Archive for November, 2010

A recent moment of calm

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

[IMAGE] Harbor Seal and Gull

…click to listen:

…about the music

Calming sounds.

Well, it’s howling again outside, and no, it’s not the sound of Smudge the wonder kitty lodging a complaint about the food service around here. Big winds tonight, but this time they come from the southeast, and bring nearly balmy temps of 41 degrees rather than the last storm’s bone-chilling 15. So I thought it would be nice to post three photos I took through the window a couple of weeks ago, as a reminder (mostly to myself) that the seas around here usually aren’t quite so daunting.

It’s easier to work under these conditions, that’s for sure. The studio house is warm, the windows look more like calm reflecting ponds than the fun-house mirrors they became a week ago, and the structure only shakes, quakes and groans occasionally from these gusts, predicted to get as high as 60 MPH. I’m plowing my artistic way through a number of pieces simultaneously, energized by the negative ions in the air and the looming deadlines on my calendar. I write this little entry as I run one of two track mixes I’m delivering tonight, before copying out the parts for a short string orchestra piece premiering in L.A. in January. Soon I’ll resume composing for the rest of the long night. It feels wonderful.

[IMAGE] otter

There’ve been lots of sea mammals floating by my desk the past few weeks, in the form of otters (seen, bow to stern, in the second and third pics), harbor seals (pic one), Steller sea lions (coming soon to a blog near you) and random kayakers (doubtful here; until they grow fur or a cool looking shell, humans are far less interesting). About three days ago, I really wanted to get a photo of the very first river otter I’ve ever seen outside of the water. At first glance, the corner of my eye thought it was a ridiculously large cat, or a raccoon who lost his stripes in a bad bar bet. As soon as I realized what this lush, dark auburn furred creature was, it loped off of my deck and back onto the rocks in the cove below before I could pick up the camera. Next time.

Tonight I’ll stay in the studio and keep all this wind company. But much of the time I commute home, and enjoy decompressing on the drive down the island. Two nights ago as I closed the front door and began walking the few yards to my car, I heard the most amazing, other-worldly roaring from behind me: sea lions who had come ashore next to the house and were making sounds I don’t think I can imitate no matter how much bourbon I’ve had to drink. Had I not already closed up shop, I would have recorded it (not only for kelphistos to hear, but for my next piece!). Next time.

Also in the Pinniped Daily News Update, I’m hoping to get some great close-up pictures to show you of what it looks like when an eleven foot long Steller sea lion chows down on a large squid. I’ve been watching this show daily. Here’s a preview: pink, white, and rather messy. Lots of flailing, violent head shaking and splashing, accompanied by a riot of seagulls who have a charmingly parasitic relationship to these beasts, and flock at the chance to snag some of the… uh, leavings… left behind in the struggle. That’s a lot of tentacles to contend with, after all. File this latest report under “fresh ink.”

[IMAGE] otter tail

Waves, wind, howls and meows

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

Ahoy!

Get your Dramamine. Not just for the roiling sea but for the shaky camera work. More on this fun, in the post below!

P.S.– the howling wind you hear is what it sounded like inside the house.

Drama on the high seas (and B-flats)

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

[IMAGE] storm

[IMAGE] storm

[IMAGE] storm

[IMAGE] storm

[IMAGE] storm

…click to listen:

…about the music

Literally, events of the current.

Well, that was an… uh, invigorating… experience. Yesterday was the peak of a very significant storm that flew in from the northeast on Friday and made a direct hit on the Pacific Northwest. The San Juan Islands were pummeled, but like any proud prize fighter, they defiantly bounced back up after each punch. And wow, there were an endless stream of them. Smudge, the commuter kitty, and I watched as the Washington State Ferry Elwha valiantly made its way through the channel from Sidney, B.C. toward Friday Harbor. Smudge was placing bets on how many measures of music I was going to be able to churn out as the seas churned up around us. Turns out, whoever bet the lowest, won the pot.

