Thursday, March 31, 2011

Wild Dogs As Acoustic Holdouts

By 1965, Bob Dylan had achieved the status of leading songwriter of the American folk music revival. The response to his albums The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan and The Times They Are a-Changin' had led to Dylan being labelled as the "spokesman of a generation" by the media. In March 1965, Dylan released his fifth album, Bringing It All Back Home. Side One featured Dylan backed by an electric band. Side Two featured Dylan accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. On July 20, 1965, Dylan released his single, "Like a Rolling Stone", featuring a rock sound. On July 25, 1965, Dylan performed with a rock band at the Newport Folk Festival. Some sections of the audience booed Dylan's performance. Leading members of the folk movement, including Irwin Silber and Ewan MacColl criticised Dylan for moving away from political songwriting, and performing with an electric band.

Wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless
Longing for some solitary company
I know that I must do what’s right
Sure as Kilimanjaro rises
Like Olympus above the Serengeti

“Africa,” Toto
quoted in Makeup, Jazz And Wild Dogs

Hmmm. The wild dogs should digitize their howls.
Then they could clean up the sound in ProTools,
punch up the cold echo and amplify
the signal with retro tube ambiance.

Kilimanjaro is a big mountain.
And the night itself around the mountain
is so large even the mountain seems small.

Wild dogs cry out in the night and the dogs
are much smaller than Kilimanjaro
and the mountain is small against the night.

Wild dogs cry out, howling, barking, like song.
They are small things singing among large things.

Wild dogs unplugged. They’re acoustic holdouts.

Even Dylan didn’t get really big
until he went electric. The wild dogs
of the Serengeti have to get wired.

There’s more to the world than mountain and night.

The dance clubs need a sound that has a beat.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Quasi Una Zombie Fantasia

The Unhappy Jazz Dog

Hooking Up Is About Love

Digging Britney

Moths, Scorpions And Unreal Women

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Moths, Scorpions And Unreal Women

Two beautiful little Japanese women sing
for the giant creature Mothra and Mothra comes
to help them. Apparently a song is a song.
Things can be small or large but a song is a song.
And small things, apparently, can sing to large things.

If it’s safe, that is, to philosophize around
old, low-budget, black and white Japanese movies
that were made to capitalize on the spirit
of old, low-budget, black and white monster movies
made here, like “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms,”
but crafted with Japanese content and starring
guys in suits instead of careful animation.

It’s easy to think large things are special effects—
stop-motion animation or actors in suits.

But right now as I type this a hunter, giant,
larger than any building, is standing due south.
Orion, the Hunter, outlined in stars—Rigel,
Bellatrix, Betelgeuse—so bright, such a giant,
even the city’s bright street lights cannot hide him.
Hours from now there will be a giant scorpion,
Scorpius, its heart the bright, blood-red Antares,
in the same spot. There are stories about those two—
of the scorpion killing the mighty hunter
and the gods putting them far apart in the sky
to prevent them from fighting for eternity.

There are things larger than movie special effects.

Songs are real, too. I’ve heard people play and sing them.

I’m trying to get better at playing guitar,
and keyboard, and singing along with my playing.

Someday I’m going to meet beautiful, tiny
Japanese women who sing songs for Mothra and
I want to be able to play and sing along.

I’ve met women who aren’t beautiful, tiny
Japanese women who sing songs for Mothra but
I’m never able to convince myself they’re real.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” at Wikipedia

Orion the Hunter at Wikipedia

Scorpius the Scorpion at Wikipedia


Crown And Tiara

Putting On The Stars

Ancient Cities Of The Moon

Industrial Landscape, Industrial Decay, Jazz

Fly me to the Moon
Let me play among the stars
Let me see what spring is like
On Jupiter and Mars
In other words
Take my hand
In other words
Kiss me

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Shōbijin And Daikaijū

A few days ago I was watching a big budget, Hollywood science fiction movie that was only about a year old. I don’t want to say the name because the movie was so bad nobody ever should watch it, even as a joke. Anyway, at one point the camera panned down and the music welled up and a spaceship entered the frame, and the whole scene was supposed to be awesome and spectacular.

I laughed and said, “Look, they kit-bashed it.”

Everyone laughed, but someone said, “Hey, kit-bashing is a classic, time-honored and acceptable way to make a model.”

Someone else said, “Yes, but it’s not supposed to look like it was kit-bashed. And certainly not after they spray CGI all over it.”

Everyone laughed again.


“The thing is,” Jenny said, “a film like this is more than bad. I mean, it’s like, empty and worthless. There’s nothing you even remember about it after you see it. I mean, when I was a kid I hated those Japanese monster movies. My brother watched them all the time so I had to sit through them. Now it’s, what, twenty-five years later or something and when there’s a storm coming, when it gets windy outside, the wind blows through the electrical wires behind my house. The wind in the wires makes a kind of humming sound. The pitch goes up and down. It always makes me smile because even though I hated those Japanese monster movies now when I hear the wind humming through the wires behind my house it makes me think of those little Japanese women singing for Mothra, calling for Mothra to come and protect them. And it makes me smile. Is anyone ever going to remember anything from the movies they make now?”

“With old films,” Kevin said, “even if the films were bad, you could sort of kit-bash the films themselves and take cool bits from one and stick them together with the cool bits from another and make something good in your imagination.”

“See?” Jason said. “I told you kit-bashing was cool!”

“Maybe new films themselves are the monsters,” Kevin said, “that the little Japanese women are calling Mothra to come protect us from.”

“You know, that’s about it,” Jenny said. “If you kit-bash modern movies and stick them all together it does make one ugly giant fucking monster.”

“Do you think,” somebody asked, “Mothra will come and protect us?”

“The electric lines behind Jenny’s house are singing for Mothra,” Jason said.

“Wires aren’t women,” Kevin said. “We can kit-bash modern movies together and make a monster. What can we kit-bash together to make two beautiful little Japanese women singing for Mothra?”

Someone said, “Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera?”

Everyone laughed. Jenny laughed so hard Redbull came out of her nose.

