Archive for 2009

Paths and windows

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

[IMAGE] Pacific coast ship wreck

[IMAGE] Pacific coast ship wreck

…click to listen:

…about the music

Finding out. And in.

Everyone has their own reaction to the end of the year. Inescapable holidays. Unstoppable chronology. Opportunities gained, and others lost. Family, friends, loneliness, or just peaceful solitude taken at home, while the rest of society swirls in a mad dash of annual tradition. I start and stop with Thanksgiving; beyond that, no other holiday captures my time or heart. I count myself among many who view Christmas with a cynic’s raised eyebrow (I’d say jaundiced eye, but mine remain brown and my besotted liver still functions remarkably well, thank you very… hic!… much). Some people truly adore their families and anticipate the yearly holiday gatherings with delight. For others, the odd discomfort of being artificially thrown into a food-infused petri dish with people simply due to a shared a strand or two of DNA, speaks only to the absurdity of social expectations.

While I have little emotion for what December represents, I do love January. I love the new year. I have a birthday soon after. I love getting older, racking up more experience, filling my life with more emotions and people and musical discoveries and mistakes and joys. It’s all real and it’s all vibrant and passionate. Each New Year’s is my time to hope and envision and dream and plan. And and and. There is always more that tugs and invites.

I hate tax time because I resent having to look backward. Even in a year that’s gone reasonably well, my gaze turns to flaws and errors and misjudgments and disappointments. You’d think the start of another year would create the same uneasiness in me, but instead, it’s always been filled with light and happy anticipation. I guess I’m blessed with either good brain chemistry, or the daftness of being the local village idiot. Either way, it’s rather pleasant.

I see this time of year as a series of paths and windows. Directional choices made and yet to be determined, and views to external and interior landscapes defined by my heart and its frailties. This is what has meaning to me. To the rest of the commercialized, media-driven fakery, the President and CEO of Notes From the Kelp, Inc. says: Bah! Humblog!

[IMAGE] Pacific coast ship wreck

[IMAGE] Pacific coast ship wreck


Friday, December 11th, 2009

[IMAGE] driftwood

…click to listen:

…about the music

Jam. No peanut butter.

I admit that I have a tougher time making time for certain things when my time is being spent in places other than the place I spend most of my time when I’m home: my studio. For as much as I get done in several realms at once, there is always much more that I want to do that just follows me around from city to city, waiting patiently for my attention like a deranged stalker, while my internal taskmistress takes care of nagging me mercilessly. In general, we all agree, there is never enough time. Even though we are the ones supposedly in charge of making time for what we need and want to do.

So from time to time there forms a logjam of many diverse things needing to be done, and of course one triages activity choices and responses based on urgency and abject fear that were one not to accomplish Said Seemingly Important Task within an imaginary, self-deluded time period, well then, the Earth would cease to spin on its axis and, most importantly… we would not be loved. Perish the thought.

So here I sit in Manhattan, on an island merely half the size of the one on which my studio sits, and having taken momentary refuge from the cold and wind, I am attempting to pry apart an impressively expanding logjam of work-and-life-related things. And one of those things is right here in Kelpville, where my heart is, despite my body being elsewhere. I offer this friendly note to tell you that my hands are itching to hold a camera in front of a scene containing no buildings, cars, traffic lights or cement. And when they do later this month, you’ll be the first to know. All in due time. Minneapolis, and then Chicago, await!


Saturday, November 28th, 2009

[IMAGE] Pacific Tree frog

…click to listen:

…about the music

Rain croak.

The embossed lettering atop my trash can instructs, “para que no entren los animales… lock the darn lid.” (my translation). Sure, the clever handles prevent raccoons and deer from enjoying the leftovers, but there is no stopping the renegade Pacific Tree frogs, who don’t read Spanish.

My studio window is wide open on this quiet, mild, grey Sunday, and I’m surrounded by the delightful and insistent commentary of many little frogs as I type this. They love this weather. Or maybe they despise it, and are whining. I can’t tell because I haven’t signed up for the Berlitz course in Amphibianese. Against a hazy, shifting ceiling, the grass and the trees are green, and remain so throughout the winter. Even in winter, it rarely looks bleak here because of two things: the perpetual verdant landscape, and the fact that ninety percent of the time, even our grey weather offers fluffy, three-dimensional clouds in varying hues, giving visual depth and movement to the sky. It really is quite poetic. The frogs provide the text. I keep my window open, to steal the music.

