Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Occupy New Music

As I write this (just before 3 a.m.) about a thousand LAPD officers are removing Occupy Los Angeles from their camp surrounding City Hall.  We knew the eviction would happen eventually.  Occupy LA are people protesting that 1% of us have too much wealth, about 33% of it.  The 1% want Los Angeles to open for business normally in the morning.  I'm sure they will get what they want.

Meanwhile, the Occupy Meme has finally reached a point of absurdity with Occupy New Music.  Apparently it comes in the form of a graphic from Eric Guinivan on Facebook.  It was sent to me by one of Mixed Meters' three readers, Scott F.   The graphic tells us
The top 1% of composers control 99% of orchestral concert programs.
Here's the image:

The composers shown are Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelsshon, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Ravel, Debussy, Bartok, Stravinsky and Shostakovich.

It's a clever idea.  There's no question that the symphonic repertoire favors a chosen few.  A few composers are performed repeatedly and outsiders have a hard time getting heard in concert halls.  Still, you've got to wonder about this 99% statistic.  Can the real numbers truly be that lopsided? I decided to take an educated guess.

A website called Instant Encore posted a list of the top 150 composers, by frequency of performance, during 2010.  They say the data represents over 42,000 concerts worldwide, including opera.  This is a bit different in scope than the assertion of the Occupy New Music graphic which seems to exclude opera.  What the heck - let's run with it.

All 150 composers get a total of 44,279 performances. Number one is Mozart, at over 3000, down to Luciano Berio in the coveted 150th spot with 43 performances.  One percent of 150 composers is one and a half composers:  Mozart (3035) plus half of Beethoven (2859/2 = 1430) is 4465 performances.  That's a smidgen more than 10% - nowhere near 99%.

Let's extrapolate.  The top 10 get 16,899 performances between them.  That leaves the other 140 with 27,380 - for an average of 195 performances per composer.  To compare the top 10 composers on Instant Encore's list, I'd need data for 850 more composers.  That's because 10 is 1% of 1000.

I'm going to take a guess at the average number of performances for composers 151 through 1000.  I guess 20 (about 1/10 of 195):  850 x 20 = 17,000.    All 1000 composers thereby get 44,279 + 17,000 = 61,279 performances.  This means that the top 1% of 1000 composers get 16,899/61,279 of the total.  That's 27.6% - a far cry from 99%.

Further extrapolation: suppose the composers ranked from 1001 through 100,000 get an average of 2 performances each (one tenth of 20).  That's 99,000 x 2 = 198,000 performances.  Now the top 100,000 composers get a total of 259,279 performances.  In this scenario the top 1% of them (1000 composers in this scenario) usurp only 23.6% of all performances.

If composers 1001 through 100,000 get an average of one performance each, the top 1% get 38.2%.
If composers 1001 through 100,000 get an average of one tenth of a performance - meaning that fewer than 1 in 10 gets performed at all (very unlikely) - the percentage finally approaches the realms of Occupy New Music: 86.1%.

While the notion that 1% of composers get 99% of the performances is extravagantly high in my opinion, in reality the distribution of composers is extremely lopsided, whatever the true number.  The classical audience simply wants to hear their favorites over and over.  That's what they will spend money on.  They are really not interested in new musical ideas - they want proven masterpieces.  (This is where, in an infinitely long blog post, I would suggest that symphonies are really more like museums - devoted to preserving historical artifacts.)

If you love symphonic music enough to write your own music in that tradition, you need to accept the unfairness of reality.  There's lots of other music worlds you could be living in rather than beating your head against an art form which pretty much defines the notion of "resistant to change."  But the 150 composers did include, by my count, 18 names of living people - so you've still got a chance.  Only 2 women.  Just one black person (well, two if you think Beethoven was black).

You've got a small chance.  Very small - but it's a better chance than you have of winning a lottery jackpot. 

Instant Encore also listed the most frequently performed 225 classical works of 2010.  The list includes just one piece by a living composer.  You'll never guess, so I'll tell you: it's Jonathan Brielle's Nightmare Alley.  Who?

Mixed Meters has a dour take on classical music.  Deal with it in these posts:

The Lifespan of Classical Music  "I think classical music is quite dead. It's easy to overlook this fact because many people still enjoy listening to it."

If Music Be The Food of Love "Hip Hop, as the magazine cover says, is not dead. However Hip Hop has recently discovered its own mortality."

A New Rhapsody in Blue  "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."

Everybody Loves Beethoven (Probably)  "it is probable that 98% of all Americans these days don't know any contemporary composers at all, and if they did - unlike in Mencken's hypothesis - their reaction to finding out about them would be the shrugging of shoulders and the changing of channels."

