October 7, 2013

You can’t shut this down

[IMAGE] angry Bald Eagle

…click to listen:

…about the music

REMEMBRANCE, live premiere, August 2013 by the U.S. Army Strings, Major Tod. A. Addison, conductor, at the Church of the Epiphany, Washington, D.C.

I’m blessed to live in a rural neighborhood that abuts one of the most spectacular gems of the United States National Park Service.

[IMAGE] American Camp

As of last week, the entrances to this, and all other such parks in the nation, have been blocked.

[IMAGE] road block

In response, I submit the following letter. Each point is accompanied by a photograph I’ve taken from, in, or of, the aptly named American Camp National Historical Park. Normally I would provide a link that readers could click to learn more, but alas, the National Park Service website has been taken down.

[IMAGE] NPS shut down

To Those Members of the U.S. Congress who voted to hold hostage the government services you were elected to oversee:

As a U.S. citizen and taxpayer, I write to readjust your perspective, by reminding you of how little power a politician actually possesses.

You have loaded your ideological weapon with the ammunition of irrationality and meanness, and you have fired it in the direction of the innocent. This dangerous combination of both the ability to aim well, and the lack of wisdom to know better than to do so, is currently preventing countless U.S. government employees from being able to pay their bills. Since the National Park Service is under federal purview, you have also shown that you can punish everyone else, whether from the U.S. or abroad, wishing to commune with our nation’s natural treasures.

Unwilling to accept the results from the same democratic process that placed you in your office, you have thrown your tantrum, and have effectively, if temporarily, shut down your own country.

But you can’t shut down the sunrises that stir American Camp’s horizon,

[IMAGE] sunrise

nor the sunsets that drape the Park’s peninsula with pastel affection.

[IMAGE] Golden Point

You can’t shut down the navy blue clouds,

[IMAGE] blue clouds

or the grey ones,

[IMAGE] grey clouds

or the orange ones,

[IMAGE] orange clouds

or the geometric ones,

[IMAGE] shelf clouds

whose journey to an unseen future endlessly shifts the light and shadows of American Camp.

You can’t shut down the sunshine,

[IMAGE] sunny vista

nor the fog,

[IMAGE] fog across American Camp

nor the kiss of the full moon on the weathered fingertips of ancient trees,

[IMAGE] moonrise

nor, for all your presumed power, can you stop the moon’s unfolding tongue from lapping at the Park’s waters: a glorious scene, witnessed by that most American of birds, the Bald Eagle.

[IMAGE] reflection

You can’t shut down the waves barreling toward the Park’s shores,

[IMAGE] storm waves

nor the massive logs of driftwood violently thrown upon American Camp’s pebbly beaches.

[IMAGE] driftwood on South Beach

You can’t shut down the rainbows that passionately spear the point,

[IMAGE] rainbow over Golden Point

nor can you blockade the storms that remind the cliffs that they cannot step out of the way.

[IMAGE] crashing waves

You cannot shut down the vistas,

[IMAGE] vista from American Camp

or the butterflies,

[IMAGE] American Camp butterfly

nor can you coax the secrets from these forests,

[IMAGE] American Camp woods

or from the mountains that frame this National Park.

[IMAGE] Cascades beyond American Camp

You can’t cordon off the Great Blue Heron’s tarmac,

[IMAGE] Heron landing

or prevent American Camp’s rugged coves from grinning at the Olympic National Park across the Strait.

[IMAGE] American Camp coves

You can neither halt the hypnotic motion of American Camp’s protected grasslands,

[IMAGE] grassland in American Camp

nor the chill of the snow that tickles them.

[IMAGE] snow in American Camp

You cannot shut down the unruly, un-policed, rioting wildflowers,

[IMAGE] wildflowers in American Camp

or the unkempt beauty of the Park’s sweet foxes.

[IMAGE] island foxes in American Camp

You can’t even stop the ones who, despite the park closure, defiantly visit the placard for Senator Henry M. Jackson, Conservationist at Large (he happened to be a Democrat).

[IMAGE] napping fox in American Camp

You cannot shut down the killer whales who hug American Camp’s shores,

[IMAGE] Orcas in American Camp

or the peaceable deer who graze its land,

[IMAGE] Black Tail deer in American Camp

and I assure you, Congress members, that though you can barricade my neighbors and me from this abundant acreage, you are powerless to ever, ever block our national bird from his home.

