July 4, 2013

Once more unto the breach

[IMAGE] orca backflip

…click to listen:

…about the music

Music with a splash.

The only thing cuter than an Orca breaching,

[IMAGE] Orca breach

[IMAGE] Orca breach

[IMAGE] Orca breach

[IMAGE] Orca breach

Is a baby orca breaching, trying to keep up with mom!

[IMAGE] baby Orca breach

[IMAGE] baby Orca breach

[IMAGE] baby Orca breach

At least, I think so.

[IMAGE] splash

June 27, 2013

Location, location, location

[IMAGE] otter foot

…click to listen:

…about the music

Hospital food.

I’m not a big fan of unexpected visitors on my doorstep when they’re of the human variety. As gregarious as I am, I enjoy my privacy. I also enjoy living in a location so remote and private, that I never need to cover the glass doors and windows. Instead, during tourist season I choose to cover myself, having been surprised once by a boatload of zoom-lens-enabled whale watchers peering directly into my bedroom. Lesson learned. And to the folks on that boat: I hope you enjoy the photos, even if you didn’t see an Orca that day.

I do, however, heartily welcome all unexpected visitors of the non-human sort (this would include extraterrestrials, because damn, if ever there’s a gal game enough to try to communicate with life from another planet, it’s ME!). E.T.’s aside, I did have my first close encounter of the river otter kind a few days ago. Working at my desk I saw movement outside and at first thought it was one of our foxes. A better look revealed that it was a dripping wet otter. I palmed my camera and got to the front door the same time that s/he did. The otter sat somewhat upright, looking quizzically at me, and it was a great, “Avon calling” moment (either that, or the Jehovah’s Witnesses are getting more clever about how to get me to open the door).

[IMAGE] river otter
Otterly wet.

The photos tell the story of the next ten seconds: as I raised my camera, of course, the otter waddled away.

[IMAGE] river otter

But still: while I see them frolic in the water* in front of me almost every day, I’d never been this close to one on land.

N.B.: *and frolic, they do. Here’s a pic of them making next season’s baby otters:

[IMAGE] otters
Wildlife porn!

The next afternoon offered an ironic follow-up to this lovely, if fleeting, visit: I was sitting in San Juan Island’s brand spanking new hospital waiting room about to have my regular boob-o-gram. On the coffee table, surrounded by the calming peachy colors and mindless magazines, is this violent, life-meets-death, moment-of-truth centerpiece:

“Freshwater Lobster” by Doug Bison

Expertly crafted, it’s not small. It commands any already-edgy patient’s attention, even if viewed from the other side.

Not only is the hapless Signal Crayfish mortally maimed and on the losing end of the lunch menu, but just to drive the point home, it is staring at its own amputated limb which lies nonchalantly on the stone below. For a moment, I swear I thought I heard the soundtrack to Saving Private Ryan. I’m not quite certain what message the interior designers are trying to get across here, but gee whiz, people, this is a hospital!! With all due respect to the artist, who did a perfectly fine job recreating this Kodak Moment, I found it more than a bit unsettling to view as I myself waited to be squished like a seafood special in an otter’s jaw.

The following day, I stopped into the hospital again and asked the nice lady at the desk who I might chat with about relocating the artistic re-enactment of death and amputation currently soothing nervous patients in the waiting room. She pointed me to the administrative office, and I kid you not: as I headed for that door, with the otter-and-blue-plate-special bronze looming in front of me, I happened to glance to my right and lo and behold, this is what I saw:

“Great Blue Heron” by Barbara Duzan.

Yup: yet another re-enactment sculpture, by another fine artist: a Great Blue Heron with an extremely unhappy fish clamped tightly in its beak. MORE IMAGES OF DEATH! In a HOSPITAL!! Death by being squished, no less. Hmm, I sense a theme. And indeed, patients can enjoy BOTH the dying crayfish AND the dying fish-fish in the same view, as seen in the photos.

Dueling seafood platters.

Let me make it clear that I’m not criticizing the artists or the sculptures– only where those pieces ended up being placed. What IS it with these interior designers??? Okay, the heron and its meal are not only poised in a second waiting area, but are also within squawking distance of the lobby cafeteria. But really: this image is not making me wanna order the Caesar salad with anchovies.

I spoke to the admin fellow, and drew his attention to the subject matter of the two artworks. He looked at them as if for the first time (even though his office is in direct view of both pieces). Gently stroking the maimed crayfish vestige that laid pitifully, if artfully, at the otter’s feet, he, too, agreed that no one, not even he, had ever looked at the pieces carefully before; he just hadn’t noticed them.

And this, fair readers, is where Kelpville gets a tad pithier.

The stark and powerful violence of the representations in both statues is so blatant, that the gentleman’s comment really struck me. It tells me and my fellow artists a lot about how the public sees, or actually doesn’t see, our work.

This is not a question of the worth or beauty or quality of any particular piece of artwork. It’s an observation of the very existence of any art at all, and how unexpectedly invisible it can be at times.

