Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Terrific Soporific

A Terrific Soporific is a piano piece.  I've added a critical review directly into the title.  You must use your own judgement to decide if the review is accurate.  Please try to stay awake.

One night, last week, I was really tired.  I should have gone to bed.   Instead I began this piece.  When I finished the first section I added another contrasting section.  Then, for reasons beyond my ken, I composed a four-voice fugue.  The fugue ballooned to nearly half the piece.  There's a coda too, if you care.

So, the form of this piece might be called "Prelude and Prelude and Fugue".  In this day and age a fugue will put anyone to sleep.

I've written a couple fugues before, long ago, but never one with four voices. By and large, the rules were followed - at least the rules I could remember.  I included lots of strettos.  This is the most chromatic music I have ever written.

Most likely this fugue, just like any other fugue, will remind you of J.S. Bach. The first theme of the fugue is a rip-off of Bach.  Later, there's another theme that is Bach.

Click here to hear A Terrific Soporific by David Ocker - © 2012 David Ocker 464 seconds

If you need help remembering what a fugue is or if some visuals would help you follow the different voices or if you relate more to young music students than to aging baby boomers like myself, maybe this video will be more interesting.  It's also Bach.

Thanks to OboeInsight, the blog where I encountered this video.

I Couldn't Sleep is another recent piano piece of mine with a title that references somnolence.

More information than you care to know about fugues.

I found  quotes about Bach.  Here are a few I liked:

Sun Ra:
Bach and Beethoven, all of them, they had to write something to please the upper structure, those with money and power.
Charles Mingus:
Creativity is more than just being different. Anybody can plan weird; that's easy. What's hard is to be as simple as Bach. Making the simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity.
Xavier Cugat:
I would rather play Chiquita Banana and have my swimming pool than play Bach and starve.
Isaac Mizrahi:
If you try to have a fashion show with Bach fugues and John Coltrane, it doesn't really work.

Stretto Tags: . . . . . . . . .

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Peter Schmid Quartet Plays Maximum Wage

Last year I posted two tracks of my music as performed by the pianist Peter Schmid and his buddies.  They're as close to an all-psychic musical ensemble as you could hope for. The tunes were called Work for Food and Too Poor To Be A Whore.

We just finished another one.  It's called Maximum Wage.

The title was inspired by this picture of a protester, possibly from the Occupy movement, holding a sign which reads "Why is there no maximum wage?".  The concept of setting a limit on income for people who make too much money was discussed in this recent Mixed Meters post:  Why Is There No Maximum Wage?

Click here to hear The Peter Schmid Quartet Plays Maximum Wage - by David Ocker © 2012 - 301 seconds

Recorded at Aphrodita Japonica Studios, Pasadena, California

The quartet is:
Peter Schmid, piano
Lori Terhune, guitar
Cornel Reasoner, bass
Luis 'Pulpo' Jolla, drums

Quartet Tags: . . . . . .

Monday, July 16, 2012

Freud Was Wrong About The Cigar

Leslie has a lot of strange plants in her garden. She keeps working on raising orchids and has gotten good with african violets.  Her best category lately has been various carnivorous plants - like pitcher plants or Venus flytraps. They eat insects and we love them for it.

She came home with a new Venus fly trap the other day plus something she called a "sensitive" plant. The web tells me that it's also called mimosa pudica.  I don't know what this species has in common with a mixture of champagne and orange juice.  Probably nothing.

She demonstrated the wonderous properties of mimosa by raising the thing a couple inches and dropping it on a table.  The leaves reacted by curling up.  Self-defense, I guess.  The poor thing is probably afraid of its own shadow.

I whipped out the aging point-'n'shoot from my pocket and made a video of this vegetarian flight response.  Later I edited the video a bit, adding titles and repeating a section in slow motion (that worked better in my imagination than in reality).  The whole video barely breaks a minute.

Here it is if you want to watch. You can see part of Chowderhead on the ground behind the table. The finger aggravating the poor sensitive plant belongs to Leslie herself.

