieved a personal net worth of $4 million (source).  Whitman rode the crest of the Internet boom and has a net worth of $1.2 billion. Billion!  That ties her for number 332 on the list of the 400 richest Americans (source).  So far she's spent more than 10% of her fortune trying to get elected.

Why is becoming governor of California worth millions of dollars to Meg?  Meg tells us that she isn't running for office because of money.

I know she isn't running because she wants a paycheck of $206,000.  Meg has SO much money already that she could pay herself a governor's salary out of pocket for over 63 centuries - roughly until the year 8310.  If she puts all her money in a simple savings account (one with a paltry .25% interest) in one year her money will earn over 157 times the governor's salary. Honestly, that's enough for even rich people to live on - or so I'm told.

I actually think Meg wants to be Governor mostly because of the money.    Someone who has accumulated so much money (and done it so quickly) probably spends her time thinking about nothing else except money.

Meg argues that her vast horde of money will keep her independent.  I think that's wrong.  As governor I think she would be a hostage to her money pile and would have trouble making decisions which would adversely affect the net worth of the ultra-wealthy. 

Meg Whitman's wealth is vastly out of scale for our society.  It's far beyond anything an average American can ever hope for.  Immense wealth gives its owner great power.  It is obscene for a few individuals to have so much wealth and influence.  America is harmed by this disparity between richest and poorest.  And recent tax laws have been increasing the distance.  That's very wrong. 

It's time to bring back a more progressive tax code - where people with higher income pay ever higher tax rates.  Government is supposed to take enough money away from people who can get along just fine without it in order to help people who really need help.  People who pay high taxes ought to think of paying taxes as simple patriotism.  The idea is elementary, but, alas, the details are staggeringly complex.

Californians have been handed this line that "my obscene wealth makes me a better politician" before - by our current failure of a governor, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger (net worth $400,000,000 source).  Meg Whitman's talking points in her current campaign are eerily similar to what Arnold has told us in previous elections.  Watch this fun Jerry Brown attack ad:

Arnold, who now must bear the burden of an actual political record, was clearly lying when he recited these nostrums.  California has an immense revenue problem.  In no way have Schwarzenegger's actions in Sacramento resembled those of a good business leader.  He has not created jobs.  He has not made government more efficient.

All the while Arnold has taken over $143,000,000 in special interest money (source) and we must suspect that he says the things he says because other people paid him to say them.  After all, Arnold's real experience is as an actor and that's what a professional actor does.  Here's a fun compendium of 160 things he was paid to say (many of which are not safe for the ears of your co-workers or republican prudes):

Want more?  Here's another 130. 

Imagine California actually was a private business and that Meg Whitman applied for the job of governor.  Let's listen in on the initial interview:
Human Resources Interviewer: Welcome, Meg. Being governor of California involves lots of politics. What political experience have you had?
Meg Whitman: All my experience was running corporations.  I feel that I must have been very good at that job because I made a mountain of money.
H.R. Interviewer: Here at California Ltd. we believe that politics is the ability to convince people who already have money to hand it over to us so we can give it away to people who need it more than they do.  Is that something you know how to do?
Meg Whitman: I think government should allow people with money to accumulate even more money so they can pay salaries to people who need money.
H.R. Interviewer: How many California jobs have you created with your own mountain of money?
Meg Whitman: I had a housekeeper for a while.
H.R. Interviewer: Okay, thank you for coming in.  We'll call you if we need more information.
Meg Whitman's housekeeper (she's the one who claimed in public that she had been fired by Whitman from her $23 an hour job of nine years because candidate Whitman finally realized that having an undocumented maid was bad political form) became a hot topic during this election.   Whitman's campaign countered this mud with a tape in which one of Jerry Brown's assistants referred to Meg as a "whore" because she accepted an endorsement from a police union in exchange for exempting members of that same union from her own proposed pension cuts.

