Sunday, December 28, 2008

Silent, Holy, Hanukah Bush / Such a Nice Brisket / LGCSF Crap-Array and Castro Theatre

This post is going up a little bit late, but you know, the holidays and all.  

LGCSF presented a wonderful Christmas "Crap-Array" which featured premieres of my Xmas carols, "Melvin the Elf," and "Melvin the Elf (Belt Version)," lyrics by Randy Timothy Nolan. It's about Santa teaching a selfish, errant Elf to enjoy doing good for others and making toys. *cough*.  Singer Noam Szoke made wonderful flyers for this adult cabaret using striking imagery for "Melvin," and somehow (not my doing!) these ended up being publicized as far off as Birmingham AlabamaSF Weekly's listing comically got all the details wrong.

Wendy Tobias premiered a new song I wrote for her for the "Crap-Array," "Christmas at Your Parents." Quiet Christmas at home or visit the partner's family?  You decide.

The chorus premiered my "Silent, Holy, Hanuka Bush," dedicated to my Mom, who never approved of such things.  This heartwarming carol was also performed in Tuscon, Arizona by Desert Voices under the artistic directorship of Chris Tackett.  The piece calls for mixed chorus and small, artificial Hanuka Bush.  Here's a picture of Noam with the Hanukah Bush at the LGCSF show.  Heartwarming!!!

LGCSF performed my piece "Such a Nice Brisket" at the holiday concert with SFGMC at the Castro Theatre.  The program printed for the event did not accurately list LGCSF's setlist or my piece.  Oh well.  Here's a picture from the concert, which really did happen.  

Last year LGCSF did my carol "Magic Snow" at the Castro, which spurred lots of local controversy!  "Brisket" is a fun but musically challenging homage to the brisket.  It can be programmed as a holiday piece or a serious concert piece.  LGCSF first performed it in their classical concert about food.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Funeral Parade of Roses at The Revival House at ATA

Wednesday December 17, 2008.

Funeral Parade of Roses (Bara no soretsu) dir. Toshio Matsumoto, Japan, 1969.

Queens, club kids, drug dealers, and cabaret managers inhabit a monochromatic post-war Japanese underworld, cinematically reminiscent of Hiroshima Mon Amour, and imbued with a quintessentially Japanese combination of the deeply personal and utterly formalized detachment. I am told the film was influential on Kubrick's adaptation of A Clockwork Orange, and this may be true in the visual depiction of ultra-violence, but I can't source an actual quote from Kubrick himself on this. (Please leave a comment if you can source an actual Kubrick quote for me.) Sections of the film are almost experimental, and the editing becomes pleasantly free-form at times. The narrative is almost baffling and deceptively simple at the same time. Cleverly, cast members are interviewed within the film in a Brechtian touch; however, this is complicated by the presence of a pornographic film-within-a-film. Sometimes, the actors are interviewed as the actors of the porno, discussing that film; other times, they're interviewed as the actors of Funeral Parade of Roses itself, even discussing action which hasn't happened yet.  

Funeral Parade of Roses was the Revival House series ender.  Printed programs came with a CD of music from the screenings and web announcements, which is a nice touch.  "T" did a great job putting this together.  I hope this kind of programming continues in the future.  ATA's location on the vibrant Valencia corridor is great for this kind of thing.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Jake Heggie's Three Decembers at Cal Zellerbach

December 12, 2008 Cal Zellerbach Auditorium, Berkeley

Cal Performances and SF Opera present the West Coast premiere of Three Decembers by Jake Heggie, local San Franciscan, specialist in vocal music, and composer of operas Dead Man Walking and To Hell and Back.

First off, I notice the joint is comfortably half empty. The balcony was completely empty or closed, the mezzanine had a smattering of people, and the orchestra was about two-thirds full during the first act. I was seated in the left tier, row BB, with an excellent view of the stage; mine was the the only seat taken in a row of four seats. At least it's quality people in attendance. I did run into Leslie Ann Jones during intermission!

An over-enthusiastic usher shooed people away from the lowered pit before the show.  There might have been a reason for this, but I've not seen this kind of shooing before.  People like to look in the pit, is there a problem?  The pit, which raised and lowered for effect, held the singers, and a reduced ensemble was set up on the stage: two pianos, three violins, one cello, one bass, a percussionist and a smattering of woodwinds. (What no viola? How West Side Story.) Conductor Patrick Summers, who seemed to cue only the orchestra, manned one piano, and at the second piano was the composer himself, participating in his own work.

Heggie's style can be summarily characterized by three traits.
1. Tonality.  His work is conservatively tonal and easy for any audience to digest.
2. His melodies fit well in the vocal range of any singing voice he employs; singers clearly love singing his music, and you can see their enjoyment.  He builds a scene well and plans things out to optimize each voice.
3. At the same time, Heggie maintains a deliberate avoidance of anything catchy or earwormy. You won't leave humming a banal ditty that's stuck in your ear. 

The work, based on Terrence McNally's 1999 play Some Christmas Letters (and a Couple of Phone Calls), is neatly structured into three Decembers, 1986, 1996, and 2006. Gene Scheer's engaging libretto builds a full story around only three singers, a truly great challenge. It requires a real economy of style and strength of concept to create an opera that doesn't need a liberal peppering of supporting roles, let alone a chorus and supernumeraries. Sheer and Heggie pull it off in a big way.  (Heggie works well in this reduced format; To Hell and Back also relied on phone calls, letters, and a small cast.)

The story involves overbearing mother Maddy (a part written expressly for Frederica von Stade aka Flicka), her adult son and daughter, and the haunting presence of the deceased father which permeates the whole opera. The father is the object of obsessive fascination by the adult children, even if all the son actually remembers is the father's chair. The father has become an idealized figure for the children who feel emotionally neglected by their self-obsessed, egomaniacal stage actress mother. (Maddy thoughtlessly wants to exploit her son Charley's partner's AIDS death in a Tony acceptance speech.) McNally and Scheer capture the way many straight people in the 80s and 90s tried to glibly profess some kind of empathy for AIDS suffering while simultaneously revealing their distaste for the whole matter.

Set numbers provide intermittent relief from family drama.  Mom does a Broadway/cabaret type number.  The kids do a number about easing your pain by shopping for shoes, which to me instantly recalled Kelly's viral meme.  There's always room for more songs about... shoes. Heggie's shoes number, filled with intended and unintended intertextual references, connects the 1996 setting to today.  A song about women (and by extension, gay men) self-medicating via shopping for shoes seems at once novel and cliché on the opera stage, but of course, the audience ate it up.