When I'd finished video editing I decided to it would be better with some music. I dropped a few tracks onto the video and I found one that seemed to work well enough. It's called Freud Was Wrong About The Cigar. I don't know why I called it that.

Since only the first minute of the piece was needed for the video I figured I'd link to the complete online version on the off chance that someone who reads Mixed Meters is obsessed with cigars. That's when I discovered that I had never uploaded FWWATC.   I composed it in May of 2011.  It's on my iPod where I listen to it periodically.

I don't know why I didn't share it.  Better late than never.

Click here to hear Freud Was Wrong About The Cigar - © 2012 David Ocker - 108 seconds

This is Freud's first appearance on Mixed Meters.

You can see a cigar in this post about a Fourth of July barbecue.

Cigarettes have come up previously in conjunction with my Mother and Ronald Reagan.

Cigar Tags: . . . . . . . . .

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Name of This Piece Is

I picked the title of a new 30 Second Spot so that I could write the following sentence.
The name of this piece is The Name Of This Piece Is.
It's a simple title, easy to remember.  Titles are supposed to help you understand what a piece of music is about.  Alternatively they can give you a visual or poetic image to associate with the music.  Or a title could give you some expectation of the structure of the music or of a certain historical artistic tradition which might give it context.

As a title for a piece of music I think The Name Of This Piece Is works well on all those levels.  Don't you agree?

Musically, The Name Of This Piece Is is short and jazzy with a healthy dose of perplexingly wrong notes woven into the fine-grained tapestry of spicy non-verbal contextuality.   Or something.

Click here to hear The Name Of This Piece Is - © 2012 by David Ocker 53 seconds

The Name of These Tags Is: . . . . . .

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Deep Underground, Workers Make The Ring

Deep Underground, Workers Make The Ring is a 30 Second Spot, a short opera featuring the sound of a ratchet, one of the most lyrical and melodic instruments of the orchestra.   I wrote this piece to test a new software sampler which I just installed. An electric bass and a glockenspiel have supporting musical roles.

Once I finished Deep Underground, Workers Make The Ring, it seemed to suggest images of factory machines.  Here's the story behind this piece.
Illegal foreign workers, short and sickly from years of malnourishment, have been tricked by Bain, the God of Capital, into producing cheap knockoffs of the Ring of Power which are then sold by the American Nibelung Party.   Wearers of a ring are impervious to logic or knowledge. 
The workers cannot escape from the secret, smelly, fetid factory deep in the earth.  They are forced to run old unsafe machines which will not be replaced because Bain has been foiled in his attempt to create Tax Credits.  If production falls behind, the workers are whipped by guards, men called Job Creators who wear steel-toed wingtips and power suits with flag pins on their lapels.  In precise unison they sing about the evils of Socialist Liberalism.
The assembly line machines were designed to be relentlessly, oppressively noisy; this to demoralize the workers.  You can hear smelters, lathes and grinders hammering on their spirits.  Each time a ring is finished a bell sounds.  To survive their ordeal the workers have invented a religion which commands them to sing 50's pop tunes over the din.  They believe every bell means that another angel has died in heaven.

Click here to hear Deep Underground, Workers Make The Ring    © 2012 by David Ocker  - 81 seconds

Ratchet Tags: . . . . . .

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Why Is There No Maximum Wage?

A few days ago I ran across the following photo on Facebook. I immediately reposted it to my own account there with this comment:
Even if it was a billion dollars a year, there ought to be a limit to how much wealth and power one person can accumulate.

This prompted a long, wide-ranging and occasionally coherent discussion of what a Maximum Wage would mean.  The comments proved that people bring a load of pre-formed opinion to this idea. If you're nearly infinitely patient you can read that discussion yourself.

Before you read on however I suggest you take a moment to reflect on your own reactions to this picture and to my comment. Possibly the notion of limiting the amount of money one person can accumulate is anathema to you and you'll have some sort of heart attack thinking about it.

Is there a pain in your chest?  Is your breathing labored?  If so, please realize that my opinions about this subject are not important enough for you to jeopardize your short-term survival.  Please get medical help quickly.  I hope you can afford insurance.