Just like going a few rounds in the ring with someone a lot larger than you, it was dizzying. The mostly glass-walled studio happens to face northeast. And is perched upon the tide pools, somewhat precariously, at the very, very northern, exposed edge of this beautiful island. There’s a nifty corridor of open water between my enormous windows and those many miles away on the Canadian mainland just southeast of Vancouver. Perfect for some bad-ass 50 MPH winds that feel like taking an unobstructed joyride across the Salish Sea, looking to get into a little bit of trouble.

[IMAGE] storm

[IMAGE] storm

[IMAGE] storm

Photos offer a glimpse, but they can’t help me share the oh-so-unsettling feeling of the constant, 2.0 earthquake-like shaking of the house from the wind and the waves that pounded under the deck (imagine sitting on a train as you gaze at these, or better yet, just start rattling your desk), nor can they bring your ears the intense pitch of the woefully off-key, 40 decibel, non-stop howling (accompanied by the occasional, louder feline complaint) that surrounded me from every angle. It was 24 degrees outside, and I couldn’t get the house warmer than 58 despite turning the thermostat to 80, making typing with thumbsicles a bit of a challenge.

By the late afternoon, each of the huge windows were buckling so threateningly against the endless gale (offering a visual like an acid trip minus the acid), that Smudge, my laptop and I finally threw in the towel and retreated to a back bedroom with good heat, out of harm’s way should an old pane succumb to its fresh, powerful opponent. Glancing at the plastic tarping with which I’d covered the most vulnerable 9-foot wide window only reminded me that if the glass went flying across the room at top speed, so would the tarp, looking like some sort of wild, opaque-winged, poltergeist muse on a protest rant against my latest wrong notes.

I threw a comforter atop my gear to at least give it a fighting chance in the unlikely event the above scenario were to occur, grabbed a flashlight and a decent bottle of cabernet (I’m no fool), and managed to get the rest of my work done reclining on the bed with Smudge and my MacBook keeping my legs warm. Every 30 minutes I’d get up and poke my nose into the cold and way-too-dynamic living room to see whether disaster on one level or another had struck. Not that I had any clue as to what to do if I were greeted with the sight of all my stuff swirling around in mid air. Wait, I know: drink more wine.

Today: bright sunshine and calm seas. Place your bets: there’ll be many more measures on the page. How fortuitous that I’m composing two very fast, dynamic pieces right now! Inspiration blows in from all directions in life.

[IMAGE] storm

Winging it

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

[IMAGE] Composing view /><br />
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…click to listen:

…about the music

Click and hear the brand new recording of Paper Cut. Craig Kirchhoff conducts the U of M symphonic wind [and printer paper] band.

I’ve been in heavy “studio mole” mode, scribbling away at music that needs to be on a lot of other people’s music stands very, very soon. Thank goodness for multiple web presences, because when I lack the time for a thoughtful or entertaining blog post yet crave a way to procrastinate from the work at hand, in addition to snapping all the pix you see on this blog (the ones in this post were taken while at the desk pictured above), I still manage to toss a few pixels around on Facebook. Recently, my offerings there have been a mélange of info about my latest electroacoustic symphonic wind band recording, Paper Cut, (which can be heard above– play it loud!), and my latest rants against the Draconian, unconstitutional personal molestations searches now being doled out by TSA agents each time we fly.

And fly, I do. A lot. If I were solely an Executive Professional Note Alignment Specialist and nothing more, I would not get on quite so many airborne tubes. But my passion for yapping at speaking to anyone who will listen is a happily concomitant part of my career now, as is my penchant for volunteering time with non profit organizations I strongly believe in, even in the face of my looming deadlines. Hey, it keeps me on my toes.

I always assume that anyone who finds themselves on this blog will click on the link with my pic at the upper right of this screen if they’re curious about my day job. So I use this separate sea-faring space to share my utter delight at mostly very non-musical things, like frogs, baby alpacas, kayaking, hummingbirds, and visitors to my yard. But of course, they’re each a big part of where my music comes from, so it’s all inseperable. Nonetheless, I haven’t really mentioned much about my music life here in Kelpville since way back in July, so here’s a little run-down of what’s going on.