When she finished coughing and wiping her face, Jenny said, “I guess we are just doomed.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Kit-bashing at Wikipedia

Shōbijin at Wikipedia

Daikaijū at Wikipedia

Monday, March 28, 2011

Bambi, Godzilla And Intimacy Issues

“I have intimacy issues,” she said.

“Moral qualms?” I asked. “Religious concerns?”

“No,” she said. “Bambi and Godzilla things.”

“You mean you see men as monsters,” I asked,
“and women as gentle forest creatures?”

“No,” she said, and her forehead became creased.
“I’m talking about the cartoon movie,
‘Bambi Meets Godzilla.’ Did you see it?”

“I think I saw it,” I said, “late one night
at a science fiction convention but
I don’t remember much. Wasn’t it just
Godzilla’s foot stomping down on Bambi?”

“Yeah,” she said. “That’s the whole movie. And that’s
what my problem is. I think about that
for some weird psychological reason
when I get into a situation
involving sex. I always imagine
that a huge Godzilla foot will stomp down
and crush me and whatever guy I’m with
right in the middle of us doing it.
I know it sounds silly but when my mind
goes off like that, gets thinking about it,
I freak out and guys can always notice
and then they lose their concentration so
the whole, you know, process comes crashing down.”

“That’s pretty strange,” I said. “What do you do?
Do you not go out? See a therapist?”

“I go out every now and then,” she said.
“I’ve never talked to a psychiatrist.
I just keep trying. Every now and then
I’ll meet somebody and give it a try.
You know. Try. Close my eyes. Hope for the best.”

My forehead must have creased. I must have frowned.
She asked me what I was thinking about.

I said, “Hell. Close my eyes. Hope for the best.
That’s been my philosophy about sex
since I was seventeen. But I’ve never
embroidered a whole monster fantasy
around it. Are you sure you have issues
with intimacy? Are you sure you’re not
just some kind of animation groupie?”

She asked, “Are ‘intimacy issues’ and
‘animation groupie’ synonymous?”

I said, “Haven’t you ever wondered why
cartoons are all just like three minutes long?”

She asked, “And are you a psychiatrist?”

I said, “No. But you’ll be getting my bill.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“Bambi Meets Godzilla” at Wikipedia


Ten Thirteen Unanswered Questions #1

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Singing In My Closet

“Singing in the bathtub!”

Singing in the bathtub
Sitting all alone
Tearing out a tonsil
Just like a baritone

Singing through the soap suds
Life is full of hope
I can sing with feeling
While feeling for the soap

Never take a shower
It’s an awful pain
Singing in the shower’s
Like singing in the rain

Reaching for a towel
Happy once again
Watching all my troubles
Go swirling down the drain

So everything is wrapped up, happily. All the characters
are paid-off. Everybody gets what they want. Not much like
a contemporary movie at all, is it?

Joe Dante, Director
commentary track of
“Gremlins Two”

Last Thursday I did a post called “How Illumination Works.”

I was thinking about the words, animation and illumination, and all their meanings. And I was thinking that it would be fun someday to use that still photo as a backdrop in a post using stop-motion animation or full animation to play even more with the sense of the word animation.

But after I did the post the trivial bit I mentioned in passing, the song “Never Been To Spain,” sort of took over. I did a post Friday about the song, “Sheet Music Talk.” And, then, since I mentioned that girl who sings in her closet I didn’t want to create a loose end so I sat down outside a closet and did the song, in my version of her style.

Just to be complete, I put the video on YouTube and went through the procedure to officially make it a video response to her video. I don’t know if she’ll accept it as a response, but I did my part.

I believe I am done with “Never Been To Spain.” I don’t know why I got so interested in this song. I’m not really a fan of Three Dog Night. I don’t like that whole Vegas-lounge-music kind of sound. I’m more interested, I think, in the way Hoyt Axton—a folk singer—had his folk music adapted to that kind of sound. I like folk music.

But I think I’m done with “Never Been To Spain.” I’m doing this as a Sunday post because it really is an aside. Now, well, Monday, I can get back to regular topics, now I can get back to my regularly scheduled obsessions, monsters and parking lots and that kind of stuff.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Sheet Music Talk

Which three chords, Pamela, will it be
that will strike the truth and make it ring
through laughter and vomit and kissing
and hookers bargaining for their fee?

I don’t have anything special for today. I know it’s Friday and all, but I just don’t.

Today’s post is, basically, just an afterward to yesterday’s post.

Until I wrote yesterday’s post, I hadn’t thought of the song “Never Been To Spain” in longer than I can remember. (It’s a song from my brother’s generation—my older brother—rather than my generation.)

Anyway, even though I’ve been trying to get back to writing writing, today I spent some time thinking about music, specifically, thinking about that song.

For a while I considered doing a video response to that girl who sings in her closet, with me singing in my closet, doing “Never Been To Spain,” but that just never happened. (It was too much to think about on a Friday—How much did I want to echo that girl, did I want to play guitar or keyboard, did I want to dress funny, did I want to do it in black and white without my glasses making sexy faces?)

Too much thinking, too many choices.

Anyway, I did think about the song a bit.

“Never Been To Spain” is a pretty cool song, written by Hoyt Axton.

The “canonical” arrangement of the song is just three chords, IV-I, IV-I and V-IV-I. In the second section it doesn’t modulate to another key, it just goes up an octave.

Here is the basic riff:

Notice that the first pass through the riff resolves to a VI (on “Spain”), and then the riff resolves to a V (on “music”).

That is basically the whole song. It’s that same riff but with slightly different resolutions, and sometimes up an octave, and some easy connecting pieces.

It’s pretty cool that something so simple can be worked up into big, giant, Elvis-style arrangements. And it’s fun to play simply, too, just accentuating those little changes to the basic riff.

I don’t normally buy sheet music. I figure that unless you’re in a bar band or a cover band where you have to try to reproduce corporate-style music, a lot of the fun of music is hearing songs your own way and playing songs your own way. But every now and then I want to know the actual, accepted, canonical version of a song so I buy “the ink.”

