Sunday, July 15, 2012

Corny but sincere piano composition from high school

This week I unearthed this from a pile of stuff my late grandmother saved and figured it was good enough to put on the internet. (As opposed to, you know, all that creative material out there that needs some workshopping and a few rewrites before it's READY FOR THE INTERNET.) Okay, get ready for a twerpy show-off kid's first stupid piano composition...

Eh, at least I was clearly having fun. I had been enraptured with the music of Prokofiev for less than a year at this point, and I obviously (whether intentionally or no) used the beginning of his 1st piano sonata as a kind of jumping-off point.

(From my high school yearbook. Iowa City High, class of '01.)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Four Square Night Mare - concrète segment

I have a musical tidbit I'd like to share with you. It's a segment taken from Track One of my album. The title of the track is 'Four Square Night Mare'. The piece includes, near the beginning, a self-contained 30-second passage in the tradition of musique concrète (which means something akin to "sound collage"). The idea is thus: take basically every significant musical project I've done in the last 12 years, and make a comically short, not unZappaesque audio soup out of it: a miasma of everything that has lead up to this current project. Nearly every musician I've ever closely worked with is in here (although few of them would likely recognize themselves). The sum total of all of my AUDIBLE OUTGASSINGS. It was intended to be more like 14 seconds, but I just couldn't cram all I wanted in there, so it ended up closer to 30.

So here are the full credits of the musicians heard in this clip, in approximate order of appearance:

Me (strings, piano, guitars, y'know), James Roberts (guitars and whatever else he does), Chris Renk (clarinet), John Jensen (piano), Jen Augello (clarinet), Kevin Judge (bassoon), Sam Stapleton (violin), Sam Gold (violin), Ursula Dial (cello), Chris Sande (percussion), Jake Gontero (vocals, piano, moog), Jamal River (moog), Michael Tabor (vocals), Danny Bissell (drums), Janani Sreenivasan (violin). Hope I didn't forget to include anyone in this project...

Friday, June 1, 2012

First-of-the-month update: Fyoog in A flat

Wow! I just got back from Wyoming where I officiated at my brother's wedding, and generally had an awesome time! Congratulations to Kevin and Kristen!

Today is the first of the month, and that means it's time for another track from my upcoming album. I'm pretty sure you'll like this one. I call it 'Fyoog in A flat', and it is for a violin and a viola and another viola, and it is relatively objectively awesome. (There will be no false modesty today, for today is my birthday.)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Book thoughts: "Ada"

I'm pretty sure most people who read Nabokov's Lolita react in one of three ways:

  1. Be disappointed in its lack of scintillating detail
  2. Fall in love with its beautiful prose style but get weirded out by its implied content
  3. Love the book, implied content, lack of scintillating detail, and all.
People who fall in the #1 group have problems which can be solved easily by the internet. The #2 group would do well to read Nabokov's short stories. I would also recommend #2ers his novel Pnin, which I think was written at around the same time and is clever, tragic, humorous, and beautifully written. Group #3 may want to proceed to Ada or Ardor: a Family Chronicle. Anybody read it? Ada is a big Crazy Totally Russian Masterpiece, inasmuch as I know anything about novels or literary criticism, which I don't, but I get the feeling that it's the book Nabokov felt free to write only after establishing his success with Lolita, and with his new audience, saw his chance to put out his biggest artistic effort, his Crazy Totally Russian Masterpiece. Okay, so did I like the book? Yeaaaghhnyeahhhhhhss. It has that same kind of thing I get from Beethoven's late string quartets, where it's like, "my, this is long, but this is the work of a genius and has the qualities of a masterpiece, but it's still one of those things written by geniuses for themselves and other geniuses to enjoy, and however poorly I understood it, I'm able to chip away more and more of it over time and there is definitely something there." Ada is a brilliant, beautiful book. And if you're used to Nabokov's humor and cleverness, you have that here, but you also have an almost Joyceian degree of worldplay and poetry. Not a word is wasted; every sentence has mindblowing levels of alliteration and puns (there needs to be another word for "pun" that is like, a poetical use of a word, as opposed to a math teacher's only means of charming humans), every other word in parentheses; some of it made me cackle, but I definitely lacked the erudition to understand a lot of it.

What I did appreciate was the poetic sense of pacing. The story is a "family chronicle" in name, but it's really a fictional autobiography of Van Veen and his lifelong affair with his half-sister Ada. The first part of the novel, taking up the entire first half of the book, a good 300 pages, is devoted to a few years in the sunlit young adulthood of the two protagonists. This is all from the remembered perspective of a man in his late nineties, so he's looking back at events practically a century in the past, but it is the bulk of the story, and it is here that Nabokov practices his notorious art of impressionistic, ecstatic, nostalgic writing. Part Two is about half as long as Part One, and it is all tumult and upheaval (the book is already lighter on the leading-page side before we really get to linear plot motion and conflict), comprising the next ten-or-so years in Van Veen's life. Part Three is maybe 30 years in his life, and is about half the length of Part Two. See the pattern? Part Four: about 50 pages long. Part Five: the final part, the last fifty years of Van's life, about 20 pages. 