During one of those unwatchable debates Meg expressed great outrage at being called a whore:
I think every Californian, and especially women, know exactly what's going on here.  And that is a deeply offensive term to women.
It seems that Meg doesn't understand the most obvious implication of the word whore.  A whore is someone who "gets paid for it".  "It" can be anything, not just sex, and in these gender neutral times the person doesn't even have to be female. 

Being a whore means doing it for money.

You can see a list of contributors to the Whitman campaign here

If you are a California voter and you read this before November 2, 2010, please vote for Proposition 19 (because the current situation clearly isn't working) and also for Proposition 25 (because the current situation clearly isn't working.)

Read a Sunday Times (of London) article about current U.S. income tax rates:
Warren Buffett, the third-richest man in the world, has criticised the US tax system for allowing him to pay a lower rate than his secretary and his cleaner.
L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez writes about what Meg Whitman could have done with her money instead

L.A. Times columnist Michael Hiltzik writes about why big-time CEOs make lousy politicians.

Money Tags: . . . . . . . . . . . .

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Arthur Jarvinen - Carbon for Bass Clarinet Solo

(You can read about the Arthur Jarvinen Memorial held October 30, 2010.  Or read my initial post called Arthur Jarvinen 1956-2010.)

In 1982 Art Jarvinen wrote a solo piece for bass clarinet entitled Carbon.  I performed that piece a lot.  (For me "a lot" was still less than a dozen times.)  One of those performances was at the New Music America Festival held here in Los Angeles in 1985.  I did a solo clarinet recital at the Arnold Schoenberg Institute, then located at USC.   (You can read about that recital in the MM post Two Marks of Good Music Criticism.)

I often introduced the pieces I performed directly from the stage.  That was a lucky thing at this event because the programs didn't arrive until the concert was nearly finished. 

Listen to my introduction of Carbon by Arthur Jarvinen on New Music America 1985  (142 seconds)

Here is a transcription of Art's program notes and biography as I read them to the audience.  My other verbal interpolations are only available if you listen.
Arthur Jarvinen provided the following notes for Carbon: This work was through-composed on a purely intuitive basis at a time when I was infatuated with Antarctica. I imagine Antarctica to be the place on the planet with the most nothing or the least of everything. The work is now dedicated to David Ocker for repeatedly bringing his considerable talents to bear on an odd and difficult piece.

Art also provided the following biography and noted that some people thought it uninformative. Arthur Jarvinen was raised in Finnish communities in the midwestern United States and Canada, the son of a Lutheran clergyman. A boy scout for three years he once snowshoed twenty miles in one day. Mr. Jarvinen has been a student of Thai cooking for several years and enjoys entertaining his friends. In 1983 he made dinner for Drumbo. His favorite footwear is a pair of jump boots he got in 1975.
Listen to Carbon by Arthur Jarvinen (482 seconds)

Here's an email which I received from Arthur.  It's dated March 17, 2007, at 3:10PM:
As a composer, I have really valued my relationships with people like you, Marty Walker and others who chose to play the bass clarinet, and focus on it, and do it so well. God's gift to me was the ability to easily play the vibraphone, the most boring instrument on earth. I would have asked for bass clarinet chops, were that an option.
I always wondered why he called the piece Carbon.  I can't remember ever asking him directly.  Possibly he chose the title because there's so little of the element carbon in the Antarctic.  That would mean it is music about things which are not present.  The music is filled with a great deal of emptiness. 

After an opening section of about 90 seconds, Art abruptly discards most of the material he has set forth, choosing to keep only a few simple musical phrases characterized by long steady tones.  These are unpredictably repeated over and over, contrasting loud and soft.

At each successive performance I remember trying to make those long tones even steadier and even longer.  And to make the silences between them longer as well.  Art eventually noticed this and told me that's not what he intended.  He didn't specifically say 'don't do it'. I remember ignoring his comment.