Although these days the ink is cool multimedia. When you buy sheet music now you get sheet music and it drives MIDI so you can watch a lead sheet or an arrangement play. You can slow down or speed up the tempo. You can transpose the sheet music to whatever key you’re comfortable with. [ Tricky Times ]

I don’t buy sheet music often, but it is very nice having such a resource instantly available. I buy sheet music from FreeHand Music. They’re pretty inexpensive, they have a great variety and I’ve never had any trouble with them.

I bought the sheet music for “Never Been To Spain” because I don’t have a well-trained ear and when I worked out an arrangement I couldn’t believe it was that simple. I thought I must be missing something, or it must be modulating to a different key but I’m not catching it. I wasn’t missing anything. It’s just a very cool, very simple song.

So that’s all I’ve got for today. Just a little sheet music talk.

Probably in one way or another “Never Been To Spain” will show up here on the blog again. Sometime. Somehow.

When I was looking around YouTube yesterday for a cover version, this was the only cover version that made me smile:

Thursday, March 24, 2011

How Illumination Works

I’ve never been to Dublin
but I like Molly Malone.

I found this pic on the net.

You can see light from the sky
shining on the cobblestones.

If a real Molly Malone
pushed a barrow of seafood
along this street in Dublin
light tinted blue from the sky
would illuminate Molly
and her cockles and mussels.

Using digital effects
nowadays anybody
could animate a figure
into this still photograph
and also add a soundtrack
and create Molly Malone.

I’ve never been to Dublin
but I like Molly Malone.

If I animated her
I’d do color-correction
and change the blue-tinted light
to warm sunlight-colored light.

Animation lets you change
how illumination works.

I’ve never been to Dublin
but I like Molly Malone.

I’d make sunlight shine on her.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Robot In The Rain

Headphones And Crucibles

No Doubts About The Party

A Mussel Of A Different Color

Molly Malone Redux

Sharks In Shoes


When I started with:

I’ve never been to Dublin
but I like “Molly Malone.”

I’d intended to include
a YouTube video
“Never Been To Spain”
but I looked through twenty
screens of covers and
they were all awful.

That girl who sings in her closet
should do a version!

Sorry. I tried, I looked around.
There’s just nothing
out there yet.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Luc Montagnier And Bad Memories In Good Water

There’s an interesting controversy playing out in the world of big science. I only know a little about the topic and I haven’t talked to any working scientists to get their informed views on it, but I want to say a couple of things about it anyway because it’s such an interesting issue and I’ve mentioned this topic at least once before.

Homeopathy And The Groupie Hierarchy

This is the latest flare-up over the issue of “water memory.” Homeopathy. It’s been an issue for generations and it’s an issue right now.

This latest business involves a French biologist who won a Nobel Prize in 2008 for his work on AIDS.

Luc Montagnier at Wikipedia

Nobel Prize Winner Luc Montagnier Supports Science of Homeopathy

Although Luc Montagnier’s research that was awarded the Nobel Prize was well-respected, since then he has spoken openly about his belief in homeopathy and just saying stuff like that is enough to get you labeled a crank. But he has also tried to publish scientific papers supporting his views on homeopathy and he has tried to publish the results of experiments which seem to confirm real-world mechanisms that may play a role in homeopathic functions.

Luc Montagnier: The Nobel disease strikes again

As I understand it, his experiments have not yet been replicated. And because of the contentious nature of the experiments themselves I don’t know if anyone will even try to duplicate his work. Montagnier has left France and moved to China.

As I understand it, there are two claims at issue.

First, Luc Montagnier claims to have identified electrical signals that are unique to or resonate with specific biological molecules such as DNA patterns.

Second, Luc Montagnier claims to have documented these electrical signals in water-based solutions containing measurable amounts of biological molecules AND in partial homeopathic dilutions which statistically would be expected to have been diluted beyond the point of containing any molecules at all of the biological molecules.

The bare-bones of homeopathic theory is that when molecules of a substance enter into a water solution and then are “activated”—I believe that just means bumping or banging the container—then the molecules in solution create a change of some kind to the molecules of hydrogen and oxygen making up the water. Then, even if the substance molecules are removed by diluting the water again and again, the changes made to the hydrogen and oxygen molecules somehow remain in the solution. It is, supposedly, AS IF substances can leave an IMPRINT—of some unknown kind—onto water itself.

Or it is AS IF water has some kind of MEMORY.

Now this is a topic that is something like astrology or alchemy. My experience has been that a lot of “amateur” scientists take it seriously. Some professionals are interested in it in an amused sort of way. And, now and then, a professional scientist will try to take his or her interest to the next level and establish this as a “real” part of science.

These things almost never end well. People in the pop media start using the phrase “pathological science” and making comparisons, in particular, to other Nobel Prize winners who use the recognition of that award as a kind of license to indulge their personal eccentricities.

Beliefs have the epistemological equivalent of inertia, and mainstream science keeps moving in the direction it is currently moving in unless a large force pushes it in a new direction.

I don’t think homeopathy research is going to generate enough force to change the direction of mainstream science, but you never know.

I want to mention this just in case this research does offer up extraordinary evidence of its extraordinary claims.

And I want to mention this because there are real-world political issues involved if this does turn out to be true.

As I observed in my earlier post, the chemistry of the Gulf of Mexico has had vast amounts of pollutants—oil and dispersants and drilling by-products—mixed into it. That water remains along the Gulf coast and has been mingling with water flowing up the Atlantic coast and into the Atlantic Ocean.

If water has a “memory” of some kind, that water has bad memories.

Now there is the unfolding nuclear disaster at the Fukushima reactor complex in Japan. Whether or not this is a straightforward geological disaster or a disaster driven to catastrophe by the Stuxnet computer virus rendering the embedded systems at the Fukushima complex unworkable, there are now nuclear by-products mixing with the atmosphere and mixing with the Pacific Ocean where natural currents and flow patterns will carry them to the West coast of the United States.

Again, if water has a “memory” of some kind, that water has bad memories.

