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
WTF??

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

Homecoming.

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.
Uh-oh.
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.

[IMAGE] WSU FOCAM.
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.

[IMAGE] Theme to TIGHT SQUEEZE.
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.
Purrrrrrrrrr.

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

January 31, 2013

Tight Squeeze

[IMAGE] gull vs. flounder

…click to listen:

…about the music

Tight, indeed.

A young gull landed on a rock in front of my desk window as I was finishing a new wind band work (it has since been premiered at Brevard College, and if you click the MP3 link above, you can hear the performance). A sizable flounder was, uh, floundering in his clamped beak. The rather goofy-looking bird was having a challenging time figuring out how to swallow his windfall. I said to the bird, “wow, tight squeeze!”, and immediately realized that all the notes that were cramming the score page in front of me, would soon be squeezing through the musicians’ instruments, as snugly as a fat flounder in a gull’s mouth.

I also realized that talking to birds is pointless; they make lousy conversationalists– especially when their mouth is full.

And so, just as I was wracking my feeble, note-drained skull as to what the title of this upbeat, electroacoustic twelve-tone techno Latin bebop piece should be (if you’re a bit musical, you’ll enjoy the program note and see why this is a little different than the average band number), the gull and his lunch saved the day. The dynamic duo also gave me a great way to procrastinate on finishing the conductor score for the next 25 minutes, because that’s exactly how long it took for the gull to accomplish the delicate fine dining procedure that I have carefully documented below.

The piece is now aptly titled TIGHT SQUEEZE. And I hereby present the following educational photo essay: “How to Swallow Something Larger Than Your Mouth.” I can only hope that my audiences will have an easier time digesting my music.

[IMAGE] gull vs. flounder
I’m not sure how this is going to work, but I’m determined.

[IMAGE] gull vs. flounder
Okay. I got this.

[IMAGE] gull vs. flounder
Uh oh… Crap.

[IMAGE] gull vs. flounder
I know, I know, don’t talk with your mouth full.

[IMAGE] gull vs. flounder
Ok, here we go!

[IMAGE] gull vs. flounder
A stylish flip of the tail fin, and down the hatch!

[IMAGE] gull vs. flounder
Um, sort of.

[IMAGE] gull vs. flounder
… Alka Seltzer, anyone??

January 23, 2013

Diving into the new year

[IMAGE] diving

…click to listen:

…about the music

Above, and below.

Oh, and what a dive she took.
From the trees to the seas.

From the sensuous, smooth nudity of Sucia Island’s Pacific Madrone…

[IMAGE] leaning
Yes, we’re all thinking the same thing.

…to the sensuous, smooth warmth of Hawai’i’s Pacific waters…

[IMAGE] snorkeling

[IMAGE] snorkeling

…your kelpy heroine has had the great happiness for a long time now, of surrounding herself with the earth’s beauty.
Above…

[IMAGE] Arbutus

…and below.

[IMAGE] ahhhh

Stay tuned for The Continuing Adventures of a Happy Composer, now in its seventh year online. I’ve returned from bringing in this year’s birthday as I brought in the last, Hawai’i 5-0 celebration, and a year later, I’m STILL not playing with a full deck (I guess that’ll be the next birthday). I’m looking forward to a 2013 filled with joy, music, silliness, nature, and of course, lots of photos!

[IMAGE] Alex

December 31, 2012

Happy Newt Year

[IMAGE] newt gecko

…click to listen:

…about the music

I am a newt music composer.

Yes, I know that this is probably a gecko. But in order to wish you all a happy newt year he’s gonna have to do, ‘cos for all my gazillions of creature pix, I ain’t got no newt.
And you know what they say:
no newt is good newt.

Later this week, it’s back to this fella’s home: Hawaii, for some much-deserved R&R. Last January it was Maui; this one: the Big Island. With Big Volcanoes. And Big Lava. And Big Snorkeling!

[IMAGE] Alex Cousteau
Smile and say, “Sea Urchin!”

And my ability to shoot waterproof photos!
I cannot wait to be doing this again. San Juan Island is paradise, but the water is 48 degrees.
Looky, but no touchy.
Definitely no newt beaches here, I tell you. Clothing is not optional. Much as I’d love it to be.

So here’s to the start of 2013. Out with the old,
[IMAGE] newt gecko
Buh-bye!

and in with the newt.