Today, based on this performance, I don't feel that the piece is too long.  But Carbon does feel like it speaks about things which are missing.  Foremost among them now, of course, is Art himself.  I suspect that the meaning of all of his music will change for those of us who knew him, now that we must live in a world without him. It's a poorer world now - one without the one-of-a-kind creativity of Art.

A note on this recording.  My 25-year old archive tape was afflicted with horrible print-through, a condition where the magnetism of one loop of recording tape magnetizes the next loop.  This results in little echos of things which are about to happen.  Needless to say, the listening experience is ruined - especially for Carbon.  

Through the miracle of digital audio editing and because of the reptitive nature of this music,  I've been able to remove the print-through artifacts and restore the music experience.  Audiophiles who listen critically at high volumes will be scandalized.  The rest of us, who listen at normal volume, should have no problem in contemplating the musical events as Art himself intended them.

Carbon Dating Tags: . . . . . . . . .

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Arthur Jarvinen 1956-2010

Art Jarvinen passed away yesterday.  He was a composer and a percussionist and a bass player.  He called himself a physical poet.  He created stuff.  Lots of stuff.  Much of what he created was music.  Other times he created things which pushed the boundaries of music.  Sometimes he pushed those boundaries quite hard.

I considered Art one of my closest friends.  We met in the late seventies.  He performed on Independent Composers Association concerts.  He was in music ensembles (EAR Unit, The Mope, Antenna Repairmen) which played my music.  I was in an esemble (XTET) which played his music.  He started a publishing company (Leisure Planet) which published my music.  We both worked for Frank Zappa.

I didn't always understood what motivated Art.  Nor did I always understand his music.  A performance of a Jarvinen piece could leave you scratching your head.  Sadly, our last few conversations left me scratching my head.  There will always be things about Art which I will never understand.

Art kept a website,  There's a bio and lists of his compositions and recordings.

I'd like to point your attention to three projects which will tell you more about Art than I can.  All of them are well worth your time.

First, The Invisible Guy.  I'm listening as I write this post.  I love the music to The Invisible Guy - although I often find it difficult to reconcile with Art Jarvinen the person.   Art called it:
a real soundtrack for an imaginary spy film
Fifty episodes of music and written narrative,
inspired by the surf music/spy movie genres.
There are dozens of tunes you can listen to (you can also tap your foot or sing along) - while reading about the adventures of The Invisible Guy himself.  You want to know about Art's musical influences?  Try listening to The Invisible Guy.

Second, an interview Art did in 2008 on Kalvos and Damian.  (Look for show #539.) Kalvos and Damian are two guys who are not named Kalvos or Damian.  However, in two hours they covered a lot of Things Jarvinen.   This is the best overview of Arts career of which I'm aware

Third, Mister Composer Head.   Mister Composer Head is a blog.  Well, it was a blog briefly in 2007.  An anonymous blog.  Well, there's no point in keeping the secret now.  Art Jarvinen was Mister Composerhead.   Back then I wrote this bit to describe how the project started:
  1. David asked Mister Composer Head to write some guest posts.
  2. Mister Composer Head did one.
  3. Mister Composer Head then did another. And another. Mister Composer Head REALLY got into it.
  4. David suggested that Mister Composer Head should have his own blog. But Mister Composer Head didn't want to do that.
  5. So David is doing it for him.
I also wrote text for the Mister Composer Head header:
MISTER COMPOSER HEAD.  Being the comments of Mister Composer Head, composer of music, thinker of thoughts, writer of words, player of instruments and teller of stories who says what he wants to say and doesn't care how you react as long as we keep his name out it.
Art told me he really liked that paragraph.  Damn it, Art, you should have written more.

Here is a previous MM post, Independently Celebrating Independence, about a 4th of July pig roast thrown by Art and his wife Lynn and by Robert Fernandez (a fine and friendly percussionist and Antenna Repairman who knows how to do many things, not just roasting a pig, like the Cubans do.)  And here is another, Trixie - the Independence Day Pig, about an earlier similar event.  (It includes video of Art playing a simantron.)