Let me give you an example. Most non-musicians don’t notice the ubiquitous background music that plagues people like me, usually far too loudly, in every inch of our world: from restaurants to grocery stores, to the cramped and inescapable confines of elevators and airplanes. I don’t care whether it’s the latest vapid pop tune, or Beethoven’s Fifth, I tend to greatly dislike music in public spaces, because it interrupts my own thoughts, musical and otherwise. We live in a society in which we’re constantly bombarded by non-natural stimuli, and the message to our culture is that it’s scary and bad to be left alone to one’s own mental wanderings and imagination.

Well, of course it is: because were we allowed the quietude to become lost in our own thoughts, we might not be so easily placated by the inane, numbing, cultural opiates around us. Minus the patter of vacuous music, those few uninterrupted moments of contemplation as we stood dazed in the produce aisle deciding between a bell pepper and a zucchini, could quite possibly result in having a breakthrough idea. One that might even question things. Create things. Dismantle dogma. And replace it with better stuff. Oh, no, the Orwellian corporatocracy cannot thrive if this sort of thing is encouraged. Silent space must be filled at every opportunity.

As for visual art: most people are so inured by the onslaught of violence spewed forth in the media each time they flip on a TV or see a movie or cheer a sport, that they don’t notice artful images of creatures being torn limb from fin, even when walking past them every single day. How could we expect anyone to, when most don’t even bat an eye at the endless evening news reports of war, horror and cruelty that accompany them while they casually eat their dinner? Plenty of people wouldn’t view the otter and crayfish bronze in nearly as morbid a manner as I– they’d simply see a cute furry animal having lunch, and give no thought to the plight of the lunchee. I suppose someone could even look at that sculpture and interpret it as a sweet otter who is rescuing an injured crayfish and… has brought it right in to the hospital for re-attachment surgery! Brutality and suffering are in the eye of the beholder. Regrettably, I behold. Far too deeply.

For sure, here on rural San Juan Island, we’re a rough-’n-tumble, pull on yer mud boots, wildlife-oriented community, and as any reader of this blog knows, I’m the first one to shoot close-up photos of animals in the throes of mortal struggle. I love, love, love seeing wildlife in all its gory, fight-to-the-death action. It’s exciting, terrifying, sobering, and for me, often artistically inspiring. But I’d hate to be waiting in pain or grief to see the doc, suffering from an [amputation/rabies/broken arm/bad bite/otter scratch/seafood poisoning] while staring at representations of wildlife engaged in its own trauma, no matter how renowned the artist.

[IMAGE] meal for a seal
Seal vs. Giant Pacific Red Octopus. It was unclear for a moment just who was winning.

However: if you want to put these kinds of pieces in the insurance company’s waiting room, to accompany me as I review my hospital charges with steam rising from the top of my head… well, I think that’s a great idea. Because art is created to elicit emotion, and the vision of a creature being attacked and squished could indeed inspire emotion in the eye of the beholder. And I beholdin’ the bill!

Uh oh. Better turn up the volume on the cheesy background music, otherwise patients like me will start thinking for themselves. And we wouldn’t want that!

[IMAGE] Kingfisher

June 15, 2013

The purrfect chair

[IMAGE] Bella

…click to listen:

…about the music

No ifs or ands. Just butts.

Some people have lap cats.
I have a butt cat.

[IMAGE] Bella

Kinky as it may sound, it’s actually quite sweet: each day as I habitually sit up straight toward the front edge of my padded studio chair, Bella eventually jumps on and wedges herself tightly between my back, and the back of the chair.
Since I sit a lot, Bella and I spend a good amount of time butt-to-butt.

[IMAGE] Bella

She is a sizable kitty: 14 ultra-soft pounds.
She’s warm.
She purrs.
With gusto.
Think about this for a moment.

[IMAGE] Bella

I now am the happy owner a free version of one of those very expensive, rather large, soft, heated, vibrating lumbar-support massage chairs that you see in the Brookstone or Hammacher Schlemmer catalogs.


[IMAGE] Bella

May 30, 2013


[IMAGE] staring

…click to listen:

…about the music

Watch out.

Living in a largely glass house means that while I’m always looking out to the fascinating world around me, the fascinating world can look right back in. And, does. Often.

Each day, I meet my neighbors face to face. No, not the friendly kind that show up asking to borrow a cup of sugar organic honey, but the kind who just show up to taunt me. Yes, that’s right. To taunt, harangue, harass, guilt, cajole and mock me. Not to mention endlessly question how I’m using my time (What?? You’re [walking to the fridge/vacuuming/doing the NYTimes crossword/returning emails/shooting nature photos/feeding the cat] AGAIN, instead of finishing the [notes/orchestration/phrasing and dynamics/proofreading for] the new piece???).

Yup. That’s what’s going on around here. And believe me, it ain’t pretty. I mean, do you see what kind of looks I get??

[IMAGE] staring
Well? And?

Gulls are hard to impress. Harder, still, are the otters. They get particularly ornery when they’ve got a fish dangling out the side of their mouth.

[IMAGE] staring
Don’t mind me. I’ll just sit here and watch you until you do something that’s actually interesting. Which obviously, could take a while.