The Gulf of Mexico disaster is still unfolding. There are still animal die-offs happening, there are still “unexplained” oil slicks.

Now the Pacific Ocean is an unfolding disaster as well.

All this stuff is bad enough if water is “just” water. If there is any reality at all to homeopathic beliefs, this water is going to “remember” all these pollutants and contaminants for a very long time. And we will have to live with those bad memories.

If we can.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Shanghai In The Epipelagic Layer

The Endless Death Of Maple White

Modern Romance In The Noir

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Writing Versus Multimedia

I have almost nothing today.

I’ve been kind of angry with myself for not having enough writing on the blog lately. I’ve been doing videos and photographs and I’ve been feeling bad about not having done a painting for a long time, but whenever I start to feel bad about not doing a drawing or painting, I feel extra bad that I haven’t done, say, a short story in even longer.

Back in December I wrote this poem:

At a thirty frames-per-second frame rate
a ninety minute movie will project
a hundred and sixty thousand select
pictures one after the other like freight

on a train of flatcars each with one crate,
pretty crates for the viewer to inspect,
pretty crates above train tracks that connect
the railroad to the viewer’s brain substrate.

Borgy’s boyfriend wants to film a movie
about a painter who creates a scene
a single image on a rectangle

of canvas then is tortured by spooky
ways the scene changes and what it might mean
when an image and viewer entangle.

I was kind of angry with myself, even back then, for thinking about films and video so much and I wanted to write a story about a filmmaker doing a film about a painter making a painting. I thought it would be a fun way to think about almost all the stuff I’m interested in and to do the thinking in the context of writing a short story.

That was three months ago and I still haven’t written that story.

I make me angry sometimes.

So that’s something that’s been on my mind a lot lately. In a way I kind of miss the early days of this blog when it was all text.

But at the same time I love having all the multimedia resources that are so available these days.

That’s about all I have for today. This just has been an update on one of the things that’s been on my mind a lot lately. Writing versus multimedia.

I tell myself that the kind of multimedia I usually do, songs or little films, involves quite a bit of writing. And, for the most part, I strongly suspect in the future—well, now—that multimedia writing is the only kind of writing that will exist for all practical purposes. But I miss the writing kind of writing.

And to sort of underscore that duality, back in 2009 I posted the lyrics of a cool Peter Gabriel song. Here’s a cool Peter Gabriel video for that song. I really think this is the future—cool writing, cool sounds, cool images. I think everything will need all three:

Monday, March 21, 2011

When You Press Down A Piano Key

It was literal. It was me going out with a guy, and when we broke up, he found a younger, prettier version of me who wanted to be a pop star. As they always do, of course.

“My God, M—,” Blushie said, “they want me to put my car in space thirteen!”

“It’s a very busy studio, Blushie,” M— said. “We were lucky to get time here at all. I’m parked in a lot on the next block.”

“M—,” Blushie said, “I can’t put my Volksy in a space numbered thirteen! I mean, duh! How could I sing knowing my car is sitting above a big yellow thirteen? I mean, duh!”

“It’s a very busy studio, Blushie,” M— said.

“I’m going back to the hotel,” Blushie said. “Call me when you deal with this.”

“Do you know how the escapement mechanism
on a piano keyboard operates?” I asked.

“I work in the office,” Jenny said. “I never
go back to the studios.” She handed me one
small, white, two hundred milligram caffeine tablet.

“When you press down a piano key,” I explained,
a hammer strikes a string. But the key disconnects
from the hammer before it strikes so the sound rings.
But that means piano keys have no after-touch.
If you wiggle your finger on a piano
it doesn’t change the sound, doesn’t add vibrato.
Once you depress a key through its escapement zone
the sound is completely outside of your control.
Synthesizer keyboards can sense velocity
like a piano, but they have after-touch, too.
You can keep playing a note after you play it.”

“I didn’t know that,” Jenny said. “Modern keyboards
can do some things classical pianos can’t do.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Modernity.” I took the caffeine
and chased it down with a half liter of water.

Jenny watched me take the pill and drink the water.

She laughed, as if I’d just told her some kind of joke.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Christmas Witches: Ogres And Showgirls

Why I’d Make A Terrible Rock Star

Pluto In Magic And Alchemy

Friday, March 18, 2011

Sense Of Place

I took a picture of the Moon a few minutes ago. It’s just a hand-held shot. I couldn’t find anything interesting to put in the foreground.

The Moon is not quite full tonight—it’s 99.3% full.

Even though this is just a hand-held pic and I didn’t fuss too much about settings, you can see some of the places I’ve written about.

In the very upper right, the little round dark area is the Sea of Crises.

Below that, to the left, is the Sea of Serenity. And below that, down and just a bit more to the left, is the Sea of Clouds.

Some of my favorite places.

Amy Winehouse In The Sea Of Crises

Whispering On The Moon

Moonlight Becomes You

Earlier, when the Sun was where the Moon is now, I took this picture looking in the same direction:

I love this stuff. It’s a mess, but then, you know, what isn’t?

I love this stuff and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I’m just sorry that right now I don’t have a song for all the wires in the moonlight.

I think I’d probably sleep more peacefully in the Sea of Clouds, but this is okay right here, right now.

Could be better, of course, but then, you know, what couldn’t?

I’m working on it.

Thin Lines Spread Out Into A Grid

Hooking Up Is About Love

I Can’t Sleep In My Kitchen

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Technology And Food

“I especially don’t trust people who don’t write things down. With those who do write things down, I’m very interested in what they write things in. If it’s one of those chic little Fifth Avenue notebooks with those expensive gold pencils, I’m more suspicious than ever. Many people feel it’s beneath their dignity to take notes, and try instead to trust their memories. I don’t work with them.”

— Stanley Kubrick

After a particularly tiring series of takes, Kubrick called for a tea break and, while a member of the catering staff served it, called Nicholson over for a conference. The recordist turned up the volume of Nicholson’s radio mike, and heard Kubrick mutter to his star, “Did you see the tits on that tea girl?”

