Thursday, June 28, 2012

Making the Scene With New ClassicLA Blog

Los Angeles has a new blog devoted to the local new music scene. It's called New ClassicLA.  Check it out.  Notice that the name omits the space between "Classic" and "LA".  That must be significant.

As of today New ClassicLA is a bit over 9 months old.  It is the brainchild of composer Nick Norton.  Most of his posts describe a wide variety of upcoming concerts.  Better yet, he conducts interviews with various movers and shakers from the new generation of Los Angeles new music composers and concert producers.

You can be forgiven for not knowing that there is a new generation of Los Angeles new music composers and concert producers.  That, I suppose, is why he started the blog to begin with.

Today's New ClassicLA post is entitled Ben Phelps: Making a Scene which turns out to be a guest editorial authored by composer Ben Phelps, a new generation crew member.   You might want to read his article before continuing with my own rant.   You can also read Ben's New ClassicLA interview.  You should not be surprised to learn that Ben has his own blog.

Making a Scene turns out to be Ben's call to new music action.  He exhorts us...
Talk about the concerts you see. Put on lots of concerts, and talk about them. If you are so inclined, blog or tweet about it. Or just talk to people in the old fashioned way, like in the middle ages. It’s the appearance of activity that counts, but not just your activity. The scene’s activity.
The more it seems like something is going on, the more others will want to be a part of it. It’s human nature. Nobody wants to be left out.
... to which I can only say "Hey, that's super.  I hope that works out for you."

Still, Ben's optimism seems rooted in realism.   He recognizes that making a scene requires lots of active performing groups, which, like a force of nature, will attract composers.
where there are new music bands putting on concerts, composers will follow like attorneys chasing ambulances.
It's a clever line.  But, duh.  He even describes the "classic" under-attended new music concert ...
When you only have three audience members, two are the significant others of the band members, and the third is a composer.
It's a dangerous thing to perform to a professional audience.  I found that mostly they didn't pay attention.  When they did listen, generally they filtered everything through their personal musical assumptions and prejudices.  Eventually, later in my life, it actually came as a surprise to me that there  are people out there who really listen to new music because they have interest in the music.  And, more amazing still, these people aren't composers.  Trust me, those are the ones you want in your audience, not other composers.  (If they happen to have money, ask them to join your board of directors.)

Ben's new music realism goes even deeper; possibly deeper than he realizes.  He opens with two anecdotes outlining perennial L.A. new music issues.

Firstly he talks about how there is competition between new music groups when there should ideally be cooperation.  He tells how he was shot down when asking for advice from an "older, more established" new music group (which, alas, he does not name).  Then, rightly so, he decries the "grossly self-defeating" nature of this response and suggests by analogy how this might lead to the collapse of civilization.  He concludes his anecdote with ...
It’s the tragedy of the commons – somebody should write an opera about it.
I can only say, speaking as an experienced failed composer, that writing music rooted in professional bitterness is a bad idea.  Music can have many meanings for its creator, most of them are very uplifting.  But when a composer tries to express frustration with not achieving acceptance from the music community it can only be a downer, a fresh bit of compositional hell.  Believe me, the audience won't see the point.

I agree that this is my own over-reaction to an offhand humorous comment.  Maybe this is because I don't like opera.  Do you think it might be a better idea instead to work the theme of civilization's collapse into something of a more appropriate size?   Perhaps an oboe sonata?  Silly me.

Secondly, Ben talks about the obvious lack of interest in local composers by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, our local 800-pound gorilla of new music.  Historically this is absolutely nothing new.  It stems, in my opinion, from the notion that "world class" California musical organizations consider that their mission is to track what goes on in Europe.  (From a uniquely California perspective, Europe, in this case, also includes New York City.)

Our audiences have been led to expect that they are being presented with the latest, most important bits of newness from places where prominent new music scenes already exist.  "What about local composers?" you might ask.  "Yeah.  What about 'em?" will be the reply.  What has always been needed is a good answer to the reply.

I've always felt that the quality of importance is the key to getting a local composer programmed on our own most prestigious concerts.  Successful local series, not just the Philharmonic, by and large keep their fingers on the pulses of new music scenes elsewhere.  They try to present works of "consequence" to Los Angeles audiences.  This strategy has proven itself in various ways over the years.  Audiences like to feel that they're taking time out of a busy life to listen to something significant.

So, let me offer some advice, advice I personally ignored throughout my entire career, on how a Los Angeles composer can get performed by the L.A. Philharmonic: move to New York.  More specifically for the moment, move to Brooklyn.  While you're there, get important.   By making a splash in existing new music scenes you'll have a much better chance of getting noticed back here in Los Angeles.  Once you get noticed a few times, it'll be okay to move back.

If you decide to stay in L.A. instead, you'll need to develop a sense of perspective while you enjoy the weather.   Learn to recognize which music is considered world class and which is considered provincial.  Realize that changing the latter into the former without leaving town is a futile mystical quest.  Kind of like alchemy.  And alchemy never worked.  Not even during the middle ages.