The quail always looks at me funny, with that cocked head,

[IMAGE] staring
What? You gotta be kidding me.

And the eagle is constantly scolding me.

[IMAGE] staring
We are not amused. Try harder. That is, if you were even trying.

The deer are usually a little kinder, if dumber.

[IMAGE] staring
Huh? Did you say something? No? Oh, that’s what I thought.

The killer whales like to sneak up with a sudden peek and startle the bejeezus outta me,

[IMAGE] staring
Whoosh! Surprise! I seeeeee youuuuuu….! Slacker!!

And the harbor seals just float around and stare. Steadily. For a loooong time.

[IMAGE] staring
Uh huh. Just as I suspected. You’re procrastinating. Again.

The cutest, furriest creatures are the most intimidating,

[IMAGE] staring
Seriously? You call that music? Aw, c’mon. Even I could do better than that.

[IMAGE] staring
If you go with the F# instead of the G, I will kill you.

And hands down, the scariest neighbor on the block is the turkey vulture swirling ominously low above my head, counting down the moments until my welcome demise so that the all-you-can-eat buffet can open for business.

[IMAGE] staring
Go on, Alex, walk back to the fridge! Have more ice cream! Composers are tastier when they’re fattened up!

I’m not paranoid. I just believe that I’m being watched, constantly.

May 27, 2013

A girl and her rock

[IMAGE] Bella and her rock

…click to listen:

…about the music

Indie rock.

So the story begins thusly:
Maybe fifteen years ago, I stumbled upon a very large and unusually shaped rock on the beach where I lived in Malibu. A grey, oblong chunk, it sports bullnose edges, and a curved hook at one end that tells a silent tale of sea-worn ventures. It had come to rest vertically in the sand, looking very much like a prairie dog. I wish I had a photo of it proudly standing guard over the other, lesser, stones, shells and driftwood. Of all the rocks I’ve collected in my life, I’d never seen one poised like it.

Depending on the viewing angle, it looks either like a whale, or a sea lion.
Immediately, I loved this rock.
I lugged it a mile down the shoreline back to my house.
It was heavy.
Still is.
Totally worth the sore arms the next day.

Wherever I’ve lived, that rock has found a place in my living room. Sometimes off to the side on a shelf. More often than not, as a coffee table sculpture.

[IMAGE] The rock

Trust me, the photo doesn’t do it justice.
You’ll just have to visit me and pet this rock.

So, fast forward to now.
This natural artwork has graced my table for quite some time.
Along comes Bella.

A bit skittish her first weeks here, Bella quickly determined that second only to under the bed (a geo-setting apparently programmed into all cats’ DNA), among the safest places in the house is the top of the coffee table. I can’t argue with her; it seems like a fine spot to settle in, strategically located in the middle of everything for excellent territorial scanning, and far enough off the floor to keep her enormous, fuzzy tail beyond the reach of anyone’s accidental stomp.

Besides: this cat is absolutely gorgeous. Neither Tiffany nor Saks Fifth Avenue could create a more fetching centerpiece. Event planners, take note.

So, along with adopting me and my coffee table, Bella has adopted my rock.

[IMAGE] Bella and her rock

Maybe she was Chinese in an earlier life. Ancient Asians used hard, beautifully lacquered wooden pillow boxes as head rests, to store their valuables safely while they slumbered. I have a nice example of one of those next to my bed, and tried it out on my head once.
No go. Give me huge, soft fluffy pillows, please.
If ever necessary, I’ll stow my treasures in the polyester pillowcase zip-lining. Just like I did when I was an eight-year-old at sleepaway camp and hid contraband candy in there, until the day that all us girls in the bunk learned the cause-and-effect connection between sugar and weird bugs.

Maybe my rock stores Bella’s kitty dreams. It’s her pillow,

[IMAGE] Bella and her rock

[IMAGE] Bella and her rock

…her chaise lounge,

[IMAGE] Bella and her rock

…her fainting couch,

[IMAGE] Bella and her rock

…her footrest,

[IMAGE] Bella and her rock

…her butt protector,

[IMAGE] Bella and her rock

…her nighttime exotic visitor viewing station (ok, the iguana is plastic, but I used to have a real one that was much much larger. Big bad Bella isn’t impressed, anyway),

[IMAGE] Bella and her rock

…and her safe place.

[IMAGE] Bella and her rock

Every girl should have her own fortress. Rock on, Bella.

[IMAGE] Bella and her rock

April 28, 2013

Home theater

[IMAGE] Two Bald Eagles

…click to listen:

…about the music

Action packed.

I don’t have TV service, and I rarely go to the movie theater.
There, I’ve said it.
I know, it makes me sound weird. Anti-social. Backwoods. Or maybe just deviant (hmm… this all could be colorfully helpful for the mystique of my composing career).

It’s not that I don’t appreciate entertainment. But I’m surrounded by big dramas all day long, on the other side of my windows. Heck, even my job description includes creating drama of the sonic variety. And yup– since you asked (well, you probably didn’t, but lots of people who interview me do), there IS a connection for me between the drama I experience and the music I compose. Which means you better hope that my toilets never overflow. I’d hate to hear what that sounds like in a symphony. Which reminds me of a little exchange I had with a friend years ago: he sent me a link to an announcement from Kohler– yes, the manufacturer of faucet fixtures and toilets– about a grant they were offering to instrumentalists and composers.
To which I quipped, “Oh, I could be their fartist in residence!”.