[IMAGE] newt gecko
Wassup?

Well, for all the upcoming photos. These were from last year!
But you newt that from the gecko.

(get-go. get it? huh? eh? ohhh… well… never mind…)

December 26, 2012

To cap off the year

[IMAGE] jelly

…click to listen:

…about the music

Something’s jellyfishy.

You, kind Kelphistos (Kelphilos? Kelphisti? Lovers of the kelp-following?) have become used to my now-six-full-years of nearly exclusively natural-object explorations and often-dopey commentary. But there have been a few occasions, like county fairs and airport wanderings, when I’ve deemed the human-made to be worthier of your precious e-reading time.

And this, fair blogspherians, is one of them.
Behold: the shower cap.

[IMAGE] cap

Yes, I know, I know: a shower cap looks remarkably similar to a jellyfish. You would appreciate this even more deeply were I to post a photo of one of those east-coast or Caribbean clear-variety jellyfish. Or those gorgeous creatures we can see wafting around in awesomely disco-lit aquariums. Sadly, you’ll have to make do in this instance with my pic above of the common, red, Pacific Northwest denizen, our lovely crimson threat, the Lion’s Mane Jellyfish. Just looking at it makes me go ouch. It is VERY potent. We have loads of ‘em up here. Watch your step.

I’ve just returned home from almost two weeks on the road: the first in New York City and the following one in Chicago. I am convinced that I met, talked, dined, drank, walked or exchanged passing grunts with roughly 3623 people. Ok, a slight exaggeration. But only slight. My approach to art-making is a social one: I value people and I love making contact. And I remain loyally connected once contact has been made. The result of all this congeniality is quite wonderful on many levels, but also means that by about Day Ten I have nearly lost my voice. Many are thankful for that result, surely.

[IMAGE] Alex at Hilton
At the Hilton Chicago, working ardently on losing my voice.

On this particular trip, I slept in two different Hilton hotels on three separate occasions. Good trick, huh? Meaning, the night before my departure to NY, and the night of my return from Chicago two weeks later to the Seattle airport, I stayed in the same SeaTac Hilton, which I snag for a tiny fraction of cost thanks to my masterful, well-practiced Priceline bids. And for the week in Chicago, I set up camp in the historic (and well renovated) Hilton on Michigan Avenue, at the merciful Midwest Clinic conference rate. I smiled broadly at the woman checking me in, and she gave me a corner room on the highest floor. And later that day I scored free Wifi, just because I called the concierge to see if there might be a weekly discount from the stultifying $16.95 daily rate, and instead of instinctively shouting “what a @#$% rip-off!!” I was very nice to the person. Niceness often pays.

Staying as I do in so many hotels throughout the year, I have become expert in assessing the little amenities that greet me when I open the bathroom door. In recent recession-fraught years, even the swankier outfits have cut back on the goodies (no more free toothbrushes, mouthwash or plastic shoe horns, and shoe shine cloths and mending kits are harder to come by). Even still, there is most definitely a parity between the class of hotel and what’s next to the sink.

The Hilton is a good hotel, so along with the shampoo, conditioner, body lotion and two kinds of soaps, they always make sure that my plentiful long locks can stay dry while bathing. Frankly, I almost never use a shower cap. Maybe once a year, if I absolutely don’t want to get my hair the least bit damp before going out into freezing temperatures, thus turning me into an Alexicle. So after a shower-cap-less year, last week I finally deigned to pick up the box.

[IMAGE] cap

I really had never studied it before. Immediately, the logo and font scream out “designer quality! This is chi-chi, baby!”. Verrrry Madison Avenue. And then there is that magic, if overused word:
Deluxe.

I admit, I was already considering donning one of these bizarre, sex-appeal busting contraptions (I was alone in my shower), but now, my curiosity was duly piqued. What, I ask, what, is the difference between a shower cap, and a deluxe shower cap?

[IMAGE] cap

I was frighteningly naive all these years. I really thought that these ugly-fying things (seriously: not even Cindy Crawford could look seductive in this getup) had been invented a long, long time ago. Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and shower heads lacked the snazzy directional spray options on which we have grown to rely so heavily. I mean, it’s like the internet: I can’t even imagine life before it, and heck, I lived more than half my life [so far] without it. And shower caps?
Been there, done that.