Here is a search of all MM articles which mention Art.  There are a bunch.

Here are excellent tributes to Art by Kyle Gann and Jack Vees and on the CalArts Blog
and on Kill Ugly Radio (a really fine blog).  The last is about Art's work for Frank Zappa and the infamous While You Were Art incident and it quotes from this fascinating interview Art did in 2007.

Mona Hostetler, whose composer son Randy passed away at a very young age and was a close friend of Art, wrote this remembrance of Art Jarvinen.  I like the story of the performance with the toaster.

You can read about and listen to my performance of one of Art's compositions: Arthur Jarvinen - Carbon for Bass Clarinet Solo

Read about the memorial for Art held on October 30, 2010.

Leslie and I send our sincerest condolences to Art's wife, Lynn Angebranndt.  

Art Jarvinen Tags: . . . . . .

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Drawings by Oscar Littlefield

My last post, Pointing at my iMac, included a 20-year old Everex computer advertisement.  I kept it so long just to use on Mixed Meters.  Yup. In my search for it I came upon a manila envelope I've been saving for even longer.  Dating the envelope is easy - here's the return address:

Inside are four pen and ink drawings.  I intended to have them framed.  As my Mother always said, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."  Words to live by.

The framing and hanging might still happen someday.  Until that day comes I've scanned them for display here.  (Click on any of the drawings for an enlargement.)

The artist is Oscar Littlefield. He was a resident of Sioux City, Iowa, during the period when I was a child growing up there.  He earned his living as the director of the Sioux City Jewish Federation.  Art was his hobby.  I didn't know Oscar until the mid-80s, the last few years of his life, when he, a widower, had married my Mother's best friend, a widow like my Mom.

There had never been artist role models for me while growing up in Sioux City.  One very minor exception was a visiting composer who wasn't even close to being an inspiration. (Read a little about that guy in Drummer Replaced by a Machine.)

Oscar, however, was different.  When I met him I had finished my education.  My music had been inspired by a number of abstract modern artists.  He and I fell easily into talking about the creative process - and he quickly became a reason to look forward to my visits to Iowa.

Oscar's principal medium was woodcarving.  Some of his sculptures are visible now on the Sioux City Art Center's website.  Check them out.

His drawings made a big impact on me.  I saw them, framed, hanging on the wall in his home.  Even more impressive was a hand-written letter from Albert Einstein, displayed nearby.  Einstein was saying (in German) how hard it was then (in the '30s) to find a job for a young physicist - because he was Jewish. 

These four drawings, like most pen-and-ink drawings, are about lines.  Oscar generally makes his lines of even thickness.  Darker shadows are represented by carefully placed parallel lines.  The lines swoop and curve.  They go places.  Oscar uses them to suggest three dimensions, especially in the last one.  The skull-like silhouette is the only real bit of representation.  I may not have picked his intended orientation - especially in the first two. (Feel free to swivel your monitor around to check out other possibilities.)

This page at the Sioux City Art Center website discusses Oscar's working method as a woodcarver.  It says:
The approach is very simple: an artist looks for inspiration in random patterns and pays attention to their own personal, subjective responses and imaginings
These drawings seem to have resulted from exactly that method as well.

Oscar's drawings were comparable to my own pen-and-ink "doodles" - little drawings I've done my entire life.    I think that the abstraction, the process, the long curved lines and the medium itself reveal many similarities between us.

Examples of my own "doodle" drawings are viewable in one, two, three, four, five, six different Mixed Meters post.  (If you time for only one I suggest #3.)  Also, you could see some doodles done in the medium of refrigerator magnets (along with a good story about cat piss.)

Here's a post, not about drawing, but about growing up musical in Iowa: Me and Mahler, Me and Iowa.

Finally, here's a post called Sevens, in which I discuss the large pile of manure Sioux City, Iowa, is famous for.

Pen-and-ink Tags: . . . . . .