But I digress. Anyway, so yes, I really get off on the action movies I see every day. Just one single screen star is usually plenty to compel me:

[IMAGE] Here's lookin' at you, kid.

Especially when she gets all up in my face and drama-queenie and starts yelling at me:

[IMAGE] Here's yellin' at you, kid.

So, one diva bird is cool. But watching TWO stars battling it out is even more riveting:

[IMAGE] Two Bald Eagles

And three??

[IMAGE] Three Bad Eagles

I’m on the edge of my seat. Popcorn is strewn everywhere. I’m breathing fast. And the film score in my head is pounding.

[IMAGE] Three Bad Eagles

But as I said, even just a single headliner really is enough. Especially when the props department has done such a great job with the scenery.

[IMAGE] Bald Eagle soaring past Cascades

April 24, 2013

Out there

[IMAGE] stormy; photo by Mark Hetrick

…click to listen:

…about the music

On the edge.

Well, to continue the theme of the previous post, here’s something else that was really fun, that I also did from the very same [occasionally aquarium-style] desk as I’ve been doing all those other really fun things: a video podcast that was streamed live on YouTube last weekend, and is now archived for all eternity, thus making me thankful that I didn’t say anything even more embarrassing than usual.

A handful of young and very articulate composers have been building a new corner of the ever-expanding infinity that is the new music world, and they began a podcast series a couple of years ago called SoundNotion. Each week they discuss the issues du jour for working composers and performers, often inviting a guest to join them. I was the lucky one who got to clog the bandwidth and fill up the screen last week for an episode titled Out There, and it’s definitely another clear example of all the live online interaction I’ve described earlier that has a profound effect on my work.

The hour and a quarter conversation covers two main categories that, like everything in the known universe, are interconnected: the powerful, career-building uses of interactive online media for artists, and, starting at the 42 minute mark, the powerful career-busting issues for artists of lack of self worth, and how outreach and education can make an enormous difference. Oh, and somewhere in there we talk about combing one’s hair right.

In this instance, you’ll understand when you see the visible in-focus screen presence of the others, and then my very, very fuzzy self as cave-cast webcast from San Juan Island, exactly why I’ve been active in the movement to bring high speed internet services to rural areas. Below, dear viewers, is the painful truth of what 1.5 Mbps (and much less) actually looks like. It’s much like a dog dancing on its hind legs: the fact that I can do this sort of thing at all, with both slow-speed hands tied behind my router, is amazing. That I happen to make a few good points here and there is almost ancillary to the fact that you can see and hear me at all. Then again, the older one gets, the more one benefits from smoothed-out edges.

[IMAGE] Talking head.
I swear, I did not film the show through a roll of wax paper.

So, if you visit the SoundNotion webpage, you have your choice of watching me in all my supreme fuzziness, or of streaming the audio, or downloading one or both options for later consumption (I make a decent substitute for drive-time AM talk radio. Which is actually something I did during my activist years in Los Angeles in the 90’s, and yes, that’ll be another blog post sometime).

Or, you can watch in this convenient Tube of the You, below.


April 18, 2013

Watch the conductor

[IMAGE] birds

…click to listen:

…about the music

This stuff is deep.

Readers of this humble bloglet know that I see a lot of awesome things from my desk. Each photo in this post is either of something in front of it, or… on top of it.

[IMAGE] tug by the Olympics
Chugging along past the grand Olympic mountains…

Not too long ago, an outside-the-taco-shell-thinking musical blogizen named Greg Sandow invited me to be a guest writer in his neck of the e-woods, and the result, in an essay titled E-ing There, was a vivid description of how I can stay tethered to this desk while also remaining tethered to the outside art world. One power outage, of course, and I’m livin’ large Mozart-style by candlelight, only able to share my music with those within a very limited radius.
I keep score paper and a candle on my piano for just those moments.
And I have my acoustic guitars.
And if it’s a clear night, I have a telescope to entertain my futile search for infinity.
(Which is often how things feel for a composer as s/he flails in the midst of all those little black dots on the music staff).

Happily, cameras don’t need electricity too often; a backup battery is always close at hand, and the relative simplicity of shooting photos, versus running my sometimes daunting, power-dependant high-tech/low-amperage digital recording setup, is welcome.
Besides: I love to capture the power generated by others:

[IMAGE] Bald Eagle
It’s hard to think of this enormous creature as merely a juvenile Bald Eagle. Wow.

The mountains grazed by the morning light, or the soaring eagles, or the breaching orcas…

[IMAGE] Orca whale

It’s these moments that boomerang back to me, in the form of all those little black dots that humans read on white pieces of paper and translate into sound.

[IMAGE] fox
Foxes are very poor sight-readers.