[IMAGE] Oystercatcher /><br />
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In late October I opted out of entering an irradiating body scanner and striking a pose like a surprised criminal, and instead endured a groping far more sexual than anything my boyfriend in 8th grade ever managed, in order to fly to Minneapolis where I spoke on a panel for the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute. If ever there was a composer ready to be institutionalized after my disgusting degrading appalling experience at the airport, it was I.

It was a busy few days: I also rehearsed one of the three movements from my newest symphonic wind band piece, Immersion, at the University of Minnesota in preparation for the premiere there in February, met with a videographer on the multimedia aspect of the performance, and rehearsed a different new symphonic band piece, Paper Cut, that we then recorded at the end of the week with yet another terrific band at U of M. I had an American Music Center board meeting that also took place in Minneapolis that week, and attended lots of lunches, dinners, receptions and very late night impromptu single malt scotch tastings. Gulpings, perhaps, at the rate we were going. I believe in furthering my expertise, and just like getting to Carnegie Hall, it requires a lot of practice.

[IMAGE] Merganser /><br />
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Then it was time to be treated like a sex-starved criminal once again, as I was on to NYC, where after a night of Hallowe’en dining, dancing and carousing in Manhattan with a dear gal-pal, I chaired a day-long meeting for an organization, and the following day gave a two hour workshop for Chamber Music America for their composer/performers, offering a few thoughts from my little brain about effective career-building ideas and techniques. My attitude has always been, “why should anyone else have to bang their head against the wall when I’ve already excelled notably at that, and can share what I’ve learned?” Step 1: stop banging my head against the wall. [I love the old joke: Patient: "Doctor, it hurts when I do this." Doc: "So stop doing that."].

Returning to my paradise on the sea, I found myself, and the brain that [usually but not always] accompanies my self, juggling the preparation and delivery of parts, scores, and in one instance a final mix of a recording for six, count ‘em, six different pieces for six different musicians/ensembles and six different performances/recordings. All in a matter of days. These were all pieces that had, thankfully, already been composed (by me, as it coincidentally turned out), so heck, at least I had a head start. But this was the nitty-gritty of publishing that I was dealing with. At one point, after I changed gears in just one afternoon from a piano and electronics piece to a string, woodwind and piano sextet to a bass flute and electronics work to a symphonic wind band piece to a solo piano piece and back again to another electroacoustic band piece, I thought it was possible that my head would finally explode, gushing out a whole lot of notes onto the carpet and turning it from shades of beige and brown to a bunch of slightly singed black dots strewn everywhere. Not a pretty sight. Luckily, my skull withstood this intensive ramming from within, and managed to remain intact. This time.

[IMAGE] Gull /><br />
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Now I’m back to composing-on-a-tight-deadline mode before I leave for yet another T & A TSA-approved groping for yet another long trip in two weeks. My first personal-assault-worthy stop is a return to New York for a MacDowell Colony board meeting and fundraising dinner dinner honoring the board’s marvelous outgoing chair, Robert MacNeil, and an ASCAP Symphony & Concert committee meeting. Then yippee, I get to get felt up (and, um, down) by a stressed-out, underpaid stranger once again! Hey, they should be paying me for this thrill. I’ll be off to Chicago, for several meetings with clients and to bask in the [loud!] glow along with 14,000 other music-makers at the Midwest Clinic, where, when I’m not pow-wowing with the music directors involved in my current consortium band work, Immersion, I’ll be holding down the tablecloth at the American Composers Forum BandQuest booth, helping them hawk the newest addition to their program that commissions new works for middle schoolers.

Like many artists I know, I do well under stress; there’s something about abject fear that’s quite the effective motivator. When I see very public advertisements for upcoming concerts proudly announcing a premiere of a Shapiro piece for which I have yet to write the first note, much less the final one, I admit that an odd sensation runs through my body. I would describe it as terror. Okay, terror, mixed with the thrill of a fun challenge to delve deep and express myself in a manner hopefully worthy of the faith all those kind people have placed [possibly very misguidedly] in me. But mostly terror. Ah, I’m a glutton for punishment.