[IMAGE] Bald Eagle

I am fortunate that I can publish this pictorial letter so that others may have a tiny, pixelated glimpse of the beauty that Congress, in its shortsighted grab for elusive control, has temporarily wrested from us.

And it is most ironic that I type all of this to you, on Monday morning, October 7th, 2013, with the nation’s noble-feathered emblem standing calmly in front of me. We are both gazing out to American Camp.

[IMAGE] Remembering

My wish for you, members of the U.S. House of Representatives, and for all elected officials, is that you will remember what our beloved Bald Eagle represents, and more importantly, that you will remember who you were sent to Washington to represent. “E Pluribus Unum:” out of many, one. Unity. One nation. One which is a Democracy, in which when the majority of citizens and leaders have voted for something such as affordable health care insurance for everyone, then despite your political or personal preferences, you must uphold the will of the people.

This is not about politics, it is about decency. In the best of circumstances, you are stewards and caretakers. Like all of us, you, Congress members, must think of the needs of others, and protect those who cannot take care of themselves.

[IMAGE] Bald Eagle and chick

Along with the photographs of the national park I love the most, at the top of this post there is a link to my string orchestra piece, REMEMBRANCE, which was beautifully premiered this summer by another gem of this nation: the U.S. Army Strings, who are among the very best musicians in the country. I am proud to have an association with them and with other ensembles in the U.S. Armed Forces, and it is my hope that these groups will soon be able to return to the exceptional music-making for which they have been hired. Long after history has forgotten the squabbles of politics, it will always remember the culture of a civilization. Please cherish the arts we have nutured in the United States.

And finally, members of Congress, I hope that you have enjoyed these photos. Should you ever visit San Juan Island, it would be my pleasure to show you any of these stunning scenes, for they are considerably more remarkable in person than in pixels.

But for the moment, these pixels are the only access to this beauty that most people have.

Alex Shapiro
San Juan Island, WA

[IMAGE] Bald Eagle
Our national emblem of freedom, above the Salish Sea.

September 30, 2013

To be and to see

[IMAGE] tent site

…click to listen:

…about the music

Being and seeing. And, C-flatting. Which brings us back to B-ing.

Since I haven’t been filling this blog with as many entries as usual lately, this post will at least pick up some of the slack. Admittedly, my Facebook page gets Kelp Grrl’s quickie uploads of byte-worthy photos good for a one-shot lookie, if only to coax some fun responses. Yet the gist of this seaside site is that ideally, it’s a [mostly] nature photo essay (with a little music, even!) of whatever I deem not only byte-worthy, but… life-worthy. And so, dear readers, come along with me for a little ride through… British Columbia. Specifically: ten days in B.C.: also known as… a vacation!

[IMAGE] tent
I love camping.

This summer, filled as it was with friends, idyllic sailboat crabbing expeditions (ok, not quite as idyllic for the crabs), and great meals, was also filled with a tremendous amount of music work, throughout. I found myself juggling everything from composing new pieces, to adapting an older one, to creating a large distribution contract for the bigger ones, to preparing one work for recording, one for mixing, and yet another for publication, to prepping many of my best photos to entertain audiences during intermedia concerts of my music, to coping with the responsibility that comes along with being selected to present a big workshop on my new, passionate specialty, electroacoustic symphonic band music (say that five times fast), at the two largest conferences in the U.S.– one in Chicago in December, and the other in San Antonio in February.

I’m exhausted by simply reading all this, and if you click on each of the links you’ll see why. Who did all this stuff, anyway? It couldn’t have been me. I was too busy thinking about my end-of-summer va-cay.

And so, deadlines precariously tamed for the moment, on the Wednesday prior to Labor Day we packed up the car with essentials, and pointed it to the ferry headed for Sidney-by-the-Sea, in beautiful British Columbia. Our neighbor across the Haro Strait, 300-mile long Vancouver Island is just 9 miles from my house as the crow (or anything other than a zig-zagging bat) flies. Yet driving and ferrying there from here takes… wonderful… caaallllmming… hooouurrrrsss.

[IMAGE] ferrying
Passing between Spieden Island on the left, and Sentinel on the right, shrouded in mist that obviously spells out “bon voyage!” if you squint.