Those excerpts are from
John Baxter’s “Stanley Kubrick”

It’s a great book. I wonder
if Stanley was glad that his sound man
“The Shining” wrote down things?

Three birds are looking for worms
in a tiny patch of grass.

One of the birds is watching
a fourth bird on the sidewalk
eat berry after berry
that fell from a nearby tree
and rolled along the concrete.

I think the bird in the grass
is getting the idea
the bird eating by itself
on the sidewalk where berries
are just sitting there waiting
to be eaten is a bird
adapted to the future.

I think that bird in the grass
watching the bird eat berries
is thinking, “Why didn’t I
think of eating those berries?”

I think that bird in the grass
watching the bird eat berries
is thinking, “Sidewalks are good.”

I think that bird in the grass
watching the bird eat berries
is reassessing its thoughts
on its own relationship
to technology and food.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Even Puppets Yell At Me!

Flying like a kite
In television light

Holding onto reason
To pull yourself down

Tell everybody there
What you saw in the air

Then get out of there
Get out of that glare

from “End of the World Things”

These days stars are so used to digital special effects being perfect that when physical special effects maybe aren’t as ‘special’ as they could be even an actress as cool as Little Plastic Doll will throw a diva tantrum . . .

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Motion Toward And Away—Ode To Pamela

I met my old lover
On the street last night
She seemed so glad to see me
I just smiled
We talked about some old times
And we drank ourselves some beers
Still crazy
After all these years

[Artur Schnabel’s] method of practicing was experiment rather than drill. ... His practice time was devoted to working out the exact articulation of a piece. He worked over each phrase hundreds of times to find the fingering, the hand position, the finger and arm movements that would secure the perfect inflection of melody, rhythm and harmony which he heard inwardly. To his pupils, he defined practicing as “passing the day at the piano with patience and serenity,” and this, as far as I know, is what he did himself.

Konrad Wolff, writing about Artur Schnabel,
quoted in Seymour Bernstein’s “With Your Own Two Hands”

Oh, Pamela, why would you ask me
to write a song for you? Would you sing
at open mike night, where the drunks fling
beer cans at you on their way to pee?

Which three chords, Pamela, will it be
that will strike the truth and make it ring
through laughter and vomit and kissing
and hookers bargaining for their fee?

Play me like a fretboard or keyboard,
even two chords can sound seductive,
or one—patiently make me serene.

Oh, Pamela, this is motion toward
and I know I sound accusative,
but I’ve got no soundtrack for your scene.

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Corporate Communications #1: Pamela

This Evening At The Stilyagi Bar®

Monday, March 14, 2011

I Don’t Know What Lost Means Any More

Before sunset down in the purple dark
high above far above in the distance
evening light shines on the tall thin street lights
before the street lights switch on to shine on
the dark things in the distance below them.

It’s all about the electricity
and photographs show the straight hard edges
better than a watercolor painting.
In the distance down in the purple dark
a photographer thinks about painting.

It’s all about the street lights, tall and thin.
It’s all about the electricity.
It’s all about the people—there are some,
impossibly far in the purple dark,
lost in a world of poles and wires—thinking.

Friday, March 11, 2011

I Don’t Know What Distance Means Any More

Steam behind the dry cleaners
rises up toward the low clouds
coloring the evening sky
but in the distance behind
the buildings, wires, steam and clouds
the real color of the sky
is still blue but the blue sky
is in the distance behind
the buildings, wires, steam and clouds.

These words feel so far away
but my camera is here
right here in my hand in front
of my face and I don’t know
what distance means any more
but I think the real blue sky
is trying to tell me why
these words feel so far away
when I wish they were right here.

Wrapping Up Roland

Earlier this week I said I hoped to have a stop-motion piece for Friday. But today is Friday and I don’t. Oops. That stop-motion thing will be rescheduled and—Lord willing and the Creek don’t rise—that post will appear sometime in the future.

But I might do two posts today.

For right now I just wanted to catch up a little.

I’ve mentioned that Roland ad, twice, for their Juno Gi keyboard that featured a guitar player. When I first mentioned it in Thinking About Perspective I was just too lazy to reach over and switch on my scanner to make a copy of the ad. And the second time I mentioned it in Quasi Una Atomic Octopus Fantasia I couldn’t find the ad in any magazine any more.

A couple of months ago the ad was in every music magazine I read. Now I don’t see it anywhere.

I don’t know if that means the ad just ran its course, or that the ad wasn’t generating any favorable response. Sadly, right now I don’t know anybody in the advertising business so I can’t get any behind-the-scenes gossip.

At any rate, today I drove over to a Borders and found an old magazine with the ad. Here it is. I’m not going to link it, because if anyone wants to see a bigger version of it they can just click on it.

Look—it’s an ad for a keyboard, featuring a guitar player (guess the included synthesized guitar sounds aren’t all that great?) —

I don’t know who that musician is, and I don’t know his band—Shiny Toy Guns—but it’s worth pointing out that when Roland was pushing their new really good workstation, the Fantom series, Shiny Toy Guns was hawking the Fantom series. Now they’re hawking the Juno series. Hmmm.

Roland is an odd company. The whole Juno line is odd. All the Juno keyboards look almost exactly alike, and their names are almost identical. You have to read the fine print in the spec sheets to see the differences. The main differences seem to be that some run on batteries and some don’t, and some have sequencers and some have audio recorders.

I’m not sure if everyone knows the difference between a sequencer and a recorder, but, really, the bottom line is that any real workstation should have both. (My arranger keyboard has both and it’s just an arranger keyboard.) You use—in general—the sequencer to fine-tune a composition or an arrangement and then you use the recorder to create a version of the song that can be shared among audio programs or audio devices.

(A recorder stores digital information about sound. A sequencer stores MIDI codes about musical events. These digital days, both can be manipulated but in different ways.)

So I think this post wraps up my comments about Roland. The Juno Gi looks nice and runs on batteries (and it comes with DAW software for a computer and that provides sequencer capabilities that the keyboard lacks) but it’s pretty expensive. Really. If you just about double the price you can get a Korg Kronos when they come out.