If you missed it, you can buy a two-CD set of the Houston Grand Opera world premiere.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

"Spinet Mambo" Video - Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble

Music Video for "Spinet Mambo" by the Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble.
Available on the CD Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble I.
(c) + (p) 2008 De Stijl Music (BMI)

Jack Curtis Dubowsky: Spinet Piano, Roland Jupiter 6
Fred Morgan: Drums

Recorded live in studio without overdubs.
This is only two people, playing live!
Also available on iTunes
Make friends with the JCD Ensemble on Myspace

Directed, shot, and edited by Jack Curtis Dubowsky.
Category: Music
Tags: Jack Curtis Dubowsky Fred Morgan electro acoustic electroacoustic new music contemporary spinet piano mambo wood wooden French bunny rabbit Roland Jupiter analog synth free improvisation drums drumming

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Marc Shaiman's New Musical

From Marc Shaiman (Hairspray, South Park (the Movie), City Slickers)

Ultravox on Tour in the UK

Could this be real?  Please buy me airfare and tickets!  I've not seen Ultravox since Quartet. (Perkins Palace, Pasadena!  Yes, with the giant building onstage that's on the Monument EP cover!) Interestingly, Billy Currie's website had a long blog, now taken down, which detailed bitter disagreements and negotiations with Ure, management companies, attorneys, and labels about various music business affairs.  (Its removal, presumably a condition of the reunion, erases an interesting chronicle spanning several years.)  Billy's website is still worth a visit, and I'm pleased to say his page on his collection of fiddles is still up, a page I find so cute and adorable, as you can sense the little conservatory kid still in him.

Tingle Tangle at Cafe du Nord

Wednesday November 26, 2008.

The return of Tingle Tangle following the exciting drunken debacle at another venue (read my blog of that one here.)  A wonderful Wednesday night, the return and resurfacing of old Klubstitute Kidz from yore, and all manner and sorts of performers.



Justin Bond with the barefoot, retro-Hank Williams/Lee Hazelwood Nathan
What is this???  Strange virtuoso bell-ringing performance.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Milk at the Castro Theatre

Reliably made by Gus Van SantMilk is a carefully balanced film which thankfully does not fall into bathos or pandering, nor whitewash its colorful subject.  

Given the final cut, I spent exactly the right amount of time on the set as a local extra.  (Just a few hours at one shoot.) Of course you won't see me, but have fun looking for me in the scene where the historic Muni trolley car is disconnected from its overhead power lines.  Talk about movie magic.  They sure made that look exciting.  I had to stifle a laugh when I heard the big BBZZZZTTT electric sound some sound designer had dropped in there.  

It's funny how much the late 70s do look like today, with the return of beards, facial hair, washy earthy colors, and tight clothes made of soft fabrics.  (Don't forget The GIANT glasses!)

Whereas last year's Paranoid Park was a quiet, emo, quintessentially Van Sant return to indie cinema, Milk is well-funded, liberal-minded, Hollywood fare. I kept seeing Sean Penn and thinking, no matter how well he does act, look, it's Sean Penn playing Harvey Milk! Isn't that funny? Maddy's ex playing a homosexual, imagine that. For contrast, we have Tom Ammiano playing... Tom Ammiano! And to think, they could do Penn's splendid Harvey schnoz and not have any Just For Men on the set for Tom?

Spiced with little cameos of known locals, the film should delight all who were "there" even if they didn't receive a consultancy or invitation to the premiere.  While not earth-shattering, it's a hard film not to like.  Although not a likely candidate for repeated viewing or major awards, Milk will hopefully find a national audience and win admiration for a man who knew the true meaning of "outreach," did real work to befriend other communities, and who didn't try to "educate" others with an air of smug entitlement.

The story of Harvey Milk speaks to politics today. Why did No on 8 lose? Why was No on 8 marketing, outreach, and television spots so poor? (What do you think Harvey have thought of this ad?!) Proponents of marriage equality didn't have a Harvey Milk, someone who could unify people, work with others, and inspire not only his own movement but people statewide. Without a Harvey Milk, proponents of marriage equality look for scapegoats on whom they can place blame, instead of building coalitions and reaching out in all languages in all corners with respect, which is what Harvey would have done.

Poison, Chant d'Amour at The Revival House, ATA

Wednesday 19 November, Artists Television Access, San Francisco.

Poison (Todd Haynes, USA, 1991) and 
Un Chant d'Amour (Jean Genet, France, 1950)

What could be unique and compelling about a bunch of kids watching DVDs in a drafty storefront in a town that already has an internationally renown LGBT film festival?  That would be programming which lives up to its slogan.

Todd Haynes, like Jean Genet, specializes in a fascination with the queer conversion of boyhood shame, punishment, and abuse into pride and sexuality.  This can be seen in his films Dottie Gets Spanked and Velvet Goldmine as well as Poison, wherein Haynes' retelling of Genet's Miracle of the Rose is also a cinematic homage to Genet's stylized tableaux of male prison fantasies, Un Chant d'Amour, shot by an uncredited Jean Cocteau.

For more on Poison, I highly recommend the authoritative book The Cinema of Todd Haynes:  All that Heaven Allows, in particular the insightful essays by Sam Ishii-Gonzales, Lucas Hilderbrand, and Jon Davies. 

Come see the Revival House Series Finale with Bara no soretsu (Funeral Parade of Roses, Japan 1969) on Wednesday, December 17, 8pm, at ATA, 992 Valencia Street at 21st.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Boris Godunov, Samuel Ramey, SF Opera

Wednesday Nov. 12, 2008.  SF Opera.

Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky's original 1869 version, with libretto by Modest.  Based on a historical tragedy by Pushkin and History of the Russian State by Karamzin.  Starring Samuel Ramey as Boris, and Jack Gorlin as Fyodor, son of Boris.  Jack Gorlin was the Little Prince in Rachel Portman's The Little Prince.  At 12, he's already a consummate stage presence.  

It refreshing to see the original version, which has been revised many times like a Hollywood movie:  It isn't slick enough!  We need a leading lady!  We need a romance to bring in the women! 

The true romance is of course between Boris and Power.  (How very Russian!)  The opera opens with a scene of serfs being beaten and forced to cheer for Boris, an archetypal introduction to an archetypal drama.  This scene should have been darker and scarier.  The opera has many highlights, notably a chiming, glittering coronation scene (with synthesized bells I think at SF Opera).  

Boris Godunov has a raw power and energy to it which, in addition to being a hallmark of the Russian nationalist school, is a welcome breath of fresh air in the opera house, even today.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Brian Wilson at the Chicago Theatre

Sunday November 16, The Chicago Theatre.

Undersold.  Too many fluffy Beach Boys songs.  The Brian, front and center, with a little video monitor to help with lyrics and banter for a show reaching nearly three hours.  I was very impressed with Brian's singing, which otherwise has been quite strained on albums such as Orange Crate Art, and quite ProTooled on albums like the remake of SMiLE.  What Brian did in concert was to simply not sing when the part went too high.  He just layed out, saving his voice for where it is still quite capable.  His band covered perfectly.  It is important to note, if you want that Beach Boys sound, you don't need the Beach Boys:  you just need the exact correct vocal arrangements, executed properly.  Done.  Close your eyes, the magic was always in Brian's arrangements.
The highlight of the evening was new album That Lucky Old Sun performed uninterrupted as a thirty-five minute concert piece.  Really amazing.  (Yet another homage to Los Angeles, but we can forgive that.)  SMiLE clearly is not a one-off deal.  He may be 67, but he's still got it in him.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Lang Lang at Chicago Symphony Center

Saturday November 15, Lang Lang n Frenz at Chicago Symphony Center.

