Archive for June, 2011

Web presence

Monday, June 27th, 2011

[IMAGE] web music

…click to listen:

…about the music

Slowly, searching for the right note.

Music makers and spiders each deal with webs. I spin endless pages of mine, five lines wide, designed to catch little black specks of sound-inspiring instructions to be interpreted by others. My notes fly onto the page, get stuck in those lines, and are summarily digested.

The other day the specks hanging from the web on my monitor screen must have looked so enticing, that they attracted the little spider you see above. With a vengeance, she glombed on to the downbeat of a bar I was fleshing out in a computer notation program. In fact, I think she was trying to edit me. I’d written a D-flat there. But she defiantly tapped on the pitches above, taunting me for my poor choice and doing her best to save me from composerly embarrassment. The D-flat remained. She glared at me.

As you can see in a subsequent pic, by bar 71, beat 3, she was in such a tizzy about my note choices that she’d given up entirely on me, and slammed her little body against the volume control icon, desperately hoping to silence the madness. She was unsuccessful. I finished the piece. But perhaps she rallied the ghosts of her family to continue to harass me.

Later that evening, I was sitting very still. I was working at my desk on things related to my somewhat expansive internet presence: updating my website, posting on my Facebook page, looking at my ReverbNation and YouTube pages, checking my tweets, and of course, responding to emails. I am, after all Web Grrl: Version: eComposer.

The corner of my eye kept catching something odd. Something moving. Falling. On me.

I looked sideways, and saw nothing. I returned my focus to my work. Again, something almost indiscernible drifted within close range.

This time, I gazed up to the heavens from which each elusive UFO descended: the top beam of the high, cathedral cedar ceiling here in the living room. At first I saw nothing, but as my eyes adjusted, I began to notice old remnants of grey cobweb lace, laden with the lint of time. As I watched, small, occasional, dusty pieces gently made their slow motion plunge toward my shoulder. The light glanced each floating traveler as it passed through the air between me and its imminent resting place. It almost looked as though it was snowing lightly inside my home. It was oddly beautiful.

But what was causing this? Why was I suddenly being bombarded, albeit quite gracefully, with the detritus of spiders past? I’ve always made a deal with the creatures who pay no rent but squat in my abodes: you stay where you are, and I’ll stay where I am. Suddenly I was presented with evidence of a formerly magnificent, now fallen empire, crumbling to pieces around me. Very slowly. Almost imperceptibly.

[IMAGE] web music
Notice how the spider is squatting on the volume button. Is this a hint?

Perplexed but lacking a solution for changing this indoor weather pattern, I resumed my work. A minute later, I became aware of the loud, persistent buzzing of a bumble bee that had slipped past my velvet rope and gained entrance to this exclusive club during any of the numerous times I’ve opened the door wide to capture the smell of summer. The sound was coming from directly above me.

I looked up, and smiled. I witnessed a house cleaning service far more affordable and effortless than any I could have mustered: the bee was buzzing a path parallel to the top beam. As he made a…uh, bee line, from one end to the other, he cut directly through the old dangling pieces of web, thus setting them free to waft downward, finally released from their role as a prop for my depressing Miss Havisham moments.

Busy as a bee was he, reaching spots nearly 30 feet high that eluded my merely human-length arms. Wings are such an advantage. I note this daily as the gulls and eagles soar past me, reminding me of my earthbound limitations without the help of Boeing.

Later that evening, the house had grown silent. The buzzing and its accompanying weather system of lintfall had ceased. Before getting into my bed, located under the beam at the highest indoor elevation, I actually thought to check for a small fuzzy corpse.

The next morning as I reached down for my shoe, there he was. Still. My industrious worker bee had died in the line of duty. I picked him up and admired the soft fur, the transparent wings, and nature’s intricate design of jagged hooks and pollen-collecting mechanisms lining each little leg. I thanked him for his labor, and apologized for not having been able to return him to the outdoors, as I have so many of his within-reach brethren who’ve entered my living spaces. And I placed him for a while on a very special piece of quartz, where he was watched over and blessed by my favorite plastic Buddha. Everyone needs a little plastic Buddha for life’s transitions.