But I was wrong.
This– this Deluxe Shower Cap– was designed AND developed by a man with three names and no spaces.
I mean, we are talking high end, expensivo, too hip for the room, wake yo’ mamma, shake me I think I’m dreaming, this is too good to be true.
First Class, I tell you.
The three Ds: Deluxe, Designed, and Developed.
My pulse quickened.

And look! There’s even a web address!
Very handy, in case I need assistance with the whole deluxe shower cap application process. I mean, granted, the designer took the time to print clear instructions on how to use this thing right there on the outside of the box, but gee– there aren’t any pictures. I bet the website has some nifty diagrams.
Plus, I can type in that URL if I want to order a bunch of these as gifts for my closest friends (after all, the ones I like the most bathe regularly).

I nearly had to sit down.
The excitement of opening this very, very special offering was making me dizzy.

[IMAGE] cap

I fumbled with the elegant box momentarily. Maybe one needs the website in order to cope with the vaguely opalescent, multi-pronged and sided packaging, which is almost as contrived and challenging to decipher as one of those Apple products housed in a clear-plastic and white, hermetically sealed and possibly bulletproof case. I was never good at these kinds of three dimensional puzzles.

[IMAGE] cap

Aha!
Inside this precious origami: a shower cap.
Not just any shower cap: a DELUXE shower cap.
I could not wait to unravel it and bask in the glory of this item which has been so carefully designed and developed. Really: it’s one thing to design something like this. But it’s not really deluxe until it’s been developed.

I was learning quickly. I had never been so up to speed on shower caps in my life, and had progressed from ingenue to connoisseur in three minutes.

With the care and attentiveness I would give to any fine object d’art, I unfurled the sheer plastic.
My hands trembled slightly. I think I might have even forgotten to breathe.

[IMAGE] cap

Lo and behold! It’s a…
deluxe…?
Shower… cap…

Wait.
Didn’t you already see this shower cap, earlier in this post?
Um…
Yeah, just like we’ve already seen this shower cap, time and time again, earlier in our lives.

Sigh.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même shower cap.

The Hilton.
Clean and comfortable corner room with a fabulous view.
Free WiFi for their smiling guest.
Really nice staff.
But man, they are such a tease.

There’s a reason for the similarity between a jellyfish and a deluxe shower cap:
If you’re not careful, you can get stung!

December 4, 2012

Alpacalips, now

[IMAGE] Alpaca

…click to listen:

…about the music

Music that sounds anything but alpacaliptic.

It’s early December, and the countdown to the end of time has begun in earnest.

Admittedly, it’s hard to be too earnest when staring at this adorable face. If it’s the last thing I see before the calendar goes “poof,” well then, I will have died happy.

With waaaaaaay too many unfinished projects,
but happy.

[IMAGE] Alpaca

November 15, 2012

On the chase

[IMAGE] eagle and scoters

…click to listen:

…about the music

Notes at play.

I am chasing after little black notes much in the way this eagle above appears to have been chasing little black sea ducks.

[IMAGE] eagle

The difference is that I have captured the notes I wanted. Turns out the eagle didn’t want the sea ducks at all.

[IMAGE] eagle

More, soon, when I can stop chasing all those notes and they can once again float calmly.

[IMAGE] surf scoters

November 3, 2012

The cat came back

[IMAGE] cat eyes

…click to listen:

…about the music

Quiet kitty.

Before Detroit, there was:

Camo-kitteh.

Well, camo-kitty is back.

[IMAGE] kitteh

Different rock.
Same camo.
Keep looking. You’ll see him, eventually.
But not before he sees you.

October 29, 2012

Water and tunnels

[IMAGE] incoming

…click to listen:

…about the music

Mood. Altering.

According to the above photo from Detroit’s airport, hurricane-grounded planes (aka, hurriplanes) were inundated with high, wind-driven water from the eastern seaboard all the way to Michigan. I was fortunate to be able to escape New England a day earlier than planned, but rather than arrive as hoped in Seattle, I made it only to this lovely fountain as that bitch Sandy followed on our tailpipe, shaking her fist and walloping my pals on the East coast.