In the novel's pacing there is an implied message as clear as the implied behavior of Humbert Humbert: the past is one thing. The future is another, possibly unrelated, thing. For our (what Ada calls the "authorial possessive") protagonists, youth is the thing most worth writing about. Van, as he ages, becomes more and more obsessed with time, and with the human brain's perception of it. "The most accurate timepiece in the world is a joke," I remember him saying somewhere in Part Three. Neither does he dwell upon or particularly fear death. Quite a bit of the book is actually some very dense non-fictional ruminations about time, and though I'm usually an avoider of philosophy, I found these bits interesting.

I don't know who Nabokov's target audience was when he wrote this, probably nobody in particular. But if asked, he would probably not say twenty-something casual readers in Iowa. The themes are big, probably too big for kind-of-young people like me to understand. But I am in my Part Two of life, and I can observe the curving gravity of time, at least better than I could when I was 16. The message sunk in for me, and if you are into Literature With Big Themes I would highly recommend you this book.

You may have noticed that I am writing in this blog more than I used to. Maybe this will continue, maybe not. Maybe if and when I finish my album I'll be just DONE, I'll have said everything I was going to say! Probably not, but it's a nice thought.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Funny scientists followup

Racking my brains for funny scientists, and with the help of my better half, Lydia, as well as several people on Facebook, we have a partial list of funny scientists, also giving the main reason for funniness, if any:
  • Charles Darwin (beard)
  • Richard Owen (nemesis of Darwin) - submitted by my cousin Leslie
  • Thomas Edison (?) 
  • Nikola Tesla (mad gleam in eye)
  • Carl Sagan (voice, turtlenecks)
  • Humphry Davy (nitrous oxide user)
  • Johannes Kepler (very serious, and therefore somehow funny)
  • Socrates (generally funny)
  • Pythagoras (triangles)
  • All other ancient Greeks but especially Socrates and Pythagoras
  • George Washington Carver (obsessed with peanuts)
  • Henry Cavendish (eccentricity) - submitted by pal and collaborator James R. 
  • Sigmund Freud (gave the world the term "anal-retentive")
  • Isaac Newton (apocryphal apple story, obsessed with alchemy)
  • Charles Babbage (name)
  • Marie Curie
  • Stephen Hawking (only scientist known to have played himself in a guest appearance on Star Trek)
  • Albert Einstein (obvious choice, but rightly so)
  • Richard Feynman (played bongos, hung out in topless bars) - suggested by friend of the show Richard O.
  • Tycho Brahe (SILVER NOSE!)
  • Oliver Sacks 
  • R. Buckminster Fuller (expelled from Harvard, talks like a CRAZY PERSON)
  • Alfred Kinsey (he's probably funny?)
  • Michio Kaku (I had to check Wikipedia. Oh yeah, that one theoretical physics guy) - submitted by Sarah C.
  • George Fischbeck (TV weatherman of yore, another one I had to "wiki") - submitted by my mom
  • Duane T. Gish (of the Institute for Creation research, yeah, that is a truly funny kind of funny) - submitted by Ian G. 
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson (popular astrophysics icon and internet meme) - suggested by Katy B. who lives in Canada now, what's up with that
  • ....
I know we are forgetting someone, so science fans, if you have any names to add, comment away! Also, if you would like to appeal anyone on this list; for example, if you don't think Oliver Sacks is that funny and would like to see his name stricken, I suppose you can make your case in the comments!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Who is the funniest scientist?

A movie you need to see: Aardman's The Pirates! Band of Misfits (the British title is better: The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists). This is as good as Aardman's best work, better than Chicken Run, better than anything Pixar has done since WALL-E, better than whatever else you're doing this weekend. Do you want to talk about funny jokes? This movie has funny jokes. Ever heard of DAVID TENNANT? What if I told you he was playing CHARLES DARWIN in this movie? Are you a fan of absolutely beautiful stop-motion character animation? Sounds like you need to check out this movie.

I'm going to assume everyone reading this is now planning the rest of their lives around The Pirates! Band of Misfits, but if you have already seen it and are still here, here's a discussion topic. The film's creators seized upon an inherent truth that had never occurred to me: Darwin is a funny scientist. But is he the funniest scientist? If not, who is? (A similar thought experiment: who is the funniest U.S. President? Lincoln is probably the most popular answer, and a very good answer, but surely Nixon is up there, as is Ronald Reagan. But I mean, they're all funny in different ways. Washington. Theodore Roosevelt. Basically all of the presidents whose likenesses are on Mount Rushmore. But why on earth IS that?) Okay, but anyway: who is the Funniest Scientist? Any ideas? Thomas Edison is the butt of a lot of jokes these days, but he isn't inherently funny, at least not to me. Carl Sagan is kind of funny, but not in that Mount Rushmore way. Sir Humphry Davy, who experimented with nitrous oxide, is a laughing scientist. Copernicus is a specifically UNfunny scientist, which is itself a little funny. All the ancient Greeks are kinda funny. But I'm still not getting that Rushmore iconographically-funny thing from any of these people. Any ideas?

I'm hard at work recording, composing, and going nuts with art and music. It's great!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

First-of-the-month update

A track from my album-in-progress will be posted on the first of each month!

'Pavane For An Alive Strange River Man' is track 11 from the as-yet-untitled album. Featuring my new, very cool, Casio Privia keyboard. This piece is adapted from part of an unfinished viola-piano sonata, written c. 2008.

Happy International Workers' Day!