[IMAGE] bee and buddha /><br />
<span style=

So, all my mysteries of the day and night were solved. And, were I more entrepreneurial, a new business was formed: renting out large bees to people with cobwebs that need clearing! Surely there’s a market for this!
I’ll advertise on the web.

A fur coat in summer

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

[IMAGE] fur on the hoof

…click to listen:

…about the music

Furry music.

Summer is here, and I welcomed the Solstice by spending noontime dangling my legs over the jagged, igneous rocks in front of where I keep my pencils and scorepads. And most importantly, my erasers. Okay, I welcome most any warmish day this way, and along with a mug of coffee, I’m usually toting two cameras (wide and zoom lens) and a Kleenex. Always prepared.

As I greeted summer, it greeted me with yet another San Juan Island Personal First: this fuzzy spirit, scrambling effortlessly across the [hundreds of] feet of shoreline [twelve feet] below my [merely two] feet. Initially I thought this was a sea otter– rare up here; instead, we get lots of river otters. Even though we’re on the sea and have no rivers. Go figure. Curious, I emailed the pix over to Monika for her expert I.D. services. “That’s a mink!” she wrote back. I was thrilled.

A couple of generations ago, a woman of any means might have a prized fur coat by her mid-twenties. Here I am, months from a happy fiftieth, and I’m just now getting my first one. And in a far more delightful and acceptable form. This is the only fur I’ve ever had, and will ever want. Lucky for him!

[IMAGE] fur on the hoof

Nothing’s a chore at the shore

Monday, June 20th, 2011

[IMAGE] driveway

…click to listen:

…about the music

Unabashedly grateful.

With a compact SUV full of evidence that I’ve spent the past hour and forty five minutes of my life running errands in town, I approach the steep, curvy, deeply-rutted-with-the-history-of-several-winters driveway that leads to the joy that is the modest home in which I live, immodestly placed at the sea’s damp edge. Each tire-threatening divot is like a fossil, telling a silent tale of the windswept force that has pushed against this hill for tens of thousands of years, and against this house for a little less time. Not a single tree grows here.

Receipts in my wallet from the grocery store, the post office, the dump (more politely referred to in these parts as “the transfer station”), the bank, the hardware store, the thrift shop, and the liquor store (you can get wine in the market, but hooch is only available– at full price– in the sole state-run store on the island), are a forensic breadcrumb trail tracking every move I’ve made. There are no receipts, however, for each of the random, enjoyable conversations with island friends, also out creating their own breadcrumb trails of errands. In fact, I’ve almost never left the house without running into at least one, if not six, people I know reasonably well. That statement is enough to make my urban readers cringe and celebrate the anonymity of city living. But having lived my entire life until four years ago in two of the nation’s largest metropolises, I treasure my new reality. Yup, there’s no hiding, in a tiny town. On bad hair days I wear a ball cap. And when I look like crap anyway, no one cares.

[IMAGE] yard

Whatever I happen to fill my days with professionally is immaterial to what is actually the most important determination if I’m worth talking to: whether I’m a nice person. Whether I make someone smile, laugh, or generally feel comfortable. Whether I’m kind. Way down the list, whether I bathe regularly [enter: ball cap]. And dangling at the very bottom of the list: what I do for a living. People here know that I travel frequently for my artsy work, and that even though they don’t see a lot of me, the island is my full-time home. When asked, and I reply that I’m a composer, without fail the immediate and somewhat astonished response is, “music?” (I have never ceased to be both amused and bewildered by this; is there another kind of composing out there of which I’m unaware?). If you were to say the words “contemporary music” or mention the name of a well known living composer, you’d be greeted with a blank stare (with the possible exception of John Williams, whose revered name would elicit a “DUH da DUH da DUH da…” “Jaws” quote).