This is normally a blog about the wonders of nature. When a storm hits I’m the first to share the eye-wetness report from the front lines, as I did from the north edge of San Juan Island in 2010 and from the same isle’s southern edge almost one year ago, on a memorable, nervous-giggle-infused Thanksgiving Day, 2011. Yes, you will find action-adventure movie entertainment of the highest order within these links. Make some popcorn. Take your Dramamine.

Unlike the cold, drenched and battered reporters we see on CNN and the Weather or Not Channel, I much prefer to do my investigative journalism from the cozy interior of a structure that’s about to wash away, rather than from the exterior of one. Then again, those masochistic reporters get paid a lot more than I do. Meaning, they’re paid. To stand out there and be miserable. I have yet to figure out a way to get someone to pay me to stand in my house and ponder when the roof will finally give way under the 70+ MPH winds seen in my home-brew near-disaster pix. Then again, no one ever put a gun to my head to make me live in such an extremely exposed and über geo-meteoro-logically dramatic locale in the first place.

Artists are a little bit crazy. Ok, yes, I’ve just admitted it. After watching my videos above, you may agree.

Last night I had an encounter with something wonderful that was not of mother nature, but of human nature. It was man- (or, woman-, I dunno) made. It made me feel good. So of course, I want to share it with you. Since almost everything I post here is a reflection of all the great things in my daily life that would make anyone feel good. Okay, ‘cept for those amazing shots of the harbor seal eating a Giant Pacific Octopus. No one in that scenario really felt good at the moment, although I’d say the seal was in a better mood overall.

[IMAGE] airport art

I strongly dislike the majority of public art I’ve seen in U.S. cities. My pissy gripes on the subject are worthy of an entirely separate posting, and I promise I’ll spare you my whining. So it was a particularly unexpected joy the first time I found myself in the Detroit Metro Airport, which treats travelers to at least two mood-uplifting, grin-inducing (grinducing) socio-artistic interactions on a physical plane. Before they get onto one. Or, after they’ve left one (when we deplane, I guess that means we become the dearly departed? Or maybe that’s just after the cabin doors have closed and the wheels are racing down the runway). Ah, the many planes of existence.

I have since returned a few more times to DTW, and though I can’t figure out why the initials aren’t DMA, I don’t care as long as I get to play with the fountain and wander through the light tunnel.

[IMAGE] airport art

I hate non-stop flights, but if I have to connect I love doing it in Detroit. That’s where, no matter how weary, hungry, cranky, or achy I may be (the rest of my entourage of seven dwarfs are: woozy, punchy, and needadrinky), I suddenly turn into a little kid, totally charmed and endlessly bemused by DTW’s grinducing and ultra-groovy tunnel of shifting color love. The experience is very much like being inside of a lava lamp. If that’s your kinda thing. I admit it’s my idea of a good time, but hey, so is standing in front of 30-foot windows during a violent storm, steadying a tiny video camera. As I said, artists are a little bit crazy.

[IMAGE] airport art

Dragging rollaboards attached like stubborn polyps, flyers must pass through this enclosed moving walkway tube in order to be digested thoroughly and deposited into the main terminal.

[IMAGE] airport art

Usually when I find myself here, I’m high-tailing it over to another, very distant gate, and have no time to luxuriate in fine art. But the hurricane turned my plans into a Motor City sleepover, which meant I had all the time I desired to stand and admire, after finding a safe spot to avoid obstructing the path of hurrying passengers and risk being trampled in the name of cultural and artistic immersion.

[IMAGE] airport art

Oh, how I love this… all my favorite gem colors in one place. I think the etchings on the [plexi]glass are of sea creatures…

[IMAGE] airport art

The installation includes a shifting soundtrack, too, some of which I love until it turns into a b-movie cue with cheesy synth sounds pretending to be a string section. I mean, really, people: there’s no need for Bad Synth in 2012 when we have endless access to Good Synth. But regardless, the overall effect is wonderful. If this doesn’t alter one’s whacked travel consciousness and de-stress them into a smiling heap of boarding pass bliss, I dunno what will.

[IMAGE] airport art

The subway, train and car tunnels of my home town of Manhattan and its environs are flooded tonight. It’s a complete mess that has disrupted the lives of millions, and will take a long time to repair. Meanwhile, each day and night at the Detroit Metro Airport, someone is experiencing the visceral offerings of flooding water and a long tunnel in a very different, and exceptionally beautiful way.

[IMAGE] airport art

October 20, 2012

Where’s Waldo?