Taking flight

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

[IMAGE] Kenmore Air view

…click to listen:

…about the music

Moving. Always.

Yes, home again. After 17 days on the road. In the air, in hotels, in meetings, in rehearsals, in concert halls, in lecture halls, in receptions, in universities, in homes and apartments, in museums, in trains and cars and ferries and buses and taxicabs, in restaurants and bars and coffee houses and clubs, in elevators and up and down stairs and escalators and sidewalks and sometimes wondering where the heck I was going but all-times having a great time getting there and back.

Next week I begin another trip. Five cities. Six planes. Eighteen days.
I will be looking up at trees for partridges.

Colors of home

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

[IMAGE] sunset

…click to listen:

…about the music

Places of life and longing.

Above, the view from a friend’s house on the north end of San Juan Island, looking straight out to the Southern Gulf Islands of British Columbia and straight in to the universe. As I relaxed in one of those chairs, I was convinced that were this my home I would get absolutely no work done whatsoever.

Below, the full, intoxicatingly scented bloom of the island’s biggest lavender farm. Yes, it smells like it looks: instant calm. The web hasn’t figured out how to download that to your desktop yet. You’ll like it when I can put a little button on this blog screen that invites you to “click here” to experience the e-romatic wonder of this place. Now that’s how to reach an audience! Or, depending on what odors one offers, how to instantly repel them.

[IMAGE] lavender farm

And here, one of my frequent visitors (or, music critics). He and his big ears keep coming back, as if to check to see if I’ll ever get it right. I mean, seriously: just look at the utter exasperation on his face.

[IMAGE] visitor

Orange, purple, green, brown and all the other parts of the spectrum make up one beautiful aspect of my life. It’s pretty fascinating to embrace a bifurcated existence: one that’s remote and rural, and another that takes me from city after city– every month. Writing music, then talking about it in all those places. And, back again. I thrive on this balance, and post these snapshots not only to share the scenes with you, but to remind me what awaits in 17 days when I return from the five-state journey my 22″ roll-on and I start in the morning (uh, I think that might be the states of: confusion [where am I right now?], momentary panic [where did I place my boarding pass?], general bliss [what friendly people!] , illusion [surely they get what I’m talking about…uh… no?] and calm [yes, I’d love another glass, thank you]). I’ll try to post something here from the road while I’m traveling. No matter what state I happen to be in.

Water blogged

Friday, October 30th, 2009

[IMAGE] water

[IMAGE] water

[IMAGE] water

…click to listen:

…about the music


More photos of my favorite thing.
All taken in the same place, at the same time.
Absolutely zero retouching or effects.
When real life looks like a Photoshop filter, things are good.

I like how the green of the sea echoes the green of the trees in my previous post.
Living green. Up, and down.

Plenty is swirling around the Shapiro waters these days, and it’s a fun place to swim (no kick boards, though– I gotta use my arms and work!). A few readers have commented and, nearly complained, that I rarely write very much here about what fills my days apart from finding new and improved ways to photograph kelp and spiders. It’s true: for three and two-thirds years of continuous blogosity, I’ve chosen the purposeful tack of showing visitors what I do (via the music clips that underscore all these little snapshots), rather than telling them. I’ve always figured that if anyone is that interested in the newsy stuff, they’ll pop over to Alex World for their fix. But once in a while I suppose a summary is appropriate, so here’s another snapshot– not of the nature that’s surrounding me on this island, but the nature of what’s surrounding my life this month.