The trip had three distinct, geo-triangulating prongs: first, to visit friends 150 miles north, on Quadra Island in B.C.’s Discovery Islands (trust me: if you thought that San Juan Island was remote, Quadra is a lot more remot-er). Three relaxing days were spent in varying combinations of eating incredibly well, drinking notably well, visiting talented islanders in artist studios and on organic farm B&Bs (would you expect anything less up here??), watching movies each night in the luxury of our pals’ awesome pro screening room (not a whole lot of those on Quadra), and during the day, hiking around in gorgeous, damp, deep, moss-draped woods like fairy tale gnomes.

[IMAGE] mossy woods on Quadra

One afternoon, we picked [5 pounds of!!] chanterelle mushrooms, and then turned those fungi into even more incredibly great food that thankfully did not kill us.

[IMAGE] chanterelles
What a haul.

A full circle of complete delight, framed in something like a Beverly Hills hedonistic version of “Survivor”-meets-“Lost”. Except we smelled marginally better, and I only got directionally disoriented in the trail-less forest for about 17 minutes. During which I found even more mushrooms, so I considered that a win.

It was another 180 miles down from Quadra to the contrasting civilization of Victoria, where two fun days of more friends, more food, partially besotted strolling, and a terrific classic boat show awaited. Plus, they’ve got a really great weekend art fair. Our favorite booth was this one:

[IMAGE] bugs!

There must have been a hundred frames on the table. We were beside ourselves trying to decide which one to take home, and eventually settled on this aptly named Phyllium Pulchrifolium (having had three years of Latin I can tell you that this means “beautiful leaf”):

[IMAGE] bug!

She now hangs next to the wine rack in the kitchen, and intimidates the hell out of the fruit flies (remember: this is a mostly-nature blog. I get my fix however I can.).

Take this, for instance: seasoned Readers of The Kelp know that I rarely post photos of buildings or people. Unless there are killer whales in front of them. Score!

[IMAGE] orcas in Victoria

Quadra and Victoria conquered, the main course was upon us: a week of camping,

[IMAGE] outdoor kitchen
Why rough it, when you can bring the adult equivalent of an Easy-Bake oven??

on the beach,

[IMAGE] tent view

under a lovely canopy,

[IMAGE] tent view

on the very wild, western edge of Vancouver Island,

[IMAGE] B.C. beach

which is a lush, windy, no-services-for-a-reaaallllly-long-time-so-good-luck-pal five hour drive away,

[IMAGE] lush

just south of a hippie surf town…

[IMAGE] nice ride

… called Tofino. Everyone in these parts adores Tofino, and it’s easy to see why:

[IMAGE] deck view
A nice little cafe offered this deck for WiFi and good cappuccino.

[IMAGE] bay view
We found serenity at the botanical garden.

[IMAGE] marina view
Even the marina at Ucluelet is stunning.

After a summer of deadlines and one heck of a lot of notes attached to one heck of a lot of simultaneous projects that my feeble brain attempted and sometimes failed to keep straight, it was beyond blissful to be here, with nothing on an agenda, for days at a time. I read three books, which is three more books than I’ve read in almost three years because I’m so busy reading lots of other things that are not exactly books. Two by Annie Dillard, and another by Henry Beston, the subjects of which mirror my life as a writer living in a remote place surrounded by nature. Yes, I could have chosen political non-fiction or fanciful mystery novels, but I wanted to immerse myself in the words of artists I admire whose hearts were tugged by the same environment which tugs at mine. It felt so, so, wonderful to have their kindred companionship on this trip, and to read about something while experiencing the thing itself. The wind. The sand. The trees…

[IMAGE] Beston

[IMAGE] Dillard

…the two-minute showers.
Oh wait. Nope, there was nothing in these books about that. One of the, ahem, highlights of our campground was the pay-shower: one loonie (a Canadian dollar) gets you exactly two moderately warm minutes of cleanliness. Not one second more. Unless of course, you want to really splurge and make it a two-loonie shower. That seemed awfully extravagant, and we prided ourselves each day by reporting back to each other just how many extra seconds we had left on our sole loonie.
Camping definitely adjusts one’s perspective.

While one side of the Tofino area is barren, windswept beach, the other– right across the road!–is a wildly different temperate rain forest. Walking through the moist botanical gardens one day, I stumbled upon the remains of the last blogger to visit here:

[IMAGE] typewriter

As well as some petrified lovers.

[IMAGE] oh yes

And back at the beach, it was a total orgy.

[IMAGE] oh yes
Sea stars, anemones, and free love.

How utterly fitting that as I plunked myself down in the sand one late afternoon, something shiny glinted up at me. I dug out the used beer cap and smiled; a Salish Sea friend had followed along.