Classical Music Isn't Dead, It Just Needs a Rest  "I conclude that in such situations the music is not meant to offer a contemporary perspective. They have other forms of art for that. I fear this music is more like a spa treatment for ones ears."

Could Terry Riley's In C be Accepted As Classical Music?  "Yes, getting this piece into the standard repertory is a long ways off. If it happened, In C would change from a "minimalist classic" into an actual piece of classical music. That would provide strong evidence that classical music has some life left in it."

Ten Most Influential Classical Composers  "But the real burden of Mozart for modern composers is that he was so blasted young.  The cult of the young genius lives on strongly.  These days a 30-year old composer who hasn't made it yet, won't."


Composer Philip Glass joins Occupy Lincoln Center protest (L.A. Times - Dec. 2, 2011)
Glass is likely in the nation’s highest tax bracket, but there was a time he drove a taxi cab to support his music career.   
... and soon others took the mike to call out statements like: "Tickets are for the 1%," "Revolution for the arts" and "Opera belongs to the people!"

Occupy Tags: . . . . . . . . .

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mixed Meters Visits Occupy Los Angeles

I was in downtown Los Angeles several times this week and I happened to walk past the Occupy Los Angeles encampment - our local version of Occupy Wall Street, still going strong after nearly two months. 

Naturally I took a bunch of pictures.  The first one shows a few forlorn tents up against the massive north edifice of Los Angeles City Hall.  The main camp is on the south side.

The whole affair had the feel of a homeless tent city - but from the sixties.  I saw guys playing hackie-sack.  Men were drumming.  Flyers were handed out - the one I got denounced the Fed.  There was a meditation tent, an art school tent, a library.  There seemed to be some sort of communal kitchen.  I heard talk about drugs - and, once, I smelled marijuana.

But mostly I saw signs.


Some signs were organizational, like the one advertising a protest at the upcoming Rose Parade.  Others signs (e.g. "Fuck the Lakers") had uncertain relevance.


The face of Anonymous (i.e. the Guy Fawkes mask) was in evidence.  Remember people - this is a copyrighted image of Time Warner Inc.  If you buy a mask, the corporation gets royalties.  And copyrights are what big corporations use to control our culture.


There were many people, like myself, taking pictures.  These people, like myself, were obviously not protesters.  Some were newsmen.  Others, like myself, may have sympathy for the causes of the Occupy movement - if for no other reason than these protests have managed to eclipse the Tea Party from our national news.  And the Occupy movement has managed to get the message that corporations are not people into the corporate-controlled media.  That's a huge success.

I do wonder why they set up shop in front of a government building instead of a bank headquarters.  I do believe that their in-your-face protest will do more good for left wing values than anything else could do at this moment.  The one percent will make concessions only when they become afraid the situation will get out of their control otherwise.


As I walked through the encampment I heard a man with a bullhorn telling a helicopter several blocks away to leave.  He made some other cracks.  He had been corrupted by his little bit of power: control of the P.A. system.  Power had gone to his head.  I took some pictures of him.

He called to me through the bull horn saying "How you doin' cameraman?"  I responded.  He kept questioning me about my motives, asking who I was working for and whether I had sworn an oath to the Constitution.  After a while I started video recording.  His compatriots begin chanting "Who the fuck are you?" apparently to him, not to me.  A good time was had by all, I guess.  Fortunately the other protesters of Occupy L.A. were not allowing absolute power to corrupt anyone absolutely, especially this guy.

Watch for yourself:

Today the Mayor of Los Angeles announced that protesters must be gone by Monday.  Stay tuned to your local news media to find out if there will be pepper spray in the future of Occupy Los Angeles.

Here are some links:
Occupy Los Angeles
Occupy the Rose Parade

Mixed Meters covers past Rose Parades:
Burn in Hell at the Rose Parade
Left Behind after the Rose Parade
On the Beach at the Rose Parade

I don't make a habit of taking pictures of people and I post those very infrequently.  This post is apparently an exception.  Click any picture to see an enlargement.

Occupy Tags: . . . . . . . . .

Monday, November 07, 2011

Reflections On Not Having Composed Even One Note For Two Months

I have excuses: I've had things to do. There were things that needed to get done first. I did them. They received priority status. I have other things which still need to be done, which also have priority, but I finally managed to carve out a little time to create some music. I really needed that. And I kick myself because carving out a few hours is not THAT difficult. Once I do it I think "I could have done this sooner." because I enjoy doing it. Then my inner nag says "You should do this more often." and I tell my inner nag that it "should" shut up.