Yesterday I taped another virtual reality show for Music Academy Onlive, whose terrific Dave Schwartz (aka Benton Wunderlich) has hosted me on three of his other Second Life shows in the past. This latest one was courtesy of a grant from Meet the Composer, and I think I may be their first virtual project (Meet the e-Composer? There are plenty of days when I feel rather disembodied, doing business in four continents in an afternoon without ever hearing anyone’s voice, much less feeling their handshake, so the role of virtual composer seems fitting. So long as I am not paid in virtual moolah). Thanks to this nifty project, there are brand spanking new videos of six more of my pieces, plus the hour-long interview we shot in which I talked about my music and even more about my views of what it is– and is not– to create a viable career aligning little black dots. All of this will be posted on my website and my [oh-geez-finally-to-be-created] YouTube channel soon. You can point and laugh at my avatar’s Restless Leg Syndrome. I just couldn’t control that wild gal.

Two of those voice-less continents have been using up some of their hard drive space for my notes: in Germany, the fearless pianist Susanne Kessel has just recorded my new solo piece Slowly, searching, and I’m told the CD it will spin on, Kreisleriana 2010, will come out on Obst Records in January. And in the other hemispheric direction, Australian resident and flutist extraordinaire Peter Sheridan’s new CD, Below: Music for Low Flutes was released last month on Move Records, titled after the piece Peter commissioned from me for the project (a clip of which you can hear, above). Peter’s been touring with Below extensively, and it’s also starting to get a lot of radio play which makes Peter, me, and a bunch of Pacific Humpback whales (you’ll have to read about it ), smile.

In between a trip to the east coast next week and some time in Minneapolis speaking at the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute, I’m looking forward to being in Chicago in a couple of weeks for the premiere of my latest large chamber work: Archipelago, for string quartet, double bass, and woodwind quintet. The marvelous and intrepid Fifth House Ensemble is either humoring me with kind delusions, or, the piece is actually going rather well in rehearsals. I’m hoping it’s the latter, if only because, as my good friends will tell you, I enjoy being in a constant state of delusion.

But before that event, I have another premiere of sorts: this Sunday, November 1st, for the first time since I was a teenager, I’m acting in a public reading of a wonderful play by actor/playwright Michael Herber, who lives here on San Juan Island. He’s written a deeply touching story about Vietnam veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and plagued by survivor’s guilt, and I play the role of the narrator, covering everything from hilarity to utter anguish. Charles, who did a great job starring in a monologue earlier this year at the Playwright’s Festival, plays one of the lead vets. I have yet to make it to my final line without tearing up.

Water, water, everywhere.

And yes, there is a weekly stream of board meetings, panel meetings, committee meetings (someone slap me please before I say yes to one more thing), filling orders for my publishing company’s distributors (thank you!), and, golly, people, things and activities that are very enjoyable and have nothing directly to do with my music work whatsoever. Although, any composer will tell you that it’s all inseparable, and everything we do and all that we are is what gets poured out into our new pieces. Music is my life’s reflecting pond, and all I can do is just hope that the water beneath the surface is deep enough so that when I fall in, I don’t bonk my head too hard.

Ghost in the woods

Monday, October 19th, 2009

[IMAGE] foggy woods

The view from my studio door…

[IMAGE] fog

…click to listen:

…about the music

Strangely beautiful.

After spending the better part of the week in Philadelphia to give a workshop, I was happy as always to return to the woods. The weather was still warm enough, but a front was moving in the afternoon I puddle-jumped back to the island, and I was reminded why just about this time of year is when I start to favor the ferries when possible. The clouds were far beneath us and the sky was beautiful, yet filled with forceful, intermittent, invisible chop that attacked from seemingly nowhere.

I awakened the next morning to the familiar sound of the ferry’s insistent horn as it chugged blindly through the San Juan Channel. The fog that rolled in with the rain was thick and completely obscured the rising sun. When I lived on my sailboat in the Santa Barbara harbor, our slip was right next to the end of the breakwater and might as well have been inside of the fog horn. Fog horns, while somewhat romantic from afar, are more than somewhat annoying when they continuously bleat their warning only a few yards from one’s ears. I much prefer the romance of the vessels that glide on the water and sing, slightly off key, to each other.

Apples, ho!

Saturday, October 10th, 2009

[IMAGE] anchored at Shaw

…click to listen:

…about the music

Fruits of a water crossing.

A few days ago, we got a last minute call from a pal to join him with a few other island friends on his 46′ sailing ketch…

[IMAGE] headed to Shaw

… to go apple picking.