And that’s okay. It’s very, very healthy for me (and frankly, for any of my colleagues) to be reminded that while what we do is excruciatingly important to us, it’s not considered by much of our society to be deeply vital to daily existence. I see it as a happy challenge to find ways to create an affinity between myself, my music-making, and my fellow humans, framing the musical part of my life with lots of other non-musical things that may be of even more interest to a broader scope of folks. This algae-laden blog, its musings and photos sharing my passion for my environment, is one example. Ever since I began pounding out these pixels in 2006 (gee!), pound for pound, there’s actually very little here about my musical pursuits. This might seem counter-intuitive, for a blogging composer. Just about every composer I know writes about composing. But I merely assume that if anyone is really curious, they’ll hop on over to my professional website for a look-see. Here in Kelpville, I let the music itself do the talking, by underscoring a photo in each post with an excerpt from my catalog, be it concert music, jazz, or even a pop tune demo with a questionable, if sincere, chick vocal track. I’m passionate about music, and about nature and my relationship to it. And if I were passionate about car races, or badminton tournaments, or polenta recipes, I’d share posts about those. The key to a happy web life is identical to that of a happy personal life: linking your passion, to someone else’s.

[IMAGE] coast

Ok, back to my little parable of the day having something to do with running errands. In this village, there’s no such thing as pulling an efficient, stealth, “surgical strike” in which seven places can be conquered in 35 minutes, with a zippy retreat home. No, that’s for big city life, where one glides in and out of parking spaces and storefronts anonymously, and where you risk being considered a social deviant by the stranger in line next to you if you strike up a chat. Here in floating Mayberry, we chat in the shop aisles and in the parking lots and in the grass fields between buildings. The little post office is a veritable coffee klatch. And it would be unthinkable to honk your horn at the two folks who have stopped their cars as they passed each other to have a short conversation side window-to-side window– right in the middle of the town’s main, two-lane street. If you’re in a rush, you are living in the wrong place.

[IMAGE] coast

As I pulled up to my steep driveway off the cul de sac of a paved road, I noticed a couple of parked cars and a handful of people standing on the hill a few yards away, taking in the stupendous view. It occurred to me that in addition to the many miles of sea and islands and mountain ranges they were enjoying, there were probably also some whales in the neighborhood. But with or without the big fellas, this is one of the most spectacular residential spots on the island. I waved as I slowly drove past (slowly is an understatement, since the loose dirt and rocks demand about 0.4 MPH).

My body bobbed with the rhythm of the ruts, and my eyes caught the unmistakable ink-black of two dorsal fins.

[IMAGE] Orcas

[IMAGE] Orca

How many times have I stood somewhere amazing, looked over to a nearby home and thought to myself “wow, it must be incredible to actually live there! I wonder what lucky person lives in that house!”? At this moment, it hit me like a ton of bricks that I am That Lucky Person who actually lives in that house that stands all by itself by the sea and the whales. The visitors watched as my car toddled its way down the hill to the water; I felt almost as though I was trespassing. A keen sense of gratitude for my great fortune swept over me; even a little embarrassment.

[IMAGE] Orcas

Hopping out of the vehicle and loading my arms with as many bags as possible for my personal weight-training exercise program, since you’ll never see me in a gym [helpful note to my stalkers: you can save time by bypassing that place], I started to make my way among the chest-tall weeds, down the narrow grass goat path that leads to my front door (for a moment, one can hear the theme from Deliverance. But only for a moment). The sunny day had turned blustery, and the sea was getting grey and choppy. I looked up to scan the water, and sure enough at that instant, there came a small pod of orca whales, swimming fairly close to the kelp beds. I walked inside, put down my groceries, picked up my camera, and grabbed the shots you see here. Nothing spectacular about them in the least. Except for the fact that they were taken from the house that I get to live in. The one where my groceries are.

I will never get over the combination of a mundane act like bringing in toilet paper, and seeing killer whales.

[IMAGE] Orcas

Living with the Orcarazzi

Monday, June 13th, 2011

[IMAGE] whale watching boats

[IMAGE] Orca breaching

…click to listen:

…about the music

Breach of contact.

Ok, let’s begin with this important message from your sponsor: I’m not complaining. No sirree. I’m very fortunate to have this, uh, problem.