Anyway, I wrote a 30 Second Spot. This one is 46 seconds long. Eventually, after about an hour of work when the piece was pretty much finished, I realized that I needed to save the file. This was a problem because I didn't have a title yet. I decided to call the music exactly what it was: my thoughts about starting to write music again after a long hiatus. I worked with the words. The title kept getting longer the more I tweaked it. The final title is not great.

My actual thoughts are not in the title; the title does not tell you how I feel. The music tells you how I feel. My thoughts come out though the music. Or maybe they don't. Maybe there are no thoughts, no ideas, in this music. Maybe there are no thoughts or ideas in any music. Maybe thoughts and ideas can only be expressed in words. That's a thought.

One of the funny things about a piece like this is that I can spend an hour writing it and then three or four times as long removing excess notes: decomposing (yes, it's the punchline of a bad joke). "Polishing" is a better word. I wait for a few hours or overnight, then listen carefully and focus on any spot which sounds "wrong" to me.  Every piece, even a short one like this seems to feature a Problem Spot - a moment that simply doesn't feel right no matter how much I futz with it. "Reflections On Not Having Composed Even One Note For Two Months" had such a conundrum measure - but I eventually found a happy solution.

The other thing about this piece is that I dreamed the opening. I occasionally dream short melodic fragments. I find myself singing them as I awake.  Mostly they evaporate into the fog of regaining consciousness.  Sometimes I can get them written down. I have a small "dream journal" of melodies which I'd like to use in a bigger piece someday.  (Another plan that'll probably never happen.)  "Twenty Balls In My Fingers And I'm Not Done Yet" was such a dreamed tune (one with lyrics as well) which did become a 30 Second Spot.

But this dream was different.  Instead of waking up with a melody, I awoke to a sequence of single digit numbers, somehow knowing that they were supposed to be a tone row: 1 0 8 2 6 1.  Zero?  I used my little row to begin the piece, then I repeated it with some non-strict elaboration.  Then I lost interest. And the piece wasn't even half finished.

I suspect that even the speediest readers, if you've gotten this far, have spent more time reading this than they will spend listening to Reflections On Not Having Composed Even One Note For Two Months.  And if you try to figure out from the music just what I did think about writing music again after two months of not writing music, you probably won't know what to say.  It's impossible to express music in words.  That's why it's music.

Click to hear Reflections On Not Having Composed Even One Note For Two Months
Copyright © 2011 David Ocker - 46 seconds

Thought Tags: . . . . . .

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Russian Bestiary

This is the final post of the "Leslie's Russian Pictures" trilogy. Part one Leslie and Vostok or part two Leslie and Vladivostok are just one click away.

This chapter is devoted to animals.  What better animal to begin with than a marine worm, Leslie's passion and ultimately the very reason she made her trip.  This cute little Russian critter, named Hydroides ezoensis, is a fan worm.  The big black eyes are all in your imagination.

In the first set you'll see Leslie making friends with a fluffy feline, a hungry horse hoping for handouts from inside the car (notice its nose reflected in the rear-view mirror) and a disinterested, unfenced bovine.

Here are two pictures of skeletons taken at the natural history museum of the Institute for Marine Biology in Vladivostok: a segment of whale spine and a whole seal. 

This is another marine invertebrate collected by Leslie's colleagues:  a live amphipod named Pleustes incarinatus.  I think it looks like a football helmet.

Here are several more marine animals - two dried-up old stars, a picture of a crab advertising seafood for sale and a good looking octopus which, not long after the picture was taken, became dinner for a pack of hungry biologists.

Two terrestrial invertebrates: a cricket with front claws designed to dig in dirt and a corpulent green caterpillar.

And we end our pictorial visit to Russia with a ceramic peacock and a little orange pixie.

You may enjoy other Mixed Meters' articles about Russia (which have more words and fewer pictures than this one):

  • Ilf and Petrov "Someone needs to ask whether our incessant chase after the almighty dollar is really worth it."
  • Theremin's Bug "the next time you accidentally walk out of the store with an item you picked up, thank Leon Theremin for the alarm which reminds you to pay."
  • Sergey Kuryohkin, Pianist of Anarchy "when happenings were happening in the U.S. their creators weren't known for extreme musical stylistic variety in the way Kuryokhin seems to have embraced so naturally."
  • Testimony - memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich "if Shostakovich knew how to keep his mouth shut and only ventured to tell his stories when he knew death was near, who among us can blame him."

Don't forget, the pictures enlarge if you click on em.

Russian Fauna Tags: . . .