Now, for the irrelevant tangential reference, in this case prompted by the notion of "alchemy in Los Angeles".   Here are some quotes from Douglas Adams' novel "So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish", chapter nine, in which a thinner Arther Dent (the hero) drunkenly lies to his pub mates about where he's been for such a long time.  First he tells them that he went to Southern California.  Then...
"Of course, I had my own personal alchemist, too.  ... Oh yes, the Californians have rediscovered alchemy, oh yes. ... They've discovered how to turn excess body fat into gold. ... Fourteen hours in a trance, in a tank. ... And slowly, slowly, slowly, all your excess body fat turns to subcutaneous gold, which you can have surgically removed.  Getting out of the tank is hell."
If only.

Some links to other historical Mixed Meters rants about the futility of new music in Los Angeles which you won't enjoy either...

How To Feel Like An Old Composer In Three Easy Steps (I wonder what those young composers in the Times' article are up to now.)

Los Angeles, New Music Backwater

Classical Music Isn't Dead, It Just Needs A Rest

My New Music Manifesto

Want even more?  Click here and scroll down.

Making a Scene Tags: . . . . . . . . .

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Spring 2012 from The Seasons

(Here's a thought: listen to Spring 2012 right now and read the following folderol later.)

I've just posted the second piece in my sequence of mostly silent works.  The sequence is entitled The Seasons.  The new piece is called Spring 2012.  It includes one short musical event for each day between the last Spring Equinox and the current Summer Solstice.  These musical events are separated by quite a lot of silence.  Overall Spring 2012 is about 75% silence.

For the most part I wrote one event per day as the days flew by.  Sometimes, unavoidably, I fell behind.  When that happened I was always able to bring my composing up to date with the fleeting calendar by writing two or three events in a single day.

Also for the most part, the musical events in Spring 2012 are longer than those in the first piece in the series, Winter 2011.  This increased the overall length by more than a third.  Spring 2012 is just over 79 minutes long - another minute and it would not have fit on a compact disc.  For archival purposes only, of course.

Thirdly, for the most part, the musical events of Spring 2012 have more musical unity than those of Winter 2011.  There is a common, often obvious, musical motive which reappears.  The motive originated in Winter 2011 - a silly bit of conceptual continuity.

I restricted the types of sounds as well - using mostly string sounds leavened with occasional pitched percussion (piano, gongs and drums).  On Mondays, which in these parts is garbage day (a minor repetitive non-religious weekly community celebration), I often used only percussion.  I must have had a good reason for that.

I encourage you to listen to this piece while you listen to other music.  Any other music.  I've provided a link on the playback page to make it easy to play Winter 2011 and Spring 2012 simultaneously.

Click here to hear Spring 2012 by David Ocker - © 2012 David Ocker 4746 seconds

Need some background info on this series?  You might want to read the folderol I wrote about the previous piece, Winter 2011.

While you're listening you might want to read about the notion that solstices and equinoxes do not really mark the beginnings of actual seasons.  Go to Bad Astronomy or The Straight Dope.

Seasonal Tags: . . . . . .

Monday, June 18, 2012

Lily Pad

Not much to tell.

The video shows the surface of the fountain which belongs to our friends, Jim and Mark. The lily pad looks kind of like a green PacMan who is not getting any dots. There's a dead leaf. Periodically large and small goldfish swim casually through the frame. The moving water morphs unseen sky and trees into abstraction.

All these combine into scant inspiration for a piece of music. Enjoy.

Lily Pad ©2012 David Ocker 195 seconds

Lily Pad Tags: . . . . . . . . . . . .

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Just Be A Regular Person Like Everyone Else

Just Be A Regular Person Like Everyone Else is another 30 Second Spot. The title was the first phrase I heard after switching on the radio news in search of a file name.

I had the sense that the title expressed a personal wish of the speaker, not a command issued to another person, someone who needed to get their own act together.  By that moment my music was pretty much finished, so you won't get very far trying to figure how the music and title relate to one another.

That's as much as I know.   Except that I had a lot of trouble getting the ratchet sound.

Listen to Just Be A Regular Person Like Everyone Else
Copyright © 2012 by David Ocker - 39 seconds

Here's a picture which I took of an old lady's face on a wall.  Her face appears on a derelict Sunset Boulevard apartment building.  I was just going to let it decorate this post without explanation, but then I researched it a bit.

As context, here's the Google street view of nearly the same spot.  The gas station had disappeared by the time I was there.

Here's another picture on Tumblr.
Here's an LA Weekly article with yet another picture.

The artist is named JR.  He has a whole series of these works, collectively called Wrinkles of the City - LA.  Here's a somewhat more informative LA Weekly article with lots of Wrinkle pictures.

Here's a video by JR with the subjects of the wall pictures as talking heads.  There are little glimpses of the pictures being installed.  If you don't know Los Angeles, the street scenes in this video show our reality much better than anything you will ever see on television.