But the biggest, and most emotional boomerang effect of all, is the kind of thing that happened just last week. One of the commissioners of my oh-so-watery electroacoustic symphony for winds and percussion, IMMERSION, is Yale University. The piece is an anthem to the sea. It’s obvious to anyone looking at all the photos of weird squishy things on this blog, that I’m a wannabe marine biologist. Who, had I made the choice to actually become one, would have probably been a lousy scientist, because I’d always be creatively extrapolating on What Things Are in my quest for a really good story, rather than the [often more] boring truth.
See? It’s a damn good thing I became an artist. We don’t care about truth. Our job is to make everything up.

When the Yale Concert Band gave their premiere performance of IMMERSION last Friday night, conductor and all-around fearless leader Tom Duffy invited me to speak to the audience via Skype. If you click on the essay link above, you’ll see that this is not new territory for me, and it’s certainly something I love to do. Heck, I don’t even have to wear pants:

[IMAGE] Skypehearsal with Mount Mansfield Union High School
Mary Bauer conducts a 2012 rehearsal of PAPER CUT at Mount Mansfield Union High School in Jericho, Vermont, as I’m beamed in from my living room on the opposite coast.

After I finished my on-camera introduction of the music, this particular performance went a step further. With the good fortune of a three-hour time difference that had me in bright sunshine while the concert-goers in New Haven’s Woolsey Hall were steeped in evening’s darkness, I turned the concert into a live music video by pivoting my webcam to the sea in front of me. As the music of the first movement, DEPTH, began filling the hall, there on a large screen behind the band was the real-time sight of the waves rolling past my desk.

[IMAGE] Yale Skypehearsal
E-ing there.

These are the same waters that inspired the very music everyone was playing and hearing.
From my desk. To their music desks. Out to the audience. And finally, back to me.
Right where it all began.

[IMAGE] Yale performance
A screenshot from my monitor, the lefthand part of which shows the Salish Sea as viewed by me, and by the audience on the east coast, from the perspective of a bassist’s music stand. Clearly, a geo-multimedia first!

The band was being conducted as a Skype session was being conducted. As the hair on the back of my neck was being conducted by the electricity of this powerful confluence. In the middle of nowhere, my music, the sea I love, and I, floated in the center of everywhere.

March 31, 2013

Another lunch by the sea

[IMAGE] sunflower seastar at lunch

…click to listen:

…about the music

Don’t forget to tip your waiter!

I looked up from my work to see a bright orange object flying through the air. Around here, I don’t usually see bright orange things in the sky. I think that’s more like what happens in Russia.

The bright orange object was treated to a dizzying aerial view of the coastline, gripped in the beak of a first-winter herring gull who was determined to outpace five other, older gulls chasing him.
Watching the sharp turns and swerves, I thought of the car chase scene from Bullitt.

Gull McQueen here got himself quite a feast: A Sunflower sea star.

[IMAGE] gull and lunch
A sunflower sea star has twenty four limbs.

[IMAGE] gull and lunch
Twenty three.

I’m really fond of these creatures. Almost every time we tugged a crab pot up over the edge of the sailboat hull last summer, instead of the Dungeness we desired, or along with them, would be one of these huge squishy guys:

[IMAGE] sunflower seastar in the sun
Thanks to Dan for his professional hand modeling services.

Forget about the Circle of Life. Let’s talk about the Triangle of Lunch:

A friend eats a turkey lunch, and gives us some extra turkey parts.
We put the organ donor’s leg in the crab cage.

The crabs love a turkey lunch, too (although I think they’d appreciate a little deli mustard).
One or more sunflower seastars crawl in right along with the crabs, and often take over: if they’re not sucking down some clam innards (see first pic above), these guys also love a turkey lunch. Hold the rye, hold the mayo.
And they can, cos’ they have all those limbs to hold anything they want.

When we pull up the pot a day or so later, we throw the seastar back in the water.
We throw the female crabs back, too (how else would we have all these crabs to eat?).
We keep, cook and eat the male crabs who are large enough to be legal (they carry little I.D. cards to show the bouncer).

Voila: Our crab lunch, via everyone else’s turkey lunch.
The Triangle of Lunch is complete.
All for yum and yum, for all.
Even for those male crabs… for a while!

[IMAGE] don't forget to tip your waiter!
The Salish Sea version of a well catered party.

March 22, 2013

Name that lunch

[IMAGE] lunchtime

…click to listen:

…about the music

Blue Plate Special.

Photo blog disclaimer!
The following photos are lousy quality.
They ain’t nuttin’ compared to my recent pix of a a young gull attempting to swallow a large flounder, or these pix from 2011 of a seal devouring a cephalopod.

Nonetheless, I’m posting them for you, in all their blurriness.
Because, as you can see from this prior post, I’m a digestion junkie. I’m absolutely spellbound watching creatures eat their lunch.
Which, most of the time, consists of other creatures.

I’m going to bet that most people who read this blog do not live somewhere they see this sort of thing everyday. Therefore, just as I’ll always appreciate a blurry photo of metropolis wildlife like Donald Trump’s toupee, maybe urbanites will get a kick out of this.