Though I regret I never saw Liberace, I feel this kind of makes up for it.

Lang Lang comes to Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco in December.

If you're lucky, he'll wear the same giant hideous silver brooch.
(I can't find any pictures of it, but it's been mentioned in other reviews.)
If he does, you'll for sure want to take him to Marlena's after the concert.

Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell

After discovering a pot pipe and marijuana paraphenalia in his son's room, Arthur's father says he "bounced him on the floor a couple times" and the next day his son ran away, eventually landing in NYC. 

Cellist/composer/singer Arthur Russell may not have had the same amount of formal training as other downtown hipsters like Juilliard/Boulanger pedigreed Philip Glass, (the film does not detail Russell's time spent at the Manhattan School of Music) but nevertheless the young man became music director for influential performance hotspot The Kitchen.  In the melieu of this cultural incubator, Russell connected with other emerging and established artists and performers.

The failure of a potentially high profile work with Robert Wilson confined Russell's career to arty but forgotten 12" dance club mixes issued under multiple fanciful monikers, further obscuring the artist from scrutiny or identification.  As he had coped with disfiguring acne scars in adolescence, Russell avoided showing his face, polishing his diction, or establishing his name. Wild Combination doesn't investigate the workaholic's self-sabotage.

File under "obscure New York artists who died prematurely of AIDS."  This growing genre of documentaries shows the loss of great minds and talents like Arthur Russell, regardless of what level of success or achievement they attained.  We mourn the loss of these artists and the alternative culture they so actively created.

One of the touching parts of the film is the history of Russell's relationship with partner Tom Lee, a terrific interview subject, as well as the bonding between Tom and Russell's parents.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Winsome Griffles at the Fillmore Poster Room

Monday October 27, 2008.  My Fillmore debut, with my band The Winsome Griffles, in the Poster Room.

You can see the famous posters in the background.  And our new banner!  

We only had a teeny riser, so we made Larry sit in front!  

Brad is playing a Cajon percussion box.  We are really packed in tight.  Brad also brought his cutest, teeniest little splash cymbals.

Mason Bates, Mark Applebaum, Adorno Ensemble at Knuth

Thursday October 23, 2008.

"Elektro/Acoustik" (sic) Works by Mark Applebaum & Mason Bates, Presented by The Adorno Ensemble, New Music Ensemble-in-Residence at SF State. Knuth Hall.

Here's Mason Bates with a piece of gear!  Ah, new music.  Well I asked him to pose.  So, partially my fault.  "Mason Bates at Winter NAMM!"   He deserves a better picture.

His website spash page says "Choose one: Electronica / Classical."  Ah the irony.  Do we need to choose?  Mason has been, as a composer, a proponent of combining electronica and classical forms.  He has been fortunate to have found a great number of artistic directors to program and commission his classical pieces which incorporate electronics.  While classical pieces with tape have been around for decades (Morton Subotnick, Milton Babbitt, Vladimir Ussachevsky and so on), Mason and his contemporaries like Nico Muhly from the joint Columbia/Juilliard program have been enjoying newly-hip success and academic encouragement with the live instruments/prerecorded-electronic sounds combo.  Mason's upcoming performances include Chanticleer, Winston-Salem Symphony, The California Symphony, even MTT and the San Francisco Symphony.  And he's still young and fluffy.  Am I jealous?  Yes.  As near as I can tell, the joint Columbia/Juilliard program and composition faculty offer an entrée into a world of opportunity unlike anything else in this country.  He's also won both the Rome Prize and the American Academy in Berlin Prize.  Mason's upcoming performance schedule blows away that of composition professors twice his age.

Not quite twice his age, but on the composition faculty at Stanford, is Mark Applebaum.  While not really young and fluffy, he does have big hair, and colorful homemade gear!
Um, is that a toilet float?
Here he is bowing the Mousketier.

Oh yes and a loop station.

Mason performed three "interludes" on his laptop and controller gizmo throughout the program.  His "White Lies for Lomax" was a tender, intriguing piece for solo piano beautifully executed by Keisuke Nakagoshi.  Keisuke and I were both Composition majors at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) at the same time.  He now works there as an accompanist.  He is a gifted, brilliant pianist.

Mark Applebaum's "Theme in Search of Variations II" for violin, clarinet, cello, piano, and percussion began in a conventional "new music" style.  Applebaum was a protégé in San Diego of "new complexity" composer Brian Ferneyhough, who subsequently brought him to Stanford. (Check out this photo of the pair from Applebaum's website!)  Pleasantly, this piece redeemed itself, ending twinkly and celestial.

Applebaum's "Mousketier Praxis" was an improvisation by the composer/instrument builder on his Mousketier.  Its clever sounds spoke of terminal hippie wanting a light show.  Here multimedia would have been to the benefit of all involved, appropriate, and not merely tacked on.  Mark's Mousketier proved to be its own popular petting zoo after the concert as well.

Mason Bate's "Red River" for violin, clarinet, piano, cello, and electronics (prerecorded) closed the show.  I really liked this piece.  It was captivating and restful and I may have nodded off through part of it but I awoke very slowly and I found it quite transportational and beautiful.

Following the concert was a reception in the grandest manner of SF State, which the composers did not attend, although they were plenty approachable and chatty as they packed up their gear in the concert hall.  The reception afforded something of a little SFCM Class Reunion!  For me, it's great and exciting to see SFCM alumni involved with new music in San Francisco.

Left to right, Cellist and IDM Conoisseur Alex Keitel, Composer-Author-Blogger Jack Curtis Dubowsky, Pianist and SFCM Poster Model Keisuke Nakagoshi.
Wonderful violist Michi Aceret!
In closing, I'd like to harp on the fact that to me, this was a choice event.  This is one of the nation's top up-and-coming composers, wonderful performers, all for free.  You'd expect it to be packed to the gills.  Nah.  Perhaps when it has the imprimatur of MTT and The SF Symphony, they'll buy tickets.  It also reminds me of the old adage I coined myself summer 2001 at Aspen:  "Beethoven, $60.  New Music, Free."  People will pay for the old classics, but you can't give away new original art music.  Mark Applebaum could pull in more gawkers with the Mousketier at an arts and crafts fair in Mill Valley than at Knuth Hall.  Mason Bates could get more people dancing at 111 Minna.  And by the same token, they're not handing out Rome Prizes or American Academy Music Awards on the street.  So why is the concert hall empty?  Isn't this San Francisco, great cosmopolitan center for the arts?  

"Such a Nice Brisket" World Premiere by LGCSF

October 17 & 18, 2008.

On the 18th, I attended LGCSF Eats Out: A Classical Concert About Food, featuring the world premiere of my "Such a Nice Brisket" for mixed chorus.

This was right in Kanbar Hall, where the chorus rehearses, so they're very comfortable, and the room sounds great too.  

I'm told they are going to memorize the piece and perform it on upcoming outreach concerts in Modesto and at the holiday concert with SFGMC in the Castro Theatre.  That's Wednesday December 24th, the 9pm performance, at the Castro Theatre.

Friday, October 24, 2008

MBA & Venture Capitalist Night at SF Opera

I got this email.  I am not making this up.