Now that we’ve got that established, here’s my commentary for the day: living in a glass house at the edge of the sea during tourist whale-watching season, it’s easy to begin to feel a bit like a zoo exhibit myself. Not that anyone’s bothering to look at me on the other side of my windows, as I steadily put notes in what I deem to be the correct order, or type words in what are only occasionally the correct order. No, the people who are standing on the decks of boats only yards offshore from this house, aiming their binoculars in my exact direction and, for even greater intimidation, often pointing and laughing as well, are actually not looking at me at all.

They are looking at what is between me, and them: a vibrant moment of fascinating sea life, or perhaps some compelling geology that I cannot see myself, because it lurks at the base of the outcropping directly beneath me. From time to time I remind myself of this and am thankful that I’m not more of a deranged paranoid schizophrenic than I already am. But the sense of being stared at directly by a boat-load of strangers with high powered lenses and zoom-enabled cameras, has definitely been enough to encourage me to throw on some clothes before getting to work (sorry, folks*). And, to make me want to call up Paris Hilton and snag some tips on how to handle the orcarazzi.

[IMAGE] orca duet
A nice couple, on their afternoon troll.

On a recent warm day, I was working with the doors wide open. At the precise moment in which I finished writing down a particularly lovely chord, I heard a sudden burst of oohs, ahhs, and gasps of delight. Yes! I had indeed done an utterly magnificent job with that chord, I must say; the tricky harmonic transition from what came before was stunningly masterful. Thank you, thank you… uh… er… Looking up, I saw the tourists, the boats, and… the acrobatic Orcas. I was crestfallen to realize that it wasn’t my stunningly masterful-and-brilliant lovely chord that elicited such an immediate and stirring reaction, after all. My ego is frail, y’know.

[IMAGE] boats
Whale watching boats in the far-ground, glow-in-the-dark aliens on the sill in the foreground. Natch.

[IMAGE] whale watchers
Stand, point, aim, shoot. No, not at me…

[IMAGE] orca group
The scene from my deck, shortly before the orcarazzi discovered they were eating at this restaurant.

[IMAGE] orca group
A fin time for the whole family!

* On a note unrelated to anything about whales, but rather, having to do with above-mentioned nudity at work (and who wouldn’t love that topic?), I commented on this little moment of daily life a few years ago, back in a previous lifetime when my home, my muses, and I were in Malibu, CA.

Photos of phoxes

Friday, June 10th, 2011

[IMAGE] red fox eating birdseed

…click to listen:

…about the music

Sly foxes.

One of the many things that’s great about the south end of this island, is the short furry thieves neighbors who trespass across my property daily. They know that humans tend to surround themselves with food products, and if those food products are meant for cats, dogs, birds, or other creatures, that’s only considered even more of an invitation to crash the party. Not that there isn’t plenty of natural chow readily available here on the land.

A few mornings ago as I was making coffee, my eyes caught the jagged movement of a furry mass jerking a few inches into the air, several yards in front of the window above my sink. As I looked up I saw one of the charcoal-colored local foxes attempting to cope with something on the ground. I peered closer. The object on the ground was moving. And it was in a coil.
Oh, a snake. Probably a garter, judging from its modest size.
Next thing I knew, the kit was tentatively biting at the snake, trying to negotiate breakfast but confused by the thin, wriggly nature of the menu offering. Somewhat timidly, the fox poked and snapped and pawed at the poor reptile, until finally getting up the nerve to just dive right in for the full “Happy Meal.” My interest in coffee suddenly waned. I watched in fascination/pity/horror/rapt attention/ as the little fox ate the little snake.

I’m always in a conundrum at these moments. I really like snakes. I really like foxes. And the cycle of life really doesn’t give a rat’s ass (just to throw in two other animals).

[IMAGE] seaside fox
A small black fox, enjoying a groovy view.

If you’re a cat person, foxes have that sleek, independent, graceful, wilier-than-thou soft-fur chi going on that’s irresistible. If you’re a dog person, the snout and the cunning, sniffing, trotting, scavenging, toothful-jawed nature of these creatures is something you can relate to.