All right folks, yes-sirree! It’s time to play another round of, “Name that Lunch!”:

[IMAGE] lunchtime

[IMAGE] lunchtime

[IMAGE] lunchtime

[IMAGE] lunchtime

A clue?

Notice how the entrée changed color.

Need one more clue?

In the second photo: not only does the photo suck, but so does the lens subject.

Give up?

The gull is eating a juvenile Pacific Red Octopus.

Captivating as it was to observe, this made me sad. I love octopi. Not to eat: to greatly admire, as fantastic, smart, delightful creatures.
But in this world, we’re all up for being on the menu. I witness this nearly every day, while I’m composing, and taking care of publishing stuff, and brushing out Bella’s long thick fur, and talking to someone on the phone, and… oh… wait! Look! Geez… [crunch]… [slurp]…

It’s far less heart-wrenching to watch the Canada geese.
They’re vegetarian.

[IMAGE] geese

Truth be told, my digestion fetishes go in both directions, like digestion itself.
Critters in, critters out.

For instance, walking around the rocks here I often spot small clumps of tiny, beautiful little shells. I always wondered what they were, and how they got there. Each smaller than my fingernail, they blend perfectly in the granite nooks, and would be easy to miss unless you were really looking for them.

[IMAGE] shell clump

One day, I glanced up from my desk at a lone gull on the rock in front of me, just in time to witness him…

Kind of like a cat with a furball.

Gross as it sounds, I was riveted.
It was fascinating.
So much so, that I failed to grab my camera. Never before has a girl been so compelled by the reverse-digestion of a bird.

Not too long after the gull flew off (maybe to find some more food and begin this charming process all over again), I walked out to the spot and shot these photos of the fresh evidence.

[IMAGE] shell clump

Not one, but two clumps. A bonanza.
I am the Annie Leibovitz of bird puke.

Like many birds, mama gulls regurgitate food for their chicks. But the adults– quite the greedy scavengers– have to get rid of the stuff they scarf up that’s indigestible, and occasionally, just like us, it exits from the front rather than the rear.

It’s likely that the gull’s lunch of a fish, a crab, or a sea star, had consumed these tiny clam-like beings for its lunch (not realizing that this would be the last supper). Or maybe the gull just scooped up a quick snack of some kelp and seawater, and ended up swallowing lots of teeny tiny bivalve molluscs.
One way or another, out they go.

Gull forensics. My next profession!

If there’s every a “CSI: Intertidal,” I demand to be the composer on the gig.
Call my agent!

[IMAGE] shell clump

March 17, 2013

The cat’s outta the bag

[IMAGE] Bella

…click to listen:

…about the music

One cool cat.

My life at home as a worker bee composer is pretty uneventful. There’s the sedentary aspect: sitting at my desk, managing my business, putting some music on the page, yada yada yada. Which is balanced by intense physical labor: pacing around the living room as I search for elusive ideas (funny; the little suckers aren’t under the sofa where I left them yesterday), and tamping down an already worn path that betrays my many treks to and from the kitchen for, well, anything. Because consuming anything is always easier than composing something.

As much as I travel throughout the year (I’m just shy of the 500,000 mile mark on my Delta account, and fully expect them to send me a gold watch), my absolute mostess very very favoritest thing is to hole up here in this cabin by the sea and do my work. Or not do my work and just fret about needing to do my work. It really matters not; the point is, I’m beyond thrilled just being here, and am becoming far more circum-spect about the circum-stances for which I’ll agree to flit away. I love my uneventful home life.

If you read the previous blog post or glanced at my Facebook page earlier this month, you know I have one more furry reason to be flit-resistant: Bella. She was an amazingly docile trooper on our flight/buses/ferry/car ride (did I mention spaceship? I think there was one of those, too) from Los Angeles to Friday Harbor, and is settling into island life nicely (Bella didn’t need the kitty prozac, but toward the end of the journey I was eying it with great interest). Her tolerance for living with someone from whom bizarre, semi-musical sounds erupt at random moments is admirable. Sweet natured as she is, after I finished a mix the other day (entailing playing back the same stubborn passages over and over and over again) I actually felt sorry for her that she didn’t get adopted by a librarian. So far I think her sole heartbreak has been the devastating discovery that not only do I own a vacuum cleaner, but that I occasionally plug it in and turn it on.
Poor kitty.

Nonetheless, there are perks to living here, in addition to the free-flowing high-end kibble and tons of petting. She and I enjoy a shared hobby of birdwatching: each morning I put seed out on the deck, and like clockwork, it’s time for her favorite channel, Cat TV, to begin its daily broadcast.

[IMAGE] waiting for birdies

At the moment, red-winged blackbirds, cowbirds and starlings are our seasonal nest-aurant clientele. Apparently pleased by the menu, they all chirp hysterically on one side of the door. Bella chirps back on the other side, with that funny dry cackle that some cats have. Her huge tail swishes back and forth like a whip as she crouches low, pounce-ready. Were she on the deck with the birds, between the sound effects and the dance moves, she’d have zero chance of catching one of them.
But she doesn’t know that,
and the birds don’t see her behind the glass.
My blessed kingdom is at peace.