Now, why they would mistake me for an MBA Venture Capitalist is beyond me.
(If they sent it to their whole database, that's even more baffling.)

Again - imagine getting this only days after my Chelsea on the Rocks post - this speaks to trends in the arts, population, and economy in San Francisco.  

Remember opera in the park? 
Remember Lotfi's making "opera for everyone?"
Remember commissioning opera based on popular Hollywood films?

Well, hey, is that really going to work in today's economy?  Let's just market opera as a networking opportunity for MBAs and Venture Capitalists!

The message I am feeling from SF Opera is, We know the economy's bad!  We know the lower income folks are leaving!  So we'll return to marketing opera as an elitist art form!  And we'll send it to everyone, whether they can afford a subscription or not, because if they live here, well, they're just as likely as not to be hob-nobbing with people who have so much money they can throw it at any crazy tech idea that comes their way!

Look, I know you need butts in seats.  And yeah, I haven't bought as many tickets as I could afford in previous years.  But I think there's something about sending me this email that smells of poor taste.  If you're going to reach out to MBAs and Venture Capitalists, don't you think you could buy a mailing list from Stanford or some appropriate source and do it more discreetly?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Chelsea on the Rocks at Doc Fest

Friday October 17, 2008.  Opening night of Doc Fest.  

Abel Ferrara's Chelsea on the Rocks made a wonderful selection for opening night film, very timely and apropos for San Francisco.  This quirky, semi-vérité, semi-docudrama, multiple-format documentary film really stokes the fires of bitterness as corporate greed and management consume and destroy the living, beating heart of a building which has housed artists, writers, and musicians for over one hundred years.  Like the post-ordinateur San Francisco, why suffer an indigenous population of struggling artists to live in units which can be rented for $250-900 a night?  

The appearances of many famous artists, writers, and musicians are disguised by not having introductory subtitles.  As a result, you're not bombarded by résumés, but allowed to appreciate idiosyncratic artists for their own eccentricities.  

You know, if you go to Paris, great artists and writers are no longer to be found at Café de Flore either.  It is just for tourists.  It is a bygone era.

You can preserve a building.  Sadly it is more difficult to preserve the human element, especially those on the fringes of an urban society increasingly interested in war and money, and not trifling things like art and culture.

Ironically this film is sure to increase interest in a night's stay at the Chelsea, for those who can afford it.  Come and meet the artists you're pushing out.  Then again, maybe it will keep you in Manhattan and out of Bushwick for a while.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble at Luggage Store Gallery New Music Series

Thursday October 16, 2008.

We play a show at the Luggage Store Gallery New Music series, curated by Rent Romus and Matt Davignon.  

Well the front door was kinda busted giving a "Through the Looking Glass" vibe to the whole show.  Made loading in a real adventure too.  Through the rabbit hole, up the stairs!  The show must go on!

After load in, we went to Tu Lan to drink Vietnamese Ice Coffee and eat pork, rice, and Imperial Rolls.  Returning from Tu Lan, we saw this sign on the busted door.

The door is stuck!  Just duck inside!  And so people did.  We arrived midway through Amar Chaudhary's set.  He had some nice stuffed animals with sounds in them.  And a Kaos Pad. mmmm Kaos Pad.

The JCDE show had Erika Johnson on Drums/Percussion, Hall Goff on Trombone/Electronics, and myself on Jupiter 6, Bass, Ocarina, Shaker, and Finger Cymbals.  It was also the debut of our multimedia presentation, a longform DVD of overlapping imagery from the JCDE video shoots projected on a blank wall behind us.

Busted door and all, we had a great time playing this show, and the venue is a lot of fun.  There are more concerts in the series coming up, check them out here.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Eden Log at French Cinema Now Festival

October 11, Clay Theatre, French Cinema Now, presented by the San Francisco Film Society.  

Warning:  Contains spoilers.

A rare opportunity to catch an amazing new French sci-fi thriller, narratively structured after video games.  First time director Franck Vestiel creates a dystopian environment in muted monochromatic tones of gray sludge.  Eden Log owes a great deal to Fritz Lang's Metropolis in its above ground / underground dichotomy.  Unlike Metropolis, Eden Log only slowly begins to make sense, and takes place nearly entirely below the surface.  What is refreshing is the revolution in narrative structure.  Vestiel abandons Hollywood three or four act narrative conventions and adheres to video game structure, replete with levels of Eden Log being clearly labeled as we ascend, and even a defeat-the-boss climax.  Frequent blackouts, first introduced in a jarring opening sequence, frame the structure clearly.  Fade to black is used consistently as a way to advance the narrative.  Once we "come to," we may either be on a new level, or have escaped some danger, or landed in a new predicament.  This keeps the story moving and allows a great sense of unpredictability.

Another interesting facet of the film is original music by Seppuku Paradigm, a series of ambient electronic atmospheres, textures, and washes.  (Not like the obvious music in the trailer below.)  It's a welcome break in the expected horror score genre.  The look and sound of the film has garnered Vestiel comparisons to Aronofsky.  And despite the intensely stylized look, there's a more than a hint of low budget in its tiny, claustrophobic sets, chain-link fences, loose plastic tubes, and gray slather.   The film does not rely heavily on digital effects, and given the story concept, they are scarcely needed, again a pleasant break from today's sci-fi filmmaking. 

Eden Log, especially on the big screen, gives the excitement of having seen something really new.  It is now on DVD.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

"Quiet Emperor" Video

This is a video for "Quiet Emperor" from the Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble I CD. "Quiet Emperor" was recorded live in the studio without overdubs. This is only two people, Fred Morgan and I, playing together live!

Our music is now on Pandora, so you can make a JCDE station!  It plays cool stuff.  You can also read how the Music Genome Project has described and cataloged our music.  Here's how they analyze "Quiet Emperor":  

IDM influences
electronica roots
downtempo influences
use of modal harmonies
minimalist arrangements
synth tweaking
mellow sounds
thin orchestration
subtle use of noise effects
trippy soundscapes

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Eisenhower Farewell Address: World Premiere Oct 5, 2008

I can't really blog my own premiere.  
Here's what Paul Hertelendy wrote on

MEANWHILE, ACROSS THE BAY--- Very few community orchestras essay world premieres. Undaunted, the Castro Valley (CA) Adult School Chamber Orchestra performed Jack Curtis Dubowsky’s half-hour-long “Eisenhower Farewell Address,” setting to music and narration that president’s earnest-but-not-lyrical swan song delivered in 1961, with surprising parallels to today, decrying the “military-industrial complex,” and lamenting the elusiveness of peace as well as the hefty spending required by both. It was just as though President Eisenhower had a crystal ball to peer a half-century into the future.
All such musico-political efforts will inevitably be measured against the benchmark of Copland’s “A Lincoln Portrait,” in which the latter had manipulated the presidential texts to provide effective refrains (which Dubowsky, a 43-year-old San Franciscan, did not). Furthermore the new work collapsed into fragments, like an orange, without a true narration-to-music binding agent. Dubowsky however built a neat opening brass chorale on the president’s initial (D.D.E.), and later portrayed forcefully the busy machinery of military technology that Eisenhower had warned against.
The piece narrated on Oct. 5 by Scott Budman and led by Joshua Cohen should get another hearing, and more evaluation in depth, performed by some more experienced ensemble than this fearless, but not flawless, adult-school community orchestra.