Now, most folks don’t take a sailboat to an orchard, but this ain’t most places. By noon we were underway the very short distance to Shaw Island, a place of serenity, fruit, and remarkably clear water.

[IMAGE] water at Shaw

After anchoring in a little bay, we loaded the rowboat with empty bins and, thinking ahead, a large hand truck (not standard equipment on either a sailboat nor a dinghy), and oared to shore over lovely clear jellies floating atop the eel grass.

[IMAGE] jellies at Shaw

The Shaw Invasion had begun (the jellyfish were shaking in fear, I’m certain). Climbing up from the beach, we walked down a rural path about a hundred yards until we found ourselves in the middle of an apple orchard, and wasted no time determining which of the bright red orbs were worth plundering.

[IMAGE] apples at Shaw

The answer turned out to be, “quite a lot of them.”

Hauling our winnings back to shore, we realized that we could add more than enough fiber to the diet of a small nation with the number of apples we had in tow.

[IMAGE] road on Shaw

It took a few strong shoves to get the overladen rowing dingy out to sea again, there were so many pounds of fruit.

[IMAGE] back from Shaw

At this point in the story I should be showing you a beautiful photo from my kitchen of the incredible delicacies I created from this windfall. Instead, I admit that since returning to shore that afternoon, life was too busy for me to learn how to cook or bake (someday, someday!), and instead I’ve enjoyed the apples one raw bite at a time. This was my very first time apple picking, in fact: growing up in Manhattan, I used to think that they came prepackaged under a cellophane window on styrofoam in polite groups of six. I had never before seen apples in their natural habitat. The whole Newton/gravity thing finally came alive for this aged school girl when she saw what happens when you shake a ripe tree. Apple-ied physics!

Persona non blogger

Monday, September 28th, 2009

[IMAGE] Friday Harbor airport

[IMAGE] San Juan Islands

[IMAGE] Friday Harbor airport

…click to listen:

…about the music

A busy and sometimes abyss-mal schedule.

Ok, in the four years of this bloglet’s humble history, I don’t think I’ve ever gone quite this long without offering a new post. But then again, in the years of my business travel, rarely have I been gone from home for 12 days. Sandwiched between daunting deadlines that included finishing a double quintet for an imminent delivery, writing a speech, filling several publishing orders from distributors here and in Europe, responding to online students, preparing materials for an upcoming workshop I’m doing, and scooping kitty litter (there’s always a deadline on that one, lemme tell ya), I was amazed to actually get out the door and fling myself to the east coast once again. And, back, at least for two weeks until I leave for Philadelphia. Details of this past jaunt abound on my website, for the curious. Teaser: one of the highlights was testifying on an FCC panel hearing in Washington, D.C. No, I did not use a dirty word in one of my choral works…

I’m lucky that the two airports I spend a lot of time at on the west coast are really quite terrific (I cannot say the same for the particular terminal I usually end up in at JFK, which looks like the inhuman, dilapidated set from an outtake of Blade Runner). SeaTac, with its glass-intensive terminal, offers some good food and drink and a human scale on which to enjoy it. And adorable Friday Harbor airport is a delight, as one hops out of one’s car and hops right into the flying version of one: a waiting puddle jumper. I always have a camera in my hand on those flights over the islands, never knowing what fascinating vision I’ll capture. But this last departure surprised me with a photographic fluke: as we lifted into the air above the tarmac, I pointed my iPhone out the window (didn’t bring my real camera on this particular trip), and just randomly… snapped. One photo. When I downloaded the pic later, I was amazed: it was perfectly level (even though I was not) and, perfectly, symmetrically cropped. I did absolutely nothing to manipulate or edit the top photo you see here. Freaky! In a good way. Like life itself, much of the time.

Spreading the word

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

[IMAGE] harbor view

…click to listen:

…about the music

Find out…

This is the view of Friday Harbor from the top deck of a favorite outdoor restaurant. Clue: they serve a lot of crab, shellfish, and other incredibly fresh critters that used to swim freely in the sea until extremely recently. As summer starts to wind down and the last gasp of friendly tourists comes to visit us friendly natives, I realize that pretty soon it’ll be a little brisk to sit here in my T-shirt and shades, sucking down a San Juan Island Ice Tea (aka, Wrong Island Ice Tea) and munching on sea protein. I haven’t eaten meat or birds for almost twenty, count ’em, twenty years. My motto is that if it can look me in the eye and walk away on all fours, it’s safe.