Having never before seen eagles, the look on Bella’s face when one flew by was priceless.

[IMAGE] fascinated kitty

And she probably thought the same of me, since every time I see one (which is roughly twenty times a day, because I’m smack dab in the center of their hilltop perches and rocky outcroppings), I’m in awe. Whether they’re taking off,

[IMAGE] lift off!

Or coming in for a landing,

[IMAGE] touchdown!

my excitement just never lessens. They’re magnificent.

(Yes, this may be the only blog you read today that features both cute kitty pictures, AND Bald Eagles.)

So, with a new fuzzy companion underfoot, I continue to pace, and hem, and haw, and munch, and grab my camera at any opportunity, and even more than occasionally… actually get the work at hand, done.

The difference is that now, I am under 24/7 surveillance.

[IMAGE] studio kitteh

Bella is keeping me honest.
Bella knows all.
I’m so relieved cats can’t talk.
Pardon me while I head back to the fridge.

[IMAGE] Bella

February 28, 2013

The fur will be flying

[IMAGE] Bella. Photo by Paul Chepikian

…click to listen:

…about the music


So many fun fun fun things have happened in the past few weeks, that I haven’t been in one place (or at least one place without a deadline cuddled up right next to me) long enough to post about them. Truly, the dilemma of living a published life (and most of us do, via Facebook, Twitter, blogs, websites, etc.), is the difficulty of reporting one’s compelling moments while simultaneously experiencing them.

So, I find myself alternating between the living of, and the posting of that which has been lived. I think if I were able to do both at once on any regular basis, it would mean my life was dull and without nearly as interesting material to offer up to others. I’m anti-spew; I can’t post little ditties just for the sake of posting. Enough people waste precious pixels on your retinas, and I don’t want to be one of them!

No, I post inanities about which I’m damned proud! Executive, high-level inanities. Inanities guaranteed to enrich a few valuable moments of your busy lives. Like gulls attempting to swallow flounders, and the heartbreakingly hollow promises of deluxe hotel shower caps, as seen in very recent and oh-so-pithy posts, below. If you keep scrolling backward through the annals of my past seven enpixelated years, you’ll be amazed by the high quality of utter inanity I serve up. Nothing but the finest, here in Kelpville.

[IMAGE] Pacific tree frog.
Yada, yada, yada… ribbit.

2013 got off to a very ribbiting… uh, I mean, riveting start. Lots of music, and lots of professional events, but kicked off by a couple of glorious, stolen weeks in January (after an insane December working in NYC and Chicago), in which I welcomed in another completed solar rotation by strapping on some tight snorkel gear and becoming one with the fishes. No, not in the nippy Hudson River or Lake Michigan, but in the warm Hawaiian Pacific. Ahhhh….

I had a few days back on San Juan Island after the Big Island to shake the lava-sand from between my toes, and by the end of January all the fun-but-slightly nutty music stuff started up again. After three nearly-solid months of travel, I’m looking forward to this weekend, because as of March 2 I’ll be home for the entire month and then some, well into April. This quite possibly means more blog posts, since I will be more stationary and thus looking for more ways to procrastinate as I busily align more notes. Looking at my business trip calendar just these past 5 weeks, I will have physically been to Seattle twice; Bellingham, WA; Pullman WA; New York City twice, and, Los Angeles, (for one action-packed day you’re soon to read about).

In the same time frame, I’ve been to even more places virtually, thanks to the magic of Skype, Google Hangouts and Twitter, all of which have connected me to bands around the U.S. in order to coach rehearsals (via a process which I have coined Skypehearsals), and to talk to live audiences at recent premieres and performances of my music.

I DO love the physical trips because [despite my hermetic composerly nature on San Juan Island] I really DO love people. At least, in short, controllable doses. And I live a very lucky life that is filled with exceptionally wonderful people.

But there is a glee in the virtual life: I can be anywhere, at any time, and I don’t even need to wear pants.

[IMAGE] OSU Skypehearsal
Virtual music-making: Jerry Luckhardt guest conducting the symphonic band at Oregon State University, as I coach the rehearsal on San Juan Island (I think I was, indeed, wearing pants. I think.).

As a composer, I get to do Really Enjoyable Things, like be a guest lecturer at Western Washington University last month, and, a week later, be the belle of the ball at Washington State University’s marvelous Festival of Contemporary Art Music, where Dave Jarvis premiered (and, video’ed and recorded– wait ’til you see this!) the new electroacoustic piece we co-wrote, KETTLE BREW, and where an entire all-Shapiro note-fest extravagonzo occurred the following night, featuring four of my chamber works as well as my electroacoustic symphony for winds and percussion, IMMERSION.

Hearing one’s own music in the context of… one’s own music… is very, very cool. And if it’s a composer like me who writes in quite a number of different styles (no, I’m not schizophrenic… yes, you are… no, she’s not!), well then, I can take heart that the hapless audience members, sonically flogged by my many offerings, are likely to enjoy at least one of the pieces on the program. Really: it’s just like Pacific Northwest weather: if you don’t like it, just wait ten minutes and it’ll change.