Here's Scott Budman and I at the reception after the performance:

Scott did a terrific job.  He has quite the voice.
Lunettes par Alain Mikli.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Saturday Oct 4

My posse and I started the day with Samantha Robichaud at the Porch Stage.  The Porch is my favorite stage at Hardly Strictly.  It's the smallest, least crowded, most intimate, with a nicely sloped hill from which you can see the stage well.  And it was sunny on the hill.  Samantha is a wonderfully talented fiddle player with an engaging personality.  She is only 20 according to the guide, but looked much older, wearing lots of makeup; really, when you're only 20, you will look much better without it.  You're already young and beautiful.  I've always been baffled by this phenomena of irony of young women wearing too much makeup.  Makeup, historically speaking, has been used to imitate the flush of youth.  In any case, she had a vibrancy and a fluency on her instrument which was quite captivating.  

Next, we stopped in at the Arrow Stage for some of the Bad Livers.  "Austin punk-rock" ?  Hardly.  Not quite what we expected from the program.  It was nice enough though.  No drums, "but they have tattoos" said one of my posse.

Next, Richard Thompson on the Star Stage.  We were far back.  He was a tiny speck on the stage.  We could hear him very well though, and his singing and guitar playing was beautiful.  Some comments about doing shanties and the difficulty of updating a shanty in the age of cruise ships were quite amusing.  He is a real talent.  

We stopped by Nick Lowe at the Rooster Stage but were not sufficiently engaged to brave the crowd.  

Fleeing Rooster we went back to Arrow to catch the tail end of the Gourds, billed as "alternative country."  They did not make a huge impression either way, but we'd had a lot of sun by then.  We were at Arrow really to see Jerry Jeff Walker, as one of our posse is a huge fan of Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings and Jerry Jeff was billed as a similar "outlaw" country performer.  It was good, but didn't really measure up to a Willie Nelson or Waylon Jennings show.  Then again, you know, the sound is different, it's in a park, it's a different vibe.

Last, we went to the Banjo stage to hear Odetta.  She was quite good, but we were pretty beat by then, and left ahead of the mass exodus which was sure to shortly ensue.

What a crowd.  It's exciting being there among all the people and performers in Golden Gate Park.  It seemed even less bluegrass than last year, but maybe that's because of the acts we happened to catch.  We didn't really plan it carefully, and wandered around off the cuff a bit, which I think is a fair way to do the festival.  It really is one of the coolest free things around San Francisco.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Die Tote Stadt, San Francisco Opera

Tuesday September 23, 2008.

I've waiting a long time to see this.  I had very high expectations.

Korngold's score is filled with clever orchestral moments, peppered like bon mots throughout the score.  Yes, it's very Strauss, very 19th Century, and indeed a direct predecessor to Hollywood film music in its "golden age."  

The story did not grab me.  I was not taken by any of the characters or the situation, and the symbolism of the drama failed to impress me.  Paul is just pathetic; pining for the unattainable, he reminded me a bit of Aschenbach in Britten's Death in Venice, except Paul is even less fun.  The revised "oh it was just a dream" ending is just tired and obviously tacked on.  Not much happens; Paul's struggle is largely internal. The opera is permeated by a continual, low level tension throughout, which fails to provide any real dramatic structure, and hence becomes wearisome.  Upbeat moments with Marietta's dancer friends seem deliberately concocted and thrown in out of necessity.  The moral of the story is "get over yourself Mary."

So yeah, I was diasppointed.

Classical Revolution Cafe

Sunday September 21, 2008.  

Oh yeah baby.  Fun fun.  Packed.  Brahms Sextets 1 & 2. Serrano Pizza.  Don't block the sidewalk.  Oh hey we went to school together!  Highly recommended.  Crowded.

Grosse Abfahrt at Trinity Chamber Concerts

Saturday September 20, 2008.  

Berkeley is so weird.  It's this strange mélange of old hippy, west coast academia, greek system kids, granola, money, seediness, sixties idealism, pizza shops, clothing stores.  Just going to Berkeley, I have to visit Yogurt Park, because I regard that as the city's premiere cultural institution.  And yet I have to make some excuses, it does have this giant University, which never seems like the West Coast Ivory Tower it supposes to be, given the students you have running around there.   I brave all this to attend Trinity Concert Series presentation of Grosse Abfahrt.  Light audience.  Berkeley kids no, Conservatory kids no, Mills kids?  Yes, of course.  It seems they are the only young folk with enthusiasm for this sort of thing.  Mysterious older types come out of hilltop redwood homes to park on Durant in biodiesel Mercedes conversions and bask in the intellectual glow in the small church.  

Grosse Abfahrt is Tom Djll trumpets n electronics, Chris Brown piano, Jen Baker Trombone, Fred Frith Guitar, Matt Ingalls clarinet and fiddle, Tim Perkis, electronics, Gino Robair, percussion, Doepfer modules, and John Shirurba, guitar.  

So you have eight people doing free improv.  With eight people performing freely structured improv brings some curious results.  The main issue is that the performers can hear and respond to the mass in general and the performers most closely next to them; but because of seating and monitoring arrangements, performers could clearly not hear or be fully aware of what people seated away from them were doing.  I don't think Tom Djll and Fred Frith had any line of sight or ability to really hear the more subtle things they were doing, as they had three other performers right between them.  Maybe complete sight lines are not necessary; but the group ends up jiving player-to-mass as opposed to player-to-player.  

Without any conductor or imposed structure, another issue was the way the improvisations were constructed.  Players seemed too restless to "lay out" for extended periods, so with eight of them, there were few really effective call-and-response passages, duets, solos, or trios.  These usually occurred at the beginning of an improvisation, or as things were winding down.  

The players all made great sounds and there were many surprises.  Tom Djill used a CD as a mute, and played a strange little mini trumpet, and was fascinating to watch.  Fred Frith, guitarist extraordinare on the scene for decades, dropped metal chains onto his pickups making astounding noises.  Gino Robair, Clubfoot Alumnus, made wonder happen in percussion land.  All the players are fine musicians.  It would have been great if there had been more solo and true duet moments.  Slow down.  Breathe deeply.  Let music happen.  As John Cage would advise, pay attention to the rests, pay attention to where you do not play.  How can you analyze the rests in your composition or improvisation?

I must commend Diane Grubbe and the Trinity Chamber Concert Series for booking and presenting new, adventurous, electro acoustic music.  It is truly wonderful, new, vibrant, and exciting, and it's a great programmer and curator who will include it on an equal footing in their chamber music series.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

SFEMF 2008: Szelag, Rutro, Buzzarté

Saturday, September 6, 2008.  San Francisco Electronic Music Festival.  Theatre Artaud.

Tonight had a thinner crowd.  I'm not sure how the audience accurately chooses the most engaging evenings, but I wish I were more in the loop.  (Pun intended.  *cough*)  Still, it was a good show of solid performances.  