[IMAGE] seaside fox
I will now use my powers of hypnotism to cause you to bring me something from your fridge.

And if you’re a fox person, well, you’ve come to the right place. I promise better pix as time rolls by; this is just what’s been in front of me here this week (literally, taken point-’n'-shoot guerrilla-style while seated at my desk). If you’re looking for actually beautiful, adorable, phabulously phetching photos of phoxes, my island naturalist friend Monika Wieland can phulfill your phox phix right here, and few things are as cute as this momma and offspring, in a pic taken just down the road from me by island photog Kevin Holmes.

In the meantime, here’s the fuzzy/underlit Shapiro desk series from a recent June evening at dusk:

[IMAGE] two kits
Very likely siblings, play-fighting. Adorable.

[IMAGE] two kits and a hummer
Now, what other blog offers two fox kits AND a hummingbird??

[IMAGE] two kits

[IMAGE] two kits
If this fox gig doesn’t work out for them, they can head down to Hollywood and audition as coyotes.

So, just as I’m finishing up this post about the foxes, several Orca whales have started popping up in front of me, in the same spot right off the shore as they were enjoying yesterday. I’m so lucky: tourists pay a lot of money to go out on whale watching expeditions, and here I sit half-clad at my desk, taking in the show. The pods come by frequently in these waters since this is where the Chinook salmon they love also hang out. Maybe I’m part Orca, since I love salmon, too (something tells me these guys are not into sharing). If any of the video or photos I just took turn out acceptably, that’ll be my next wildlife offering from the happy coastal hamlet of Kelpville.

[IMAGE] fox face
I’m ready for my close-up.

Backwards glance

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

[IMAGE] feet with a view

…click to listen:

…about the music

It’s about time.

There are at least two events that occur in my life which regrettably put me into reverse mode, rather than the shark-like forward gear I usually prefer: doing taxes, and moving.

Taxes are an annual chore, and I may have blogged in this space before about my dislike for the process due to it catapulting me backwards 12 months and causing me to account (literally) for my sins and wayward ways like a girl in a confessional. Who wants to face that? Do I really want to see just how many orders my ruefully procrastinating self managed to accumulate from Amazon.com, when I could have been practicing those Mozart fingerings mentioned in my last post? Even when years go reasonably well, and thankfully, more do than don’t, I still loathe the need to look behind me (what, and learn from history? Naw…) when all I want to do is have some fun and keep chugging ahead (possibly with blinders on, which could explain some of those wayward ways).

Moving is a less frequent event, but when it occurs it means not only moving my personal life, but also my studio and office. In other words, it’s two, two, two moves in one! I’m doubling my exercise, if not my pleasure and fun.

Along with some backward glances, occasionally a freshly unpacked box comes with a discovery of something long ago forgotten; a small item, once of some use or value, that has rested in the same little drawer for a very long time, sitting quietly, never making a fuss, and thus, going unnoticed for years, its sole purpose now devoted to collecting dust and probably some cat hair. [A wistful aside: even kitties who are no longer with us live on in the presence of their intrepid hair, strands of which show up years later, defiantly clinging to something and eliciting a melancholy sigh that we who miss our furry companions know well. I melt when I occasionally come across one of Moses's unmistakable black hairs]. Earlier today I was organizing a couple of very small storage drawers in my studio office that hold all sorts of hardware trinkets that would be instantly recognizable to anyone over 41 years old who’s had many years’ worth of music project studios. 1/4″-to-mini plugs. Groundbreakers. Male-to-female RCA Y connectors. Banana plugs. And yes, a small reel of splicing tape. Splicing tape?? It’s doubtful that anyone under 41 has ever seen such a relic.