So, anyway.

In the course of that Facebook discussion I wrote a long comment exploring my notions about why people who are not rich, and never will be, identify with, protect and even vote for extremely wealthy people.  In a Presidential election season such as this one, where fully 50% of the viable candidates made massive fortunes as predatory capitalists, this seems very relevant.

I wrote more about people's beliefs and faith than about economics.  Therefore, it should not be surprising that many of my arguments below are about religion.

Since I spent a lot of time on that essay, I figured I should share it where it might be read by three more people, the entire Mixed Meters' readership.   Enjoy.

Reading back over this discussion I find myself mystified by the notion which some people hold that they will inevitably be able to manipulate the economic system to become as rich as Midas, or, as it is said, "rich beyond the dreams of avarice." This faith in their own exceptionalism seems to me to be obviously and patently without basis in the real word. All it really takes to convince me of its unreality is a little bit of observation (that most people are struggling just to stay even) and the merest hint of statistics (that there are very very few super rich people - most of whom were born to at least some wealth in the first place).

Of course, I am equally mystified by some people's belief in religion. And the notion that one is destined to become super rich seems (to me) very much like a religious belief. In one, if I work hard and follow the rules, I will be richly rewarded. In the other, if I pray hard and follow the rules, I will be richly rewarded after death in heaven. Some sects have even combined the two forms of reward overtly. Oh well - it's a free country and we have freedom of religion. And indeed a few lucky driven individuals do actually become rich beyond the dreams of avarice I guess. So maybe that means there really is a heaven ... but I doubt it.

And I am mystified by the attitude of certain people toward our democratic government - namely that the government is the problem and is keeping them from their dreams. While I would never suggest that our government or society is perfect, the democratic system seems to have done a remarkably good job of allowing people of different beliefs, cultures, ethnicities and economic status to live together peacefully, pursue their dreams, adhere to their personal beliefs and resolve their disputes. And we've done this by following the basic principals laid down in the Constitution: the most important of which is that by a certain vote we can change the rules and adjust the "eternal" principals in order to adapt our democracy to changing times and conditions. If only religions could be this enlightened and adapt to the modern world just a smidgen more quickly.

And, if all my mystification weren't enough, I'm thoroughly mystified by the notion that the positive things which our government does (those things which are disparaged by some under the name "entitlements") are the deeper source of our problems. Instead I would suggest that these are actually among the highest manifestations of our morality, the positive application of all those abstract religious rules and commandments which get repeated by rote in church and then ignored in the rat race to get rich during the workweek. These "entitlements" are actually the very things that make our society good - or, at least, better - and I believe that our government should do everything it can to preserve, refine and amplify them for the benefit of everyone.

And if our government can come together and agree on positive goals - like health care or a clean environment or the equality of every human - then it can also ask those very few very rich people, those exceptional, lucky, driven, acquisitive, materialistic, rapacious people, to forego a larger part of their accumulated wealth for the benefit of the very society in which they themselves live and which helped them get rich in the first place.

But the reality seems to be that the rich people are busy trying to get even richer - maybe they're greedy for power or in competition to be richer than other rich people or maybe they just don't know when to stop. So it seems perfectly reasonable to me for the government to lay down a marker, a point at which people become rich enough. Get hundreds of millions in the bank and it's time for you to step aside and let someone else accumulate wealth beyond the dreams of avarice.

In my opinion if you become a billionaire it's time to retire. If you still need to work after that, then you should be doing it for the benefit of everybody, not just yourself. I know this will not be a popular opinion with people who believe in their own exceptionalism. I am not mystified by their negative reaction to this idea.

So the whole concept seems to distill nicely down to the single phrase which started this discussion: "maximum wage". I like that notion of a maximum wage a lot - because at some point an individual can simply have too much money for the good of everyone. And if money is a religion in America these days, then this idea makes a great article of faith.

Now for some reference material showing how the U.S. taxation system has gotten seriously out of whack over the years.  Plus more of my comments.

The following chart comes from Wikipedia. It shows the change in Marginal Tax rates over history. Take a look at the column marked TOP BRACKET which shows the tax RATE (in purple) which the highest income earners paid on their income above a certain level (INCOME).