[IMAGE] orca beer

Oh, what a fabulous ten days it was. We were sad to leave, but rested and energized for the coming season of Lots More Work Which We Are Lucky to Have. We had come to B.C. from paradise, spent ten days in paradise, and then had the amazingly great fortune to return to paradise. For a vacation of the verbs to be and to see, B.C. was definitely the perfect place to act them out.

[IMAGE] going home

August 27, 2013

Excuses, excuses

[IMAGE] well read

…click to listen:

…about the music


Well, the reason I haven’t blogged for a month is the exact same reason I haven’t finished this big piece of music yet:

[IMAGE] access blocked

All access blocked.
Unless I only need to type plus-signs and end-quotation marks.
I mean, really: how am I expected to be able to work under these conditions?

Companion humans such as I, owned by loving animals who allow us shelter, are very tolerant of these sorts of inconveniences.
(I try to explain this to my clients).

[IMAGE] pet human

And so, blog readers wait for the next installment.
Audiences wait for the next piece.
And Bella and I wait for the muses to be kind.

[IMAGE] waiting

There’ll be more coming; stay tuned.
Or at least, microtonal.

[IMAGE] stay tuned

July 27, 2013

Serenity from the kelp

[IMAGE] low tide

…click to listen:

…about the music


Each summer, perfectly timed for the dramatic Salish Sea’s lowest tide of the season, the Friday Harbor Laboratories has a little get-together called the “beach walk.” Graciously hosted on the private property of one or another friend or board member of the Labs, about 50 people as inquisitive about sea life as I, but far more knowledgable, rise early in the a.m., tug on their mud boots or rubber-soled water sandals, and do their best to remain upright on the slippery kelp while examining all sorts of fascinating creatures who, more often than not, live well beyond reach.

[IMAGE] Blood star
Yikes! She cut herself! Naw… but the wonderful Blood Star is aptly named (hand model in this and all other pix: unknown).

None of these critters expected to have their beauty sleep interrupted by prying fingers gently coaxing them from upturned rocks, but they gamely played along as marine scientists enthusiastically described their eating habits and sex lives. Oh, the indignity! Depending on the luck of the animal, the scientist would chose whether to toss it back to the sea, or into a collecting bucket for further lab study. Yup: life is unfair.

[IMAGE] worm in captivity
Apparently, the early tide-pooler gets the worm.

And so, last weekend, on an exceptionally tranquil, hazy Sunday at 8:30 a.m.,

[IMAGE] low tide and kelp

…I was unusually social in my own hazy state. I’m not a morning person, but the dual joy of hearing from marine experts about what sea life has been up to recently, and hearing from my island friends about what they’ve been up to recently, makes it all worthwhile. Plus, as a member of the Labs’ Advancement Board for the past five years, it’s wonderful to invite new people and get them more involved in the great work that this extension of the University of Washington’s College of the Environment has been doing for so long.

[IMAGE] purple urchin
And speaking of extensions, this’ll wake anyone up: an impressively large Purple Urchin. Uh huh, those pointy spines are sharp. Just looking a them makes me go “ouch!”.

[IMAGE] star
An adorably small sea star. I named him Gumby.

[IMAGE] nudibranch
This nudibranch is stylin’ in its teeny weeny polka dot bikini.

[IMAGE] decorator crab
Unlike the snail above, decorator crabs aren’t nearly as discerning when it comes to fashion choices. They’ll just wear anything right off the rock. I mean, rack.

[IMAGE] worms
Here’s both a big worm, and a small worm called a “feather duster” in this jar (complete with nutritional information). Hard to see in this pic, but there’s an actual feather duster-like appendage on the lefthand end of the smaller worm. What they lack in fashion sense, they make up for in tidying up around the place.

[IMAGE] rower
In the distance, a man in a very small row boat floated on the placid, foggy horizon.

[IMAGE] bull kelp
Nature’s art: a flower-like mass of bull kelp at my feet.

Having spent enough time harassing innocent sea creatures, by the late morning it was time to return to my studio, refreshed, inspired, salty and slightly gooey. Surely, there must be many, many notes in this tangle of kelp! I’m avidly searching for the best ones, as I embark on several new works. There are many things I love about summers here at home on San Juan Island, and one of them is being here, at home, on San Juan Island. Apart from some sailing and camping adventures, I don’t leave the island for any work-related trips until late September. That has me smiling, “Ahhhh,” while it has my muses looking to the kelp, for all the right notes.

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.