For several years now, my studio has been entirely virtual, meaning that all sounds are generated not from stacks of synthesizers and outboard effects units (aka, “rack gear”), but by sophisticated software run on a powerful computer. The result is that what used to look like a friggin’ impressive room of light-emitting-diode-enhanced gizmos that only a superior expert in their field could possibly understand (and thus wow clients with), has now morphed into something akin to a tax advisor’s cubicle. So sad. In fact, if one avoids noticing my pianos, guitars and hand drums for a moment, the sole object in my digital music studio that looks even remotely musical is what’s known as the controller keyboard. It looks much like any 88-note keyboard, and Yamaha uses the same keys for this puppy as they do for their uprights. Yet when one plays it, it doesn’t make a sound. Rather unmusical… until you turn the power on and boot up a piece of software that will tell it what sound to trigger.

So today as I cleaned off one of these little 7-inch grey-and-clear plastic storage units I’ve had forever, the kind you get on sale at the local hardware store that most normal people use to hold nails and screws and not XLR adapters and MIDI couplers, I opened a drawer full of little black items that I’ve owned for 27 years, used for 22, not used for the last 5, and hadn’t noticed for all that time since. Suddenly, I consciously saw them.
Rack screws. And their accompanying washers.

[IMAGE] rack screws

Rack screws are short stubby deals that, as the name strongly hints at, attach the metal side wings of studio gear to the metal or wooden side rails of studio racks. Back in the day, before I went All Digital, I had a room full of rack gear. We all did, in my business. Looked mighty cool to our clients, too. Fingering these little utilitarian objects this afternoon, it struck me that I would never need them again, even though they used to be something I handled constantly, as new gear got brought into the studio and gleefully added to one of my racks. It was a melancholy moment, a little like the cat hair moment: a backward glance to things I spent a lot of time touching, playing with, and enjoying (no, not that. Get your mind out of the gutter). By the way, the best account I can recommend of a composer’s process of yanking away from the late 20th-analog-century fully into the 21st century’s digital age can be found in this blog post by a hilarious L.A. composer named Scooter.

[IMAGE] screws with a view

Which leads me to the next sentimental, “geez, Alex, you sure are turning into an old fart” moment.

A couple of weeks ago, in search of an economical solution to a non-aesthetically urgent storage issue, I drove to the local consignment/thrift shop halfway up the island in the Middle of Truly Nowhere. Which is saying something, since this whole island could be described by many as the Middle of Truly Nowhere. So just use your imagination and imagine where Nowhere’s nowhere is, and what it might look and feel like.

All sorts of things readily abandoned by one person await a good home at the creative hand of the next, and I enjoy the voyeurism of poking around other people’s lives as represented by the stuff they used to like. As I walked along the outside of a building that held the promise of cheap bookcases, my eyes caught something familiar. Very familiar. Alongside a pile of old, nondescript forgotten sinks, metal file cabinets, and faux wood dressers, there it was: a modern, black, now dust-covered melamine anomaly in the midst of these homey items, and the woods surrounding us all.
My old rack.

[IMAGE] gear rack

Right after moving up here four years ago, I completed my studio’s final transition from physical gear to a room of virtual instruments, and at some point soon after setting things up, I gave away my last rack to someone on the island who probably played an instrument or had some semblance of a studio himself. I can’t recall for the life of me what nice person this must have been, since I was knee-deep in renovating a house and trying to stay sane and create music on a deadline amidst the pounding of two-by-fours and the learning curve of new software.

To everything there is a season, and this rack has had enough seasons that if it could talk, it would have some great stories, I’m sure. Man, am I relieved that it can’t talk. The tape I used circa 1992 to secure a reverb unit was still stuck to a shelf, and the extra holes I’d drilled in the wooden rails made me smile as I was reminded that I never did manage to get them entirely straight (good thing my day job is being a composer, and not a carpenter). As with the stray cat hair from the past, my memory and heart were pinged. This rack held a lot of my stuff that recorded a lot of my music.

And all that stuff was held in that enclosure with those screws I came across today. Just like the cat, the rack and the screws and their washers have all had their day, and it was a damned good one. I bet if you looked hard enough in the bottom corner, a cat hair or three would still be lurking.

I rarely post photos of inanimate objects here on this naturalist-wannabe blog, but these things were near and dear to me and my aging history, so they get a place of honor in Kelpville.

[IMAGE] my old rack

Stay tuned for wildlife, next post. Or just stay tuned.