What's really interesting is the column called ADJ.2011 (the tan colored column).  That shows what income the top rate would kick in it at in 2011 dollars if that law applied now.  Last year's dollars are close enough to this years for anyone to relate.    As an example, if 1981 laws applied today, people would pay 70% in Federal tax on any income over $532,000.

Partial History of Marginal Income Tax Rates Adjusted for Inflation
Income First Top Bracket
Year Brackets Bracket Rate Income Adj. 2011 Comment
1913 7 1% 7% $500,000 $11.3M First permanent income tax
1917 21 2% 67% $2,000,000 $35M World War I financing
1925 23 1.5% 25% $100,000 $1.28M Post war reductions
1932 55 4% 63% $1,000,000 $16.4M Depression era
1936 31 4% 79% $5,000,000 $80.7M
1941 32 10% 81% $5,000,000 $76.3M World War II
1942 24 19% 88% $200,000 $2.75M Revenue Act of 1942
1944 24 23% 94% $200,000 $2.54M Individual Income Tax Act of 1944
1946 24 20% 91% $200,000 $2.30M
1954 24 20% 91% $200,000 $1.67M
1964 26 16% 77% $400,000 $2.85M Tax reduction during Vietnam war
1965 25 14% 70% $200,000 $1.42M
1981 16 14% 70% $212,000 $532k Reagan era tax cuts
1982 14 12% 50% $106,000 $199k "
1987 5 11% 38.5% $90,000 $178k "
1988 2 15% 28% $29,750 $56k "
1991 3 15% 31% $82,150 $135k
1993 5 15% 39.6% $250,000 $388k
2003 6 10% 35% $311,950 $380k Bush era tax cuts
2011 6 10% 35% $379,150 $379k

I think it seems entirely reasonable that someone who earns over $2,500,000 in today's dollars should pay 94% of their income above that level to the government - just as the chart says they did in 1944.  There was a war going on then also.

I'd even think it appropriate if current extreme earners paid 79% of their income over 80.7 million dollars - like they they were asked to do in 1936, at the height of the depression.

These days the politicos are talking about simply repealing the Bush tax cuts - and raising that top rate by less than 5% - not even to 40%.  A paltry request.

Here's more background info - an article entitled The Great Capitalist Heist: How Paris Hilton's Dogs Ended Up Better Off Than You by an economics professor named Gerald Friedman.  The article begins with Paris Hilton's new $350,000 two-story house just for her dogs.

More importantly the article covers the history of how top 1% in the United States convinced the rest of us to let them become even more wealthy.  Here's a quote:
By the time it was finished, [Steven Cohen of SAC Capital Advisors]'s house had swelled to 32,000 square feet, the size of the Taj Mahal. Even at Taj prices, cost mattered little to a man whose net worth is estimated by the Wall Street Journal at $8 billion -- with an income in 2010 of over $1 billion. Cohen’s payday is impressive, but by no means unique. In 2005, the 25 hedge-fund managers averaged $363 million. In cash. Paul Krugman observes that these 25 were paid three times as much as New York City’s 80,000 public school teachers combined. And because their pay is taxed as capital gains rather than salary, the teachers paid a higher tax rate!
Just in case you're skimming, yes, one man "earned" over $1,000,000,000 during a single year.  Compare this to my original comment with the "Maximum Wage" picture, that there ought to be a limit to how much wealth one person can acquire.  Most likely Stephen Cohen paid less percentage of his billion as tax than you do on your income.  Why shouldn't he have paid at least 80% or 90% of everything above, say, $100,000,000?