And if you’re thinking to yourself, “gee, this is an awfully long post for a chick who’s under such a tight deadline, ” you’re right: I am writing this missive at the moment, rather than writing the piece that’s due momentarily, because sitting a few feet behind me is a wonderful piano technician who is busy plunking plunking pllllluuuuNNnnkkk–kkkkk—KK….ing- ing-ING-ing….. away, endlessly, as he carefully tunes my piano. Whatever few talents I may possess, being able to compose in the same room as someone tuning a piano ain’t one of them!

Next post: the amazingly kewl gig I’m doing in January! Stay tuned. Or at least be microtonal.

Art, love, and life

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

[IMAGE] Mini Alex and her first black cat

[IMAGE] Mini Alex and her first black cat

…click to listen:

…about the music

Evensong Suite: Postlude. For Moses.

I’m hoping that absence makes the blog readers’ hearts grow fonder, since I’ve been AWOL on this page for a full three weeks. And full they have been, from lows to highs, with little in between. I’m lucky to be able to say that most everything these days has been a “high.” Almost everything. As I’ll share in my next post.

Twinkling above these words are the deep set eyes of a not-quite-two-year-old miniature Alex, clutching her new, instantly beloved stuffed yellow-eyed black kitty with a grip so unrelenting that we’re all grateful that Aunt Connie didn’t give me a real kitten for Christmas, 1963. I loved cats from that moment on, and since being on my own from age 18, I’ve almost never lived without a couple of strays underfoot: a Maine coon, a Siamese, and various white, orange and grey mottled mutts who all managed to find their way to my address. The fact that there’s a neon sign over my door that blares “Sucker inside: free buffet” has nothing to do with it. Really.

Fast forward exactly 35 years to Christmas week, 1998. A large, scruffy adult black cat with a healed torn ear, a scar on his chin, and a voracious appetite for the doves on my feeder, started visiting my Malibu house every day. Even when the birds flew off, he remained. I’d step outside to cautiously pet him. In a day or two I started holding him. And soon after, I’d take him inside with me while I worked for a while, if only to protect him from more coyote attacks in those dense hillside woods above the sea. Each time I’d return him to the great outdoors, he’d nip at my ankles. He chose me. And he wanted to be an inside cat. I named him Moses for three reasons: that month, I was composing an Evensong Suite for a Los Angeles Episcopal church, and the bible reading for the service was to be Moses and the Burning Bush. And just like that fellow in the Bible, this cat happened to show up at the right house in the neighborhood, with someone who would care for him. And, the month before, my father had died. His father’s middle name was Moses.

My longest stable relationship with a male ended October 19th, when the kindest vet on our island came over and released old Moses, now probably 18 or 19, from the painful results of chronology. I sobbed for two days straight. Mo was the silent witness to twelve important, and sometimes tumultuous, years of my life. He was my constant companion in any place I happened to be, which included the shower, where he would walk right in and stand under the water with me, purring even louder when I’d reach down to pet his wet body with my wet hand. And as readers of this blog know, he loved his adopted bro Smudge; I have almost no photos of one without the other. This cat slept every night tucked under my chin or my arm, and could never be held tight or close enough. Little almost-two Alex finally had her real-life black kitty. I’m so grateful.

[IMAGE] Moses guarding Smudge /><br />
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During Moses’s final two days, I happened to be finishing the last measures of one of the darkest, most haunting pieces I’ve composed: a work for piano and prerecorded digital audio that Teresa McCollough premiered brilliantly four nights ago at Santa Clara University, titled Vendaval de Luvina. I could never have intentionally timed the alignment of my delivery of this bleak piece and the reality of my life that week, but it was quite intense. I reached the double barline as Moses lay atop my left foot in a near coma, a few hours before we said a final goodbye to each other. The piece, like the moment, offers a heartbreaking release, and I’m told that the emotion translated to the audience that night. My congratulations to Teresa, and my love to Moses. Art, love, and life, are inseparable.

[IMAGE] Moses entering the shower /><br />
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