[IMAGE] rock face

…click to listen:

…about the music

Stealth.

Tumbling out of the dinghy one day this summer and stepping foot on the little uninhabited island of Sucia, I was soon met by the above, um, native. He (yes, I think it’s a he) glared at me as I approached. Threatening. Massive, at twenty feet across.
“What sayeth thou who dare to pass here?” his gravelly voice boomed with disdain. I think the earth even shook a little bit.
Unfazed, I raised my camera.
And he turned to stone.
Ok, well, he was already stone.

But I was fascinated by this visage, and by the Rorschach-like effect on my perception. This sort of thing happens around here quite frequently: creatures appearing out of nowhere. Even before I start taking the psychedelic hallucinogens. Which clearly, I do not need. I am my own acid trip. Probably way too much of the time.

There are far more interesting and important musings I could share with you right now. Oh, yes yes yes. Life has not been dull recently, what with another jaunt this past week to Manhattan, a side trip up to Yale to give another very fun ASCAP Composer Career Workshop, a new piece, Kettle Brew, for timpani, percussion and prerecorded electronics that is dangerously close to being completed, and an entertaining, if ominous looking, hail-infused storm that sped across the Strait of San Juan What the Fuca quite suddenly this afternoon:

[IMAGE] storm

…which accompaned me as I caught up on everything on my desk, having survived everything in the above paragraph.

Yes, I could share other things with you. But instead, I am choosing this: the sight for a short while from one of my windows yesterday.

[IMAGE] blended

Pretty exciting, huh? Sure, you see the edge of my deck railing, some well-dried tall grasses courtesy of about 80 rainless days in a row, and then a really wonderful glob of igneous rock called “ribbon chert,” that upon closer inspection, truly appears as though lava is careening right toward the house. It looks like this:

[IMAGE] Rock

What you probably do not see, at least on first or second glance, is the decent sized animal in the photo. Gazing out the window in search of some of the right notes (having done a superb job finding many of the wrong ones for that piece I’m dangerously close to finishing), neither did I.

[IMAGE] blended
Nice rock.

Until it moved.

Wait for it…








[IMAGE] blended

And moved again.

[IMAGE] blended
Meow?

Wait for it…






[IMAGE] blended

The ultimate, um, catouflage. If I can make my musical notes as gracefully elusive and perfectly blended as a soft cat can make itself against this hard rock, well, I’ll have achieved something magical. Stealth has never been so impressive, nor so cute.

September 29, 2012

My return from the high planes

[IMAGE] prairie dog

…click to listen:

…about the music

A very grounded Wyoming prairie dog.

I’ve achieved a “personal best” in my flying life; I can’t recall ever having to endure so many take offs and [phew] landings on so many planes through so many states within a ten hour period. In light of the Virgil Thomson/Gertrude Stein opera, “Four Saints in Three Acts,” I think I’m well positioned to compose a sequel titled, “Five Landings in Four States.” On four planes, no less. Because that’s the description of my travels home yesterday after a really marvelous week as composer-in-residence for University of Wyoming’s New Frontiers Music Festival, whose talented music department faculty and students made the entire, lengthy commute entirely joyful and worthwhile.

The people in Laramie are very, very wonderful. But the small town is in the grips of a geo-political battle, and suffers sadly from a bitter fight between the academicians at the university who announce their research findings on the altitude:

[IMAGE] 7200 feet

and those who staunchly insist that, in fact, Laramie is a mere 277 feet above sea level.

[IMAGE] 277 feet
Where’s Vanna White when you need her? They don’t need a vowel, but they could stand to buy a “7.”

Since the latter are under the auspices of the U.S. government Federal Aviation Administration and are in charge of the airport that hosts this signage, I’m inclined to side with them on this divisive community issue. After all, these aviation experts are the ones who deal with altitude on a very regular basis. Surely, they must be right.

So on Friday, I awoke before dawn on the high plains of Laramie, Who/What/When/Where/Wyoming (elevation 277 feet). I then flew to Denver, Colorado (the “mile high city,” although now I’m wondering if they, too, have a delusional university faction that randomly adds 7,000 and claims that the place is 12,430 feet high). Then on to Salt Lake City, Utah, after a gate change from hell that rivaled any Olympic long distance race without offering a gold medal, which I surely deserved. Ok, maybe just the silver. Yes, this is how I stay in shape. And next, Seattle Washington, my final state for the day, not counting “blotto.”