Here's another quote about how the federal regulators during the George W. Bush administration let the financial industry nearly destroy our entire economy:
Acting with the virtual consent of Congress and the president, in 2004, the Securities and Exchange Commission established a system of voluntary regulation that in essence allowed investment banks to set their own capital and leverage standards. By then our financial regulatory system had largely returned to the pre-New Deal situation in which we trusted financial institutions to self-police. Advocates of deregulation, like Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan, were unconcerned because they expected banks and other financial firms to limit their risk for fear of failure. Either they misunderstood the incentives facing company managers, or they did not care.
Remember that in 2004 we had a Republican president, a Republican-controlled Senate and a Republican controlled House.  The country (by a narrow vote) had put wealthy Republicans in charge of our government, and they declared open season on fiscal prudence.  The damage that was ultimately done to the economy has yet to be repaired.

In reality I have no expectation that the damage done to this country by inequality of income can be undone.  But it feels good to rant about it.  If you've actually read this whole article you deserve a tax break.

And in conclusion ... here's my final comment in that long Facebook debate...

As for entitlements, I believe that anything the government can do to promote health, education and environment for all the people is money well spent. It's even worth going into debt for. But it would be better for the entitlements to be paid for by taxes paid by a large healthy educated employed citizenry. And it would be better for those who earn more than enough to pay a higher rate of tax. Such progressive taxation existed during some of America's most prosperous times. And, unsurprisingly, as the top tax rate has dropped, since Ronald Reagans first cuts, the inequality in our country has only increased. How could it be otherwise? Only fools would believe it when greedy rich people spin yarns about how we will flourish while living on the trickle-down crumbs.

The original "Maximum Wage" photo was posted on Facebook by The Other 98%.

Wikipedia has a discussion of Maximum Wage.

Maximum Wage Tags: . . . . . .

Saturday, July 07, 2012

The Parrot Duet

It began with Birds Who Don't Know the Words.

Then Squawk! followed by Flap.

There was Water With Ducks.

And just recently The Mister and Mockingbirds.

Today I add The Parrot Duet to this list.

For some reason I keep making music videos which feature birds of one sort or another. Most of them feature the bird sounds as well.

The Parrot Duet features two love-bird parrots sitting on a wire. We see them in silhouette against the sky. In reality these birds are green with red head feathers, descendants of long-since escaped pet parrots.  I often see flocks of similar parrots here in the San Gabriel Valley.  I hear them even more often.

The ones in the video look like those in this picture. Notice how they're paired off into couples.

I adapted and expanded some music I was already working on to fit the video.  The music uses trumpet and piano sounds.  I tried not to obscure the bursts of parrot love vocals, as if anything could cover such raucous singing.

The Parrot Duet © 2012 by David Ocker 146 Seconds

Parrot Duet Tags: . . .

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

The Plastic Bag As Hat

Sunday I loaded up the car with several decades of old computers, monitors and printer cartridges because I had read online about a monthly Pasadena City College FREE Electronic Waste Collection Event.  NOT!  I guess you can't believe everything you read on the Internet.

At the last moment another, better site steered me to a place that would take my useless electronics (but not the cartridges).  Luckily I did not have to unload all that crap back into the garage.  And I can feel better because, supposedly, it will get recycled.

Also on Sunday the city of Pasadena's ban on plastic bags at grocery stores kicked in. It's amazing how charging me an insignificant dime for a paper bag can change my behavior more quickly than years of appeals to my sense of environmental responsibility. But that's just me. You're probably a better person than I am.

I looked up the text of the law to find out who gets the dime.  I learned that a reusable bag must be capable "of carrying a minimum of 22 pounds 125 times over a distance of at least 175 feet."  21,875 feet is over four miles total.

The bag ban is is the perfect excuse to post this cool picture.  It does make you wonder what other interesting uses people might find for those evil plastic bags.

The photographer is Henrik Kerstens.  Check out his other pictures of the same woman wearing various modern artifacts repurposed as Renaissance headgear.  Definite cleverness.

Compare the plastic bag hat to the one worn by a young lady in this painting by Barthel Bruyn done nearly 500 years ago.

I guess that such a hat would be called a wimple.  Click here for lots of pictures of medieval wimples.

Do you need instructions for making a bonnet out of a bunch of plastic bags?

Other stuff, including a bass guitar, made from plastic bags.

A previous Mixed Meters post about women's clothing in Elizabethan England.  Also dog penises.

Wimple Tags: . . . . . . . . . . . .