The Kronos doesn’t run on batteries but it vastly more than doubles the capabilities of something like the Juno Gi.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Looking Over Its Shoulder At The Giants

“Ladies and gentlemen, because I am working in this town for 25 years, I like to make some kind of appreciation to very important factor that makes me successful and adds to the quality of this town. For my award, I would very much like to thank Johannes Brahms, Johann Strauss ... Josef Strauss, Richard Strauss, Richard Wagner, Beethoven, Schubert, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Rimsky-Korsakov ...”

In 1955 film composer Dimitri Tiomkin, who had been
a student of composer Alexander Glazunov,
was accepting one of his many Academy Awards
and although he was working in the most pop
of all pop media, he tried to acknowledge his debt
to classical music by naming the great composers
he looked to for inspiration. He got that far,
and then the audience was laughing so hard that
Bob Hope walked over and interrupted him and
helped him exit gracefully.

For today’s post I’m just recommending another blog post.

That story about Tiomkin is part of the introduction to a blog post by John Bailey, over at the American Society of Cinematographers. Bailey is a cinematographer and he comments on a recent essay about great composers, and he comments on the role non-pop music plays in pop media. He speaks of the great film composers of yesterday looking over their shoulders at the giants of the past.

He says today some do, too.

It’s great stuff. It is over at:

Tommasini’s Top Ten, March 7, 2011 by John Bailey, ASC

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Fire Maidens From Atlantis Via Russia

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Quasi Una Atomic Octopus Fantasia

Because I don’t have a theme this week I’m going to take this opportunity to tie up two loose ends.

Loose End #1

From just a couple of weeks ago in Thinking About Perspective I made fun of the Roland Corporation for using an ad (not the picture above [the picture is in this post]) featuring a guitar player to sell their new keyboard, the Roland Juno Gi. I feel a little bad about this because one aspect of the Juno Gi looks very cool.

Now, I don’t own any Roland products at all. Right now I am pretty much an HP/Tascam/Yamaha kind of guy. But, as a kind of principle, I’ve resolved from now on only to buy products that are capable of battery operation. I don’t mind if they normally are used plugged in, but in keeping with the whole mumblecore theory—or at least my vision of it—that the whole world is a studio, I’ve found it incredibly convenient to be able to just pick up my laptop or my Tascam amp/recorder and work anywhere at all. It’s a good thing. Now as far as I know Yamaha products all need to be plugged in. Korg makes the MicroKorg XL which can run on batteries. But Roland has really embraced this concept and has an entire line of reasonably good portable amplifiers and, now, the Roland Juno Gi synthesizer, which can operate on batteries [!] and do some of the things my Yamaha keyboard can do as far as recording and sound-making.

Now I’m dubious about Roland because of what tech-types call “build quality.” At the local Guitar Center Roland products are always on display with parts that have fallen off or cracked in half. That’s awful for products that cost as much as these things cost. And it’s especially awful in machines that are designed to be carried around to performance locations. But the whole battery-power issue might be a key issue for me in the future. I might put up with cheesy manufacturing for the benefits of portability. I don’t know. I’m thinking about it.

Also I wanted to point out that although I made fun of Roland for featuring a guitar player in their keyboard ad, and although that ad still seems like a bad idea to me, in fact I use my own keyboard as an amp and amp model for most of my guitar videos. Yeah, right now I’m a guitar player who plugs into a keyboard. But Yamaha doesn’t make ads for their keyboards that feature guitar players. I admire Yamaha for that.

Loose End #2

Five years ago (this has been bugging me for five years!) I wrote a song for this blog and, because I had no multimedia resources back then, I only posted the lyrics — The Atomic Octopus Song (Goodbye Jamie)

A couple of weeks ago — in Oh-Oh, Ghosts (and tangentially in the afterward to Beethoven, Britney Spears And A Ghost) — I quoted my poem “Jamie’s Ghosts” and that reminded me of the song because I’d written the song for a cool young woman, Jamie, when she stopped working at our local library.

So I figure five years is long enough for a loose end to dangle without getting tied up. Yesterday I mentioned Ray Harryhausen, and here is the complete version, the lyrics and music version, of my “Atomic Octopus” song, inspired by saying goodbye to Jamie and Harryhausen’s great film, “It Came From Beneath The Sea.”

Now I always have trouble playing and singing at the same time and this song is particularly hard for me. I like everything about it—the lyrics are funky and don’t rhyme and the music is simple but with a couple of little syncopations—but the little syncopations and lyrics that purposefully have an odd meter make my fingers and tongue get all tangled up and I fall all over myself. This took like seven takes. But I got through it!

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

“Different, But Not Individually Evil”

‘Creatures, always creatures, never monsters.’ I have made this statement countless times over the years. The reason for my insistence on what my creations should be called is that people often identify them as monsters, whereas for me the world ‘monster’ conjures up images of Frankenstein’s creation, Dracula, a ghastly alien or perhaps something equally horrifying which might suggest a malevolent entity. This is not how I see most of my creations. None of them are really evil; perhaps ‘odd’ or grotesque, which makes them different, but not individually evil unless controlled by other forces. None of them destroy for the sake of destroying.

Ray Harryhausen
quoted in “Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life”

I’ve been rehearsing a song
I wrote about a creature
with that distinctive feature—
it’s grotesque, doesn’t belong,

but when its actions are wrong
it’s not a corrupt preacher
just a misguided teacher
whose kids have all run along

leaving it alone to teach
lessons no one wants to learn
and soon everyone forgets

learning’s even within reach,
so it wrecks things. I discern
the song might require puppets.

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I don’t have a theme this week,
I’m just making it up day by day.
But I may have a new puppet post
for Friday.


“A Concept That I Felt Was Right”

“Yet Baghdad Is”

Twenty-Four Hundred Man-Years For What?

Monday, March 07, 2011

Robot Pilots, Kites, Cutting Strings

ISTANBUL -- European jet manufacturer Airbus, expanding cockpit automation across its entire model lineup, is introducing a new feature to help planes fly close to each other in busy airspace without triggering airborne-collision warnings.