Local Agnes Szelag, who performed in Myrmyr on Friday night, did a pleasant piece on her own.  Then an ensemble of other local performers billed as "Rutro & The Logs" explored injecting humor into the electronic music performance medium.  Rutro explored the liminal space between introduction and performance, beginning with a speaker who extended Matt Davignon's opening remarks and kept requesting the "feedback" (sic) on the mic to be turned down (referring to the reverb).  The tongue-in-cheek silliness continued with a video component of cut log bits rolling up and down a hill.

Monique Buzzarté finished the evening with three pieces which blended seamlessly into one performance for trombone, conch shell, and electronics, in particular, lots of looping.  The opening "Elegy" (2006) nicely stacked layers of trombone into a warm, rich sound.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Do 5% Good

I was surprised to see this ad on  I am not making this up.  This is a for real, genuine Target ad.

So, basically, every time you shop at Target, 95% of your money leaves your community.  Gee thanks.  I'd like to think that if you shop at a local business, ideally, 100% of your money stays in your local community.  Maybe Target means to say they are donating 5% of their gross receivables to local charities... but that is not what the ad states.  I'd take it at face value.  While this is not a political blog and my academic background is not in economics...  you can probably guess what I think of this.  And the irony of the headline, "Do 5% Good," well, what's the other 95% doing every time you shop at Target?  I thought I'd screen capture this ad and post it before someone at Target wakes up and has it taken down.  

SFEMF 2008: Richard Teitelbaum, Myrmyr

Friday, Sept 5, 2008.  Theatre Artaud, San Francisco Electronic Music Festival.

So glad to be here.  Audience even larger and more vibrant than Thursday night.  Lots of Mills kidz and grads.  Lots of hippy academes.  Great "west coast" vibe.  

Richard Teitelbaum (b. 1939), professor of composition and electronic music at Bard, demonstrates you don't have to be young to be über hip!  And nicely done, he has positioned himself toward the front of the stage facing sideways, so you can see a bit more of the laptop action.  Nearly motionless, his fingers still move on the trackpad, giving a slight sense of performance.  The big problem with tablecore, of course is, are you performing, or checking email?  It seems like a good instrument for Teitelbaum.  "Serenissima" for two winds and computer (premiere) made for interesting processing of the acoustic instruments.  And contrabass clarinet?  Nice.  That's an instrument I'd like to see more on subway platforms and street fairs.  

Myrmyr brought their fresh outta Mills n friends vibe to the evening with a largely improvised composition.  I am told they also play Hotel Utah and do things that fit into the pop music format; I can't imagine what they did at SFEMF going down well at Hotel Utah!  But you never know.  I enjoy the cross pollination and it is all music to me.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

SFEMF 2008: Campion, Buckner, Sweeten

Thursday, September 4, 2008. Theatre Artaud. San Francisco Electronic Music Festival. 

Whee! So glad to be here. First up, Ray Sweeten. Really amazing, great piece, very powerful, very LOUD. Began with a throbbing bass, which built to very loud. I know that it takes a great deal more electrical energy (RMS signal voltage) to make a loud low end signal, so that I feared what would happen when any high end would be introduced. But the initial low end was awesome to bask in, vibrating the benches and the high risers and your body, and making random vibrations throughout the building, so that you feared a light might fall and drop on your head. However, once the highs were introduced, people were plugging their ears. I was surprised that such a hoity-toity electronic music festival would so quickly exceed OSHA standards. The music was accompanied by an oscilloscope style animation. Goodness knows I spent enough time staring at a lissajou pattern when I worked in recording studios aligning analog tape decks. (24 tracks in oh about 45 minutes when you do it everyday, several times a day, for a few years.) This video was much more compelling than a simple XY pattern and matched the sonic composition well, which climaxed with some rather tonal major chords and some suspensions or beat-like throbbing. Mr. Sweeten was pretty far back on the stage on a laptop. Don't chew gum when you take your bows. It minimizes our effort to have electronic music taken seriously as concert performance. Did they teach you to do that at Oberlin? I hope not. The other issue is that, without a mirror showing what you are doing, you might just be running a videopod and playing World of Warcraft on your laptop; if you chew gum onstage, why would the audience expect anything else?

Next up, baritone Thomas Buckner performing a piece by Edmund Campion (Professor of Music Composition at UC Berkeley) with text by brother John Campion. The backing track and vocal effects had lots of high end but the singer's amplified direct sound didn't, which made it a little difficult to decipher the lyrics at times. The lyrics were not printed in the program, which would have been nice, and traditional for the setting of an artsong. Oh well. The piece still came across very strong, and Buckner's performance was very dramatic. I did not quite understand everything that was going on with that hula-hoop though, or some of the little props on stage. Maybe better program notes in the future. "The form, technical infrastructure, and architecture of the work embody the content." Okay... "The large-scale form for ME mirrors, in its fun-house way, the classic seven yoga steps." We go to different yoga classes I think. I'm missing the reference. I think it's very compelling that electronic music is tackling serious artsong. It's a great way to go. And I could tell there was humor, sincerity, and terrific talent involved. I just wish I had caught all the details.

Last, Tujiko Noriko did her JPop thing. It should not have been the last thing on the program. It was kind of hello kitty, quiet is the new loud, boring is the new interesting, Kahimie Karie, Dominique A, Jpop kind of thing, and didn't quite fit the bill as new contemporary music. It might have been a pleasant opener. That's kind of mean, but, if you lessen my hyperbole a bit, you get the gist of what it was like. And of course, Mssrs. Sweeten and Buckner are hard acts to follow.

Pamela Z humbly MC'd and manned the pamphlets table, which was very nice. I remember ten years ago when she began to parlay crooning through a one rack unit digital delay into arts grant money and recognition. Way to go Pamela. It's great to see you still supporting other artists after so many years!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Tingle Tangle at Bubble Lounge

Wednesday, August 27, 2008.  I prefer going out on a weeknight.  As the saying goes, going out on a weekend is for amateurs.  And these people, Earl Dax and crew from NYC, they are no amateurs.  Reeking of filthy glamour, old school lower east side east village grit, drag, grant money, and performance art, equally at home in a squalid bôite de nuit or an endowed museum like the Weimer New York show at SFMOMA, their worldly entourage recalls a day when Klubstitute reigned supreme over San Francisco's theatrical underbelly.  But ensconced in the yuppified, gentrified, bottles-on-the-wall Bubble Lounge, beside $40 entrée sidewalk café Zagat rated tourist spots, (and the Scientology Center, as Mike Albo noted), what could one expect other than an internationally known promoter being ejected from his own event?  

A cavalcade of performers, LaJohn Joseph, drag artistes, that skinny boy (who sang with Justin Bond at Weimar New York) with a Hank Williams croon, all circulated and performed and transported me to earlier decades.  Their power exulted, making high and low art cross, intersect, intertwine, and become indistinguishable.  Here are people who could rock Trannyshack but have long CVs and NY Times reviews to their credit.  And this little Bubble Lounge tries to court the art scene and doesn't know when they've got it for real.  