[IMAGE] Mt. Rainier
Blotto or not, I will never tire of the thrill of flying past Mt. Rainier.

Thankfully, I was among the fortunate holy anointed ones upgraded to first class on the major legs of Denver and Salt Lake. As for the other two: the little planes from Laramie and to the San Juans wouldn’t be able to differentiate between business and economy class while keeping a straight face. The choices would be more like, First Class = inside the plane, and Coach/Economy = have fun riding on the wing and please don’t forget to hold on real tight.

Of course my aerodynamic fun did not stop in Seattle: I poured myself, and the intrepid 22″ that follows me everywhere like a devoted puppy (or whiny, stubborn toddler, depending), into a van that shuttles about 20 minutes north from SeaTac to Boeing Field. And soon I was putt-putting my way in a flying Tonka Toy to the San Juan Islands.

[IMAGE] Leaving Seattle
The view from starboard, passing Whidbey Island, with Mt. Baker in the distance.

Landing #4 of 5 was on Orcas Island, which is not the island on which my coffeemaker or plastic dino collection is located. Part of the fun of returning home is that I never know until the propeller starts spinning whether I’m going straight to Friday Harbor, or making a stop elsewhere first. But the flight over the archipelago is so damn gorgeous, I don’t mind the extra putt-putt miles at all.

[IMAGE] Eastsound airport

The command center of Orcas’s airport, located walking distance from the center of its town, Eastsound, is comprised of a cute little house they earnestly call a terminal, and looks like the kind of place one would buy hay, fertilizer, and a few small tools to bring back to the farm. Or, like you’re pulling up at Aunt Emma’s to pick up some of her fresh made applesauce. Except that the plane pulls up much closer to the little house than you’d probably be able to pull up to Aunt Emma’s. And I think she has more security. The TSA has thankfully decided to disregard our little piece of quirky paradise, and thus a small bastion of aeronautical civility remains somewhere in the U.S. Besides, in a place with so few residents, there’d be something creepy about getting a pat down from your neighbor who lives just down the road.

[IMAGE] Eastsound airport
Gotta love the airport hippie flower-child sign.

Houseplants, a little hanging box for the mail pickup, and a nice porch, offer a homey touch to greet you here. Two friendly blue doors next to each other are importantly labeled, “OFFICE” and “TERMINAL,” while a small sign to the right reads, “PILOT/Fresh food Eastside of Terminal.” Which would be about 47 inches to the other side of that door: hardly far enough to cause one to work up an appetite. Is this the corner I need to peer around, like hide-’n-seek, in order to find a pilot to operate the little Tonka Toy? And is all that fresh food they keep there reserved just for the pilot, or might it be shared– or at least rationed? I have no idea where they keep the stale food, but it’s probably just as conveniently close by. If they’re like me, they’ve got a compost pile behind the house.

[IMAGE] biplane
We enjoy all modes and colors of transport here.

Three of the seven passengers on this fully booked flight got off here. Then finally, it was up in the air again to reach my final destination, the fifth takeoff, fifth landing, and, what I feel deserves to be considered the fifth state of the day, San Juan Island.

[IMAGE] wheeee

[IMAGE] above Deer Harbor
Flying over Deer Harbor, into which I had sailed just the week before.

[IMAGE] above Friday Harbor
Coming in for a landing, in the bustling metropolis of Friday Harbor.

Awakening the next morning, I opened my eyes to a flock of starlings that were making their own touch-and-go landings and take-offs from my deck railing, without the involvement of the FAA or the TSA, much less the Audubon Society. I thought to myself, “these guys do this hundreds of times each day. Who am I to be such a wuss that a mere five times seems notable?”. I plopped my head back down on the pillow, closed my eyes, and thought about the inspiring week with my musical colleagues in Wyoming, that was totally worth all those newly collected boarding passes. The faculty made me feel exceptionally welcome, and the wonderful students made me feel like I offered something useful to them. But if only I could help Laramie with its serious elevation problem, and mend the painful strife in that charming town, well then, I’d really feel like I accomplished something meaningful! Sigh. A composer can only do so much.

[IMAGE] starlings
The Strait of Juan de Fuca defined between the Olympics and my birdie deck-orations.