Slated to be phased in over the next few years, the move underscores the company's commitment to increasingly rely on automation -- without requiring any pilot commands -- in order to reduce the hazards of midair collisions.

... The goal, according to Claude Lelaie, is to allow aircraft to climb or descend within 1,000 feet of each other -- typically during cruise and while following instructions from air-traffic controllers -- without triggering collision warnings that otherwise would disrupt flight paths by requiring planes take immediate evasive action. The Airbus official said such warnings, called collision-avoidance advisories, frequently prompt pilots to overreact by making their planes climb or dive too steeply or for too long. Such responses can injure passengers and inadvertently create dangerous conflicts with other nearby traffic.

Airlines told Airbus, a unit of European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co., they were "fed up with all the nuisance" warnings, Mr. Lelaie told the conference sponsored by the Flight Safety Foundation.

To eliminate the problem, the new feature will kick in, on its own, to smoothe out aircraft flight paths and ensure that computers aboard converging planes automatically communicate with each other about intended trajectories. Planes headed toward each other will automatically reduce vertical speeds as they approach assigned altitudes.

... Yet today's flight-control revisions go well beyond previous Airbus automation initiatives, because activation of the new safety feature no longer will depend on what pilots do or fail to do. The plane's flight-management computer and autopilot effectively will take over whenever midair-collision warnings pop up in the cruise phase of flight. Cockpit instruments will make pilots aware of what's happening, though they won't have a role in adjusting the aircraft's trajectory.

Airbus to Expand Automation Features on Jets -

So because human pilots are annoyed
by collision warnings—or over-react,
fly badly and injure passengers—the
flight-management computer, the robot pilot,
will take over in the event of a collision
warning and fly the plane away from danger
instead of the pilot.

Oh boy.

No, really, if I could go to Paris
by any method I wanted to go
I wouldn’t go by airline on a plane
with a robot pilot at the controls
and I wouldn’t sail my own small sailboat
on the ocean with huge container ships
because I’m sure they’re helmed by robots, too,
no, really, if I could go to Paris
by any method I wanted to go
I think I’d flutter there—I’d go up high
on a really good, high-tech kind of kite
somewhere off the east coast and from up there
when all my instruments were looking good
I would manually press a button
that would cut away the connecting string
tying my kite to North America
and then the trade winds would blow my kite east
across the Atlantic while I enjoyed
the shifting fluttering view as my kite
fluttered slowly downward over England
and the Channel and then touched down in France,
no, really, if I could go to Paris
by any method I wanted to go,
I’d flutter to France by kite—no, really.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Waterfall In My Kitchen

For today’s post I’ve done something I’ve never done before. Just this once (I think) I’ve uploaded a video to YouTube rather than blogger.

Here’s why.

As I’ve been looking around for information about the new Korg Kronos music workstationLa Seule Chose Que Je Peux Faire and Beethoven, Britney Spears And A Ghost—through some sequence I don’t remember I got to see a video on YouTube that was created by one of the Kronos sound designers, John Lehmkuhl—his website is Plugin Guru.

It’s a beautiful video, very well done. The wonderful video was shot with a Canon EOS SLR, and the music is John playing a Korg Kronos. (The keyboard’s not out yet, but he works there.)

It’s beautiful to look at and beautiful to listen to and I thought, well, you know, just for balance, the world probably needs a mumblecore version of that video.

And I figured I was just the guy to make that mumblecore version.

So I fired up my webcam and got some footage of a local waterfall—the sink in my kitchen. Then I made up a little new age kind of composition. Then I put the sound and images together into a bit of pan sensual immersive multimedia.

I do want to say that the music for my little video is a live performance from start to finish. I recorded it separately from the video, but that’s me playing keyboard from start to finish. In the middle, the robot musicians inside my Yamaha PSR-S910 jump in and accompany me for a bit and then jump out, but that’s all live, too, part of the take, not sound-on-sound.

Also I want to say that John was very cool about this and allowed my mumblecore video to be linked as a “video response” to his real video. Thank you, John!

So today there are two videos. First is John’s video taken at Ponytail Falls, then my video taken in my kitchen.

Here’s the good one of Ponytail Falls (Ponytail Falls at Wikipedia). Look how beautiful that is!

And here is my mumblecore response. This sink is located south of Chicago, but I don’t want any tourists showing up here. Look how bright the Sun is!

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February Ketchup

Robot In The Rain

Porcelain Scientists With Metal Helpers

In Shanghai We’re All Dramatic Chipmunks
(Ponytail Falls isn’t Twin Peaks,
but it looks like Twin Peaks and that
made me think of
Audrey’s Dance.)

The Occult Technology Of Lost Songs

Thursday, March 03, 2011

I Can’t Sleep In My Kitchen

Suzanne Ciani was the first woman to make a name for herself by composing commercial sound signatures. She was known as “the woman who could make any sound.” From the radical world of countercultural Berkeley to New York City corporate life, she was accompanied by a machine that, to her, “was my life. I mean, it was, I was in love.” That love was for a Buchla 200 synthesizer.

... Suzanne was so enamored with her Buchla that in New York it was just about all she had for companionship. Her apartment contained no furniture, just her Buchla with its flashing lights sitting in the middle of the room. It was her partner, co-worker, and courtesan: “You know, a sound didn’t just exist—everything was in flux. There was no ‘is’ there, it wasn’t a static thing. Everything was shifting, everything was breathing. This instrument was, I mean, I had a problem, in a way. I remember when I went to New York and I was, I was scared, in a way, because I was in love with a machine. And I had this Buchla, and it was on, literally on for ten years.”

... Suzanne used her instrument “to create a poetry, a language, a musical equivalent of an idea, something that wasn’t based in notes. You know, notes are little islands, and you can make a melody. Or you can have a chord. But now we had something else. You could make a gesture, a sweep.”