There was free drag too.  And a wide variety of looks in the crowd, from flapper to dapper to calamity.  I hope this night continues, at any venue in San Francisco.  Maybe Oakland.  This dessicated city, where people flyer their websites, needs this kind of live performance blood.  And it brought out people I'd not seen in ages, who could smell something interesting and essential going on, enough to head out to North Beach.  Again, by forcing people to make some effort to go out, it gets people dressing up again and excited about an evening of entertainment.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Nico Muhly at Swedish American Hall

Monday, August 18th, 2008.  Look at this crowd!  Rarely have I seen such a mix of people: hippie intellectuals and super-young music scenesters.  Not anyone I recognized from sfSound or the improv scene or from SF Conservatory, although my drummer/percussionist Fred Morgan did.  The house was full but not sold out; it depressed me for an instant to think that you could be Talk of the Town and not sell out the Swedish American Hall.  Nevertheless, I found the crowd remarkable.  Where did they come from?  The elders must be from Mill Valley, and the youngsters must all must have moved here last week from Brooklyn.  I took it on myself to inquire, how did these people hear about this?  Why were they there?  

Besides the obligatory "my girlfriend brought me here," people of all ages claimed to have known about Nico Muhly for as long as two years either from friends, living in NYC (natch), the New Yorker write up, or from blogs; the one blog uniformly mentioned being Alex Ross.  

I first heard about Nico Muhly in March 2008 when my soundtrack label, Movie Score Media, released Muhly's score to Joshua.  Turns out Nico and I are labelmates on Movie Score Media, who distribute my Rock Haven soundtrack.  The wonderful Mikael Carlsson who runs the label from Sweden regularly sends out emails about new releases, and the young prodigy's bio and sound samples piqued my interest.  Right after that, I happened across the New Yorker piece, and next thing ya know, his name seems to be everywhere.

Nico is touring with two other names I'll admit I was completely unfamiliar with, although a minimum of internet research reveals they have labels and publicists of their own.  It was nice to see "Sam" playing banjo.  As my cohorts in The Winsome Griffles will attest, I've been playing banjo (or attempting to play banjo) way before it was hip.  

In addition to Nico, Sam, and Doveman were a violist and a drummer, as well as an occasional guest electric guitarist.  (And, on one Doveman number, a guest singer who sat terrified onstage and sang deliberately off mic, looking askance. "Awkward!")  The three principals of the concert traded off pieces more or less round robin.  It was enjoyable when the music drifted and you didn't notice where one piece ended and another began.  It amused me that the group covered the keyboard's manufacturer (I'm guessing CASIO) with gaffer tape, but the Apple logo was left unaltered.  (Especially since the sounds were coming from the Apple not the controller.)  Most segments of the show were a bit on the poppy side, as Nico is travelling with two pop musicians in the twee / canadian / quiet is the new loud / brooklyn vegan vein of things.

Doveman and Nico were physically very close onstage.  They shared a piano bench.  Nico bonked him with his nose once, and brushed his hair, on mic, as a percussion instrument for one song.  As Nico is now a famous homosexual, I had to wonder if they were special friends, or if they were just exhibiting the small personal space that young people are more comfortable with, like puppies or kittens.  (Ou des minets.)

Nico's own music was the most interesting and dynamic of the concert.  It is evident he is a talented conductor and ensemble player from his eye contact and head movement.

Nico's music bears similarities to that of mentor Philip Glass, particularly a foldness for 2 against 3 in his piano music, hemiolas, irregular rhythms and accents.  One number early in the first set featured bright, sharp piano/vla accents, which it was fun to watch them synchronize.  More than a few times you could see some counting going on.  Nico's music fits well with current trends in both popular music and contemporary new music.  His music requires a high but attainable level of musicianship.  His piano solos seem at first repetitive and easy, but with metric modulations, and then you realize they are not all that easy, and yet not too difficult either.  Nico's use of electronics (his published solo pieces often use prerecorded CDs as accompaniment) appears effortless and natural.  While pieces of concert music incorporating tape have been around for decades, Nico's don't feel as much experimental as something he's fully integrated, having grown up in a world where pop music has already been electronic.  Thus his pieces using electro accompaniment bridge the worlds of concert and pop music very well.

The concert closed with Nico's tripartite "The Only Tune" (Two Sisters/Old Mill Pond/The Only Tune) from Mothertongue, which features Sam singing in his folksy voice.  This was a high point of the evening.  Nico's original music has more dynamics than his tourmates' compositions.  "The Only Tune" bridges genres, being a personal take on folk music, the song cycle, electro acoustic music, and new music.  Nico's strength is not merely his hybridization of genres, but his ability to pick and choose their best aspects, and reconstruct and perform them with strong musicianship and confidence.  Nico skillfully combines his exposure to many things: pop music, David Bowie, classical, concert music, church music, tape and electronic music, opera, folk, emo, all these different worlds coming together successfully.

I feel obligated to write a little about Nico Muhly the phenomenon.  

There is a line of cute gay student composers from here to the beach in conservatories.  Nico is very fortunate.  He is talented too.  He is doing things the right way: he is pursuing opportunities with vigor and performing with his friends.  It's not clear what direction will claim him most.  He could be a pop star.  He could write more soundtracks, like Eliot Goldenthal, another Corigliano protégé.  He could focus on his classical commissions.  He could get a DMA, a Pulitzer, or a Grawmeyer, and become a high profile Professor of Composition like Thomas Adès did.  If he can preserve his involvement in diverse areas, in my mind, that is the best.  In this tour he shows that he likes to make music with his friends, and that is a powerful and honest thing for anyone to do.

As far as the flak he's received for his good fortune at receiving a commission from the Met, that sure is grist for the mill.  Some comments indicate Muhly is too young, undeserving, or not fully formed enough to merit such an opportunity.  We all end up shamed about some things we did or composed in our 20s.  It is too early to know which ones they'll be, or how his style will develop.  Well ya know what?  Nico writes serviceable music and the story concept, with libretto by Craig Lucas, is interesting and topical.  This is today.  This is vibrant.  This is about our culture.  This is what opera is supposed to be.  It's not a dead art form yet.  As long as it's living, let it be truly alive.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Eisenhower Farewell Address: My Musical Typewriter.

Thanks to a generous colleague and collector, I have borrowed a manual typewriter for the October 5, 2008 world premiere of my Eisenhower Farewell Address.  The Castro Valley Chamber Orchestra has been rehearsing the half-hour composition for a couple weeks now.  They've added a larger brass section, and Scott Budman from NBC 11 is the orator.  Josh Cohen conducts.
This typewriter was chosen from the private collection for its volume, reliability, condition, and the swift action of the keys.  It's a Royal "Aristocrat" portable from about 1954.

There are already several musical compositions employing typewriter. The most famous is Leroy Anderson's "The Typewriter." (1950) You can hear it here. And here's a video:

Anderson's typewriter part is the most difficult and challenging out there.  The issues for this piece, especially for today, are that the carriage return and bell must be in perfect working order, and the typist must have control over speed and dexterity.  It's a very showy part.  The success of "The Typewriter" depends entirely upon the skill of the typist.