Fish can’t walk. Yet.

I admit to being a full-fledged pescaterian: I enjoy fish. A lot of it. I live in the right place, that’s for sure. We get our fish, quite literally, off the dock. My body and feeble little brain just need that kind of protein. And I hear that high doses of mercury are just great for beating wrinkles.

I can go on and on about my views on vegetarianism, and I won’t bore you with them all here. Ok, maybe a few of them. Suffice it to say that like many of you reading this, I’m highly opposed to obscene-scale factory farming, to the drugs and awful things that are given to cows and chickens to eat to grow conveniently fat, to the manner in which these creatures are treated, and to the damage done to the land and the earth in the pursuit of the trillionth quarter-pounder. I have, however, no objection to raising and killing the food for a family or small community to consume. Humans are carnivores. We have these teeth for a reason. It’s not a sin to eat meat. It’s a sin to abuse the land and the animals the way we’ve come to.

Mega-scale commercial fishing is no better, believe me, I am well aware. This is my sin, supporting that industry through some (not all) of my fish purchases. This is my hypocrisy. But some action is better than no action, and even for those who choose to eat meat, the important thing is sharing information that could bring about change. We must divulge the truths that have become the ugliness of a once-acceptable business. Whether you or I purchase an eerily shrink-wrapped chunk of hormone-laden, unidentifiable flesh in our local grocery store on a Thursday afternoon is not going to do much to turn the tide of the farming industry. I’ve noticed that it seems to be doing just fine without my contributions. But what is significant is educating people about where that animal product came from and how it came to be. I did interviews last year for both the Vegetarian Times and the VegNews, and in both I made it clear to the writers that I eat like a native Pacific Northwesterner/Native American, but that the message of awareness and responsibility is what I want to spread.

Uh, along with the crab dip ;-).


Monday, August 31st, 2009

[IMAGE] framed

…click to listen:

…about the music


My little Smudge has no idea just how perfect his reflection looked in the framed pastel hanging across from my desk. I couldn’t have positioned him like this had I tried.

I’m reflecting, too, on the toll the massive fires are taking in my former home turf of Los Angeles. I’ve been following the reports on the web, and trying to transmit humid, cooler thoughts to the pyro gods above. During the 24 years I lived in southern California I experienced a lot of wildfires, a handful of which came frighteningly close to the physical spaces that contained fragile, temporal proof of my existence. Once you’ve been through it, a visceral reaction is unavoidable. Bravi to the brave: the tireless firefighters, working so hard in these hellish conditions, risking, and sadly sometimes giving, their lives in an effort to protect everyone else’s.

Sayonara for a Cyanea

Monday, August 24th, 2009

[IMAGE]   jellyfish

…click to listen:

…about the music

Elegy for a sea kitty.

I’ve featured Lion’s Mane jellyfish on these enpixelated pages once or twice before, but they’re always so fascinating to me that I can’t help but share this one with you. It’s roughly 18 inches wide, and in the process of ending its life, which spans only about a year. I hope it was a pleasant one filled with everything that a jelly might desire. Did it float around to wonderful places with comfy temperatures? Get enough sex? Eat out at some great spots, enjoying the background music of the passing Orcas’ latest hits? I hope so.

I often see them washed up along the beach here where I walk by the house, and I love to kneel and study them closely. Tempting as it is to touch their soft, gel-like skin, I resist. Even in this weakened state, they can offer quite a zippy sting that is officially referred to as, “seldom fatal.” I don’t care for those two words next to each other.

In life these jellies are magnificent and graceful creatures; in death, they remain beautiful as the sunlight reflects deep oranges and maroons from their weakening bell. Unnaturally upturned edges plead to the sky, as the rocks below coax them gently to the shore with each wave. It’s inspiring to witness a creature that’s as gorgeous in death as it is in life.