... Unquestionably, the most remarkable thing about Suzanne is her special relationship with her synthesizer. But that relationship eventually came to an end. She discovered there was no resident electronic technician in all Manhattan, including the Audio Engineering Society, capable of fixing her Buchla. No one understood its insides. She had to ship it back to Don every time it needed repair, and this broke her heart: “You can imagine the psychological anguish that I suffered.” Her synth’s problems weren’t helped by the fact that the Buchla almost always returned from its travels damaged again.

Suzanne eventually had to give up her Buchla. The emotional strain produced by her relationship with the instrument was overwhelming: “I was too emotionally attached, and, frankly, I was having a nervous breakdown, because when the thing was broken, I was broken. I was so attached to it that when it didn’t work, I didn’t work.” So she started looking at other synthesizers, even though she felt intensely guilty about it: “It was like a lover, you know, being unfaithful. I went generic, I finally just went generic and I said, I miss all the magic and uniqueness of the Buchla, but I can sleep at night now. I know that if this thing breaks, I can get another one, or someone who knows how to fix it, or they can send me a part.” With the acquisition of a generic digital synthesizer, Suzanne finally found peace.

Trevor Pinch
Frank Trocco
writing in “Analog Days”

My kitchen is like a beautiful quilt
but even though my kitchen is a quilt
I can’t sleep in my kitchen. My kitchen
is beautiful because all the world grids
overlap in my kitchen, little squares
oriented at every angle
imaginable, pretty, intertwined
electrical lines, water lines, gas lines
and there’s a phone with a wire on the wall
and there’s the product distribution grid
bringing food here from Italy and France
and China and even Australia
by ship and airplane and railroad and truck.

My kitchen is like a beautiful quilt
but it’s an electric quilt and it hums.
It has oscillators that make waveforms
and the overtones make beat frequencies
and all the changes create melodies
and rhythms and percussion. It’s music.
It’s not discordant or scary music.
It’s beautiful music. Peaceful music.
There’s a beat and it’s like a heartbeat but
it’s not like disco, it’s like a heartbeat
you hear with your ear pressed against someone.
It’s the kind of music every song
is a simple approximation of.

If my guitar strings break I can change them.
One time I took the back off my guitar
and re-soldered one of the wires attached
to a volume potentiometer.
That cleared up some static I’d been hearing.
The beautiful music my kitchen makes
terrifies me because what if it stops?
What if there’s static or it turns to noise?
People who live on boats say it’s humid
all the time and they’re always fixing things.
When you live on a boat you can fix things.
It’s like a quilt you can sew if it rips.
I think I could sleep, living on a boat.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Romance In My Kitchen

“How old is Jennifer now?” Norman asked, pleased to pull the name from his memory. And what was her husband’s name? He was a physicist, Norman remembered, something like that. Sandy blond man. Had a beard. Wore bow ties.

“Nine. She’s pitching for the Evanston Little League now. Not much of a student, but a hell of a pitcher.” She sounded proud. “How’s your family? Ellen?”

“She’s fine. The kids are fine. Tim’s a sophomore at Chicago. Amy’s at Andover. How is ...”

“George? We divorced three years ago,” Beth said. “George had a year at CERN in Geneva, looking for exotic particles, and I guess he found whatever he was looking for. She’s French. He says she’s a great cook.” She shrugged. “Anyway, my work is going well. For the past year I have been working with cephalopods—squid and octopi.”

“How’s that?”

“Interesting. It gives you quite a strange feeling to realize the gentle intelligence of these creatures, particularly octopi. You know an octopus is smarter than a dog, and would probably make a much better pet. It’s a wonderful, clever, very emotional creature, an octopus. Only we never think of them that way.”

Norman said, “Do you still eat them?”

“Oh, Norman.” She smiled. “Do you still relate everything to food?”

“Whenever possible,” Norman said, patting his stomach.

“Well, you won’t like the food in this place. It’s terrible. But the answer is no,” she said, cracking her knuckles. “I could never eat an octopus now, knowing what I do about them.”

from “Sphere”
by Michael Crichton

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Cookies And High Heels In A Clean Kitchen

Real Estate Gothic

When Any Woman Visits My Studio

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Beethoven And Three Plates In My Kitchen

Throughout the eighteenth and first part of the nineteenth centuries there were many attempts in the area of new instrument design, the most important of which was Benjamin Franklin’s Glass Harmonica, which appeared in 1763. Both Mozart and Beethoven wrote compositions for it. The glass harmonica contained a series of revolving glass discs which could be set in motion by a foot pedal; they were kept wet by passing through a trough of water. The discs were of increasing thickness, so that when the performer touched one of their edges a specific pitch was produced.

David Ernst is telling the truth there, but it’s not exactly the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Mozart may have been interested in Franklin’s glass armonica (that seems to be the more accepted spelling). But Beethoven, apparently, wasn’t all that excited about writing music for wet plates.

In fact I think Beethoven only wrote one piece for the armonica.

In 1815, when Beethoven was forty-five, a political functionary of the King of Prussia wrote a play—seemingly a kind of propaganda piece about a tragic young woman who fights as a soldier in one or another revolution—and Beethoven was hired to write what we’d now call one song for the play, just the music. They called it incidental music. It was a short piece, just a few bars, to be played on armonica as the heroine recited some monologue from beyond the grave. In classic theater fashion the production ran into finance troubles and the play was never performed.

The score of Beethoven’s piece is available here.

The story of Beethoven and the armonica is told at the glass armonica site here.

These are my three favorite plates:

They’re pretty colors and they’re nice and heavy. And they’re small, so even if I fill up one with food it’s still not over-eating.

I like these plates a lot. I got them a long time ago at a Crate and Barrel and I’ve kept them with me through two or three moves. These plates are Libbey Tableware and they are much cooler than I ever could be.

These are my favorite plates, but I strongly suspect they are more likely to end up in San Jose rather than Carnegie Hall. They never practice, not even pop songs, and they are content just to serve up food for me. They seem to have no artistic or commercial ambitions of any kind.

I don’t know though. These plates never practice anything but they are much better at what they do than I am at all the stuff I practice.

I’m trying to learn from them.

Here are some more ambitious plates performing Mozart:

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My Cactus Plants Hate My Pants