The typewriter doesn't need to be used this way.  It can be used to create an environmental effect, without the pyrotechnics Anderson employs.

Rachel Portman uses the typewriter suitably in the businessman's number in her fanciful opera, The Little Prince.  Portman also used typewriters in her score to Amelie.

Dolly Parton evokes the office environment with typewriter in "9 to 5"!

Frank Loesser uses a typewriter in "A Secretary is not a Toy" from How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying (1961).

There is also some kind of "Boston Typewriter Orchestra" but it looks like it may have been a one-time novelty performance.

I'm sure there's other uses of typewriter, and I'd like to hear about them, especially if they're in significant classical/orchestral repertoire.  

I hope you will come to the premiere, and hear the sound of this beautiful mechanical marvel.

Friday, August 8, 2008

"Signals" Video

This is a video for "Signals" from the Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble I CD. "Signals" was recorded live in the studio without overdubs. This is only two people, Fred Morgan and I, playing together live!

The track begins with an extended solo cadenza on Roland Jupiter 6 analog synthesizer. The lights you see in this video are the lights from the Roland Jupiter 6. From about 5:53 you will also see the lights from a Roland TR 808. The 808 was not used in this recording, but it looked good for the video!

Notes from GALA 2008: River City Gender Blender

One of the nice surprises of the festival was from the River City Mixed Chorus of Omaha, Nebraska.  The program listed one piece, "Gender Blender," by Mark Kurtz, unpublished.  Mark turns out to be the group's own Music Director.  The piece was remarkably fresh lyrically (despite the overly wry title), and its politics were as well-informed as anything coming from a coastal metropolis.  Numerous chorus members bemoaned, "oh, we had to cut one of the pieces, you really should have heard it."  Clearly, the singers were proud of the piece and their chorus.  This performance illustrated many things about culture in this country.  For starters, as I was once told in Mississippi, everyone gets Showtime.  Nebraska, or any other orthagonal state, is not necessarily a cultural or sexual backwater.  It can be a fertile ground for interesting, cutting-edge, original work.  Nor will a group from such an area necessarily fall victim to self-censorship, or fear of performing such work.  I do wonder if Omaha is really an open, welcoming place filled with heartwarming trannies, or if the sensibility was copped from visits elsewhere.  I also think it's good to have original music which is upbeat, witty, and positive.  I hope the Chorus gets a lot of mileage out of Kurtz's piece.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

"Gentle Wind" Video

This is a video for "Gentle Wind" from the Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble I CD.  You're hearing just Fred Morgan and me, on drums and Roland Jupiter 6, recorded live in studio with no overdubs.  I shot and edited this video myself.  (Unfortunately, YouTube degrades the audio.  I've been reading about that online.  I'm not going to fight their janky compression algorithm.  So here it is in mono with artifacts, despite the high quality of the source file.)  

We titled these compositions after the fact.  I caught all the images of things moving in the breeze and the birds by happy accident.  And I think this video has a good daytime look which stylistically matches the album cover designed by Ben Coopersmith.  The album is also available on iTunes.  One interesting feature of this track is the meter.  9/8.  It's a fairly uncommon meter, although it is in no way bizarre.  

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Notes from GALA 2008: The Slash Chorus Chickenz

I don't know what it is. There's just something envigorating about performing with a bunch of chickens.  Here I find myself backstage at Ziff Ballet Opera House on the rehearsal stage.  The chickens and the Slash Chorus, LGCSF, the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco, are running through some moves before going onstage before a house of 2,454 seats.  From the stage, Artistic Director Stephanie Lynne Smith offers the costumes to any takers after the show. Before they even get to the lobby they are all taken.  Except one, which the Chorus will keep for their records, as a maquette, in case they revive June Bonacich's musical Group Therapy. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Notes from GALA 2008: Kislev Cowboys

July 13, 2008. Knight Concert Hall, Miami.  Captain Smartypants.  I loved their set, and in particular this number!  Behold "Kislev Cowboys," if you didn't catch it at GALA.

One of the many challenges facing the GALA choral movement is ethnic diversity.  

I could see this in quite a few large choruses, from highly diversified regions of the United States, which underrepresented people of color, especially African Americans.  It certainly wasn't for lack of trying, as evident in their programming; these groups routinely and respectfully attempted multicultural material.  But by and large at GALA, it seems the Africans have rhythm and bang on things, the Natives (American Indian, Maori, Polynesian and otherwise) are happy, and the Jews are miserable and sing about peace.  I am reticent to cite musical selections, because doing so would identify the choruses in question.  (Trust me, I have a list.)  These choruses are all fine groups which do not deserve to be raked over the coals for honest attempts at inclusion and musical variety, many of which were effective crowd pleasers.

To be fair, there is a history in the gay community of "Village People" type multiculturalism, celebrating diversity through stereotypes reduced to well-intentioned sexual objectification. Perhaps that's fine, but will it encourage African Americans and people of color to join the chorus?  Now, as far as the Jew material, I feel I am entitled to comment.  Please buckle your seat belt.

I want to address why "Kislev Cowboys" is funny.  Writing about humor is not amusing or witty, so this may sting a little.  "Kislev Cowboys" is not funny because there's no such thing as a Jewish cowboy.  No.  Maybe that's why you laughed.  Fine.  That's not the joke.  That's like laughing at the final verse of "Zip Coon" because obviously a Negro could never run for President.  (apropos, huh?  If you are lost, google "Zip Coon.")

"Kislev Cowboys" is funny because dreidel is a stupid, boring game.  It's on par with Candyland.  No one likes to play dreidel.  The joke is that these fun-loving cowboys would want to play dreidel.  

Let's parse this a bit.  What are the funniest moments of the song?  The best is certainly when the cowboys play dreidel on stage.  Why?  You can see how lame it is.  It is a fitting non-sequitur to both the active life of the macho cowboy and the quiet stillness of the prairie. Why the blazes would cowboys play dreidel? Well, what else is there to do?  The Pony Express must be late with the Netflix again.  Or, maybe it's how cowboys determine who gets to be in the saddle.

The other highlight is any prominent solo line like "I made it out of clay" or "Dreidel I will play" delivered all hammed up with cowboy shtick.  This is because one set of musical conventions has been substituted for another, and it works completely.  To do "Dreidel" as the sing-song childish nursery rhyme it is would be appalling.  To substitute another equally appalling but unexpected cliché is funny.  Get it?  It's not your Bubby's dreidel, but it's still cheesy!  It's all about the cheese!  (Oi that's a milchigte luau!)

Captain Smartypants got it right.  I don't need to be pandered to with some weepy fiddle and shalom this and that.  Give me a break.  Or how about some nice I - N6 - I - N6 - I - N6 - iv - I ?  As Morrissey put so eloquently, "It says nothing to me about my life."  Hey, why don't you buy a copy of Heeb magazine and get a little up to date?

At a bleary 10am on Saturday July 19, Eric Lane Barnes held a master class workshop for small ensembles.  The composer of "Kislev Cowboys" made a salient comment: if you don't have a good Hanukah number, don't insult the Jews by doing a bad one. I applauded.  And I think this applies to all attempts at multicultural programming.