[IMAGE] After a storm.
Change, captured in my lens: the moon and drama from my desk after a storm one afternoon.

As thrilling as the physical world can be, there are also some tricky hidden challenges to online life: the dark underbelly of e-topia. I was reminded of this the day I arrived at WSU in Pullman, to coach a Skypehearsal with conductor Miller Asbill and the wind band of Brevard College, all of whom were brave enough to be preparing the premiere of my newest electroacoustic band piece, TIGHT SQUEEZE.

This fine use of modern technology was made oh-so-much more exciting by the fact that despite being at a major university, for some reason I was suddenly unable to connect to the internet. As a few music grad students observed over my shoulder, I frantically tried everything I could, to no avail. With just one minute before the downbeat three time zones over in North Carolina, I forewent the beautiful large screen and speakers I had planned to use, and instead, quickly logged into Skype on my iPhone and held the damn thing at the appropriate angle for the entire 50 minute session. Once I logged off, I turned to the students and told them they had just seen real-life composing in action: the ability to punt.

This small blip wasn’t nearly as nail-biting as the time a few months ago when I was slated to speak live from my home to an audience in Maine to introduce a piece of mine. Just eighteen minutes before my possibly pants-less self was to appear like The Great Oz on the big screen, the electricity went out.
I called a pal who lives about 14 minutes away in a different part of the island, to see if he had power. Yup, he did. I have never been more thankful for the paucity of police cars on little San Juan Island as when my laptop, webcam and I arrived rather breathless at his house in a record 11 and a half minutes. With just three minutes to set up, plug in, log on, and run a comb through my nerve-frazzled hair, no one in Maine was the wiser.

My headshot and my actual head, surrounded with the very friendly composition and percussion faculty of WSU: Ryan Hare, Scott Blasco, and David Jarvis.

So, after the festival, my corporeal self and I went straight from Pullman, WA to New York City (well, via Seattle, which is straight, but in the opposite direction of where I needed to go, thus being an example of, “one step backward, two steps fuggedabouttit.” About 53 hours in NY were filled with Other Enjoyable Things Composers Do, including three meetings for ASCAP and New Music USA. Somewhere in there, seated at a small desk in my even smaller Upper West Side hotel room, I got through the velvet ropes and the bouncer and found myself in a Google Hangout for the TIGHT SQUEEZE premiere, describing something to the audience about electroacoustic twelve-tone techno Latin bebop.

12, count ‘em, 12 tones.

The next morning I flew back to San Juan Island, resumed a normal home life with my fabulous/amazing/incredible/awesome beau Dan, and nine days and a bunch of delivered music later got back in a car and onto a ferry to return to NYC for more meetings. But not before seeing Tower of Power funkify Jazz Alley at their last set of the run on Sunday night, and having a scenically spectacular dinner atop the pointy Space Needle on Monday’s super-clear, super-full moon night, and in between, visiting some longtime pals. Lemme tell ya, I know how to make a boomerang trip worthwhile!

[IMAGE] Seattle.
The restaurant makes a full rotation every 48 minutes. I usually make one every 36 minutes, thus creating a psychedelic phase-shifting effect. Wheee!

Hours later at a bleary-but-happy 7 am, Dan drove/ferried back to the island as my 737 launched into the clouds headed east.

[IMAGE] Mt. Rainier.
No matter how many times I fly by Mt. Rainier, I’m always ribbeted… um, riveted.

You’d think that tomorrow, as I pour myself into a cab at 5:30 a.m. to catch the early flight back to Seattle, I’d be done with the travel mischegas. But instead of doing the sensible thing and puddle-jumping my way back home, I’m turning on my heels and hopping on a flight an hour later to Los Angeles. For just one night.
And not for anything music-related.
Unless we count this as a “muse acquisition” business trip (I hope my CPA and the IRS are paying attention to my request, on behalf of United States artists, for this long-overlooked and important deduction category. In this case, it’s truly a CATegory).

Yup, here comes that “action-packed day” I promised at the start of this rambling post:

I’m adopting a gorgeous Maine Coon kitty named Bella, that my dear friend Paul’s elderly mother can no longer keep because she’s going into an assisted living building that, regrettably, does not allow pets. Dan and I are very excited to become parents in a manner that does not include saving for a college education (unless Bella is a real stand out in her class, in which case, we’ll spring for it).

My cat-chaperoning return on Saturday will take a whopping 13 hours, because the flight gets in to Seattle after the last puddle jumper has left for the island, thus necessitating an additional fun-filled 6 hours of two-buses-and-a-long-ferry travel with a cat who will be wondering what the hell is going on and why was her staff not consulted. Bella and I make landfall on the island after 11pm that night, having left L.A. around 10am. Happily, I have kitty prozac with me. And if she’s nice, I won’t consume all of it.

This little extra jaunt (heck, I was already at SeaTac, what’s one extra flight?) definitely qualifies me to become an official member of The Crazy Cat Lady Club.

So indeed: as advertised in this post’s title, the fur will be flying.
And after this weekend, I won’t be. At least, for a little while.

[IMAGE] Bella. Photo by Paul Chepikian
13 hours on the road? Seriously??