I don't know what this street art has to do with the phrase "Just be a regular person like everyone else". Probably more than the title has to do with the music itself.

Previous Mixed Meters posts with Street Art references:
Street Art Now and Then
Banksy Speaks

Wrinkle Tags: . . . . . .

Friday, June 08, 2012

I Couldn't Sleep

Yesterday, after eating dinner on the seventh level of hell (which, to be fair, featured several very tasty salsas), I fell asleep in the overstuffed chair in my office. A couple of hours later, I awoke, still very sleepy. Just couldn't keep my eyes open.

So ... I went to bed.

Of course, once in bed I couldn't fall asleep again. I spent a tossing and turning hour during which I began to imagine little flurries of piano notes.  Finally I got up, went to the computer and started composing.

I called the piano music I Couldn't Sleep.

Listen to I Couldn't Sleep
© 2012 by David Ocker - 197 seconds

Another of my pieces, much weirder and more complex, also uses piano sounds: Oil and Water Mix

Sleep Tags: . . . . . .

Thursday, June 07, 2012

LA Opera's Ring Festival LA - two years later

It's been two years since I devoted Mixed Meters to the subject of Ring Festival Los Angeles.  Hardly anyone seemed to notice but I learned a lot about myself.

I'd like to stay in the top Google search results for the term "Ring Festival LA".  To that end an occasional extra post on the subject couldn't hurt - like once a year - because someone might still notice.

Two years later there doesn't seem to be much more to say about the subject.  Los Angeles has moved on from its semi-close encounter with Richard Wagner's endless magnum opus, the Ring of the Nibelungs.

In the last year Los Angeles Opera has begun paying back the $14 million loan which I and my fellow Los Angeles County residents cosigned (via our elected representativs) when the ring cycle production soared WAY over budget.  We in the 99% don't get the interest from the payback - a private bank gets all the profit.

Here's a cute cartoon which the New Yorker ran late last year.

There is Ring Festival LA news of a sort from Europe.  It appears that Achim Freyer, artistic doyen of LA's comic book Ring production, one which many Ringnuts hated, is directing another Ring cycle in a similar style (to judge from the pictures) in the German city of Mannheim.  The opera company over there is certainly not touting the Los Angeles connection.  Why should they?  Mannheim first became a world-class capital of music more than a quarter millenium ago well before the first Spanish mission was ever built in Southern California.

You can read about the Mannheim Achim Freyer production in a pdf document entitled The New Mannheim Ring.  Statements from German politicians remind me of our own politicos quoted in LA Opera's early press releases.

Mannheim has plans to release a DVD of their production.  Had the LA Opera gone into a bit more debt to fund documentation of their accomplishment the lasting benefits of the Los Angeles Achim Freyer Ring might have increased.  That was an opportunity lost, in my opinion.  I'm sure our county Supervisors would have been glad to add an extra 3 or 4 mil to their loan guarantee to fund a DVD.  All the Opera had to do was ask.

Finally, there's a recent development in the unofficial Israeli ban on performances of the music of Wagner.  Here's an article from the newspaper Haaretz entitled Tel Aviv University cancels Wagner concert after angry protests.  (The Guardian has this article on the subject.)

Tel Aviv University says that the Israel Wagner Society booked their concert hall without mentioning what was on the program.  One might wonder what else the "Israel Wagner Society" might perform if not Wagner.  Mendelssohn?  Somehow the news got out.  Haaretz quotes a spokesman for the University
You deliberately concealed this basic fact from us...We received angry protests calling to call off the controversial event...[which] would deeply offend the Israeli public in general and Holocaust survivors in particular.
Uri Chanoch, described as deputy chairman of the Holocaust Survivors Center (I can't find any information about that group), is quoted
This is emotional torture for Holocaust survivors and the wider public in the state of Israel. 
Wagner provided inspiration for the Nazis, and there is a direct link between him and the Holocaust. The fact that Wagner's music will be played in public and the fact that the concert was being advertised, are hurtful and damaging.
Even now Jewish survivors of World War II associate Wagner's music with the persecution and destruction they endured under the Nazis.  Their emotions inform my belief that we must stay aware of how Richard Wagner's operas and antisemitism inspired Hitler towards execrable discrimination and mass murder.

Someday soon there will be no more surviving Holocaust survivors.  Later generations will need to remember on our own how the Nazis used Wagner.  The Nazis proved that music can serve evil in our modern world.  If such massive misuse of music happened once it could happen again in another place and another time using someone else's music.

By remembering Hitler when we perform Wagner, we give ourselves the best chance for preventing recurrences of such despicable and immoral behavior.

Here's an article about the formation of the Israel Wagner Society.

The Mixed Meters post LA Opera's ring Festival LA - one year later includes a list of all Wagner, Hitler and Ring Festival related posts.

Cartoons by Kaamran Hafeez

Still Angry Two Years Later Tags: . . . . . . . . .