Wednesday, November 7, 2007


Carnegie. Remember the first time you played there?

"Yeah. It was the last."

Do you remember the last time you played Elizabeth Hall?

"Yeah. It was the first."

Some rooms are cozy. Some chilly, drafty, open, or poorly lit

Rarely nicely lit

But when you come right down to wit

They're all just rooms.

Some rooms have views,

views to the future, even.

Some do not..

You have to see the future,


Have your own view of it

make rooms for it,

or just a room,

cozy, well-lit, or not…

Purview, or Pay-Per-View -

But make a room.

And make up my room while you're at it!

Friday, October 26, 2007

living the dream

Many years ago I performed a piece of music, written by a good friend of mine, called "Satie Dream".

I remember liking the piece, but finding it hard to understand and learn to do. It was a very strange piece, hard to assimilate. But something about it has stayed with me.

Today I remembered something Satie said, quoted in a book of his letters. He said "It's odd. You find people in every bar willing to offer you a drink. No one ever dreams of presenting you with a sandwich."

In my Satie Dream, I present you with a sandwich.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


It goes without saying that every composer wants name recognition. So there, I said it anyway, and I'll say it again. Every composer wants name recognition. It's good for your career. In fact, without at least some name recognition, you don't actually have a career. Not as a composer anyway.

Like some composers, some animals have name recognition too. But it's a little different. The idea for composers is to have other people recognize their names.

"Oh, John Adams. Yes, I've heard of him. He's the only composer in Alaska."

"No, that's the other John Adams. John Luther Adams. He lives in Alaska. I was referring to the real John Adams."

Both composers have a certain amount of name recognition, but one of them has a whole lot more than the other. The same could be said for John Lennon. No, not the first dead Beatle. John Anthony Lennon, new music composer.

The idea with animals is that they recognize their own names. Your cat Fluffums has never heard of either John Adams. But Fluffums recognizes his own name when you talk to him. Maybe not when someone else does, but any dog or cat owner (I don't know about snakes or goldfish) will assure you that their pet recognizes its name. But if you have more than one dog or cat, you also know that you speak to each one a little differently. It's not just their name they recognize, but how you say it. This is kind of a musical thing. The pitch and inflection and other nuances are part of what the animals recognize. In fact, maybe that's all they really do recognize. I don't know for sure.

Sometimes animals get named after composers. I don't know why that is; I don't think names of famous composers (i.e. those with a lot of name recognition) make good names for pets. But there is a movie about a dog named Beethoven. And I recently met a dog named Sibelius. Not good pet names. But if pets can have famous composer names, why shouldn't famous composers have "pet names"?

So, let's play a game shall we? We'll call it "Name the Composer".

Here are the names of six contemporary American composers with a significant quantity of name recognition (for contemporary composers, that is; they're not exactly household words):

Philip Glass

Joan Tower

Aaron Jay Kernis

Augusta Read Thomas

John Harbison

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich

And here are six popular names for pets :







All you have to do to play is match each pet name to a composer. Use each name only once. Once you've matched up the names, say each one out loud, and find that special musical nuance, that cute voice, that particular inflection that goes with each name, just as if each composer were one of your pets.

That's all there is to it. Now, whenever you hear that composer's name, think of them as you would your pet, and say their "secret name", out loud, or to yourself.

Of course these names are just suggestions to get you started. You can make your own lists, and make as many composer/pet name combinations as you like.

If this idea catches on, maybe we can start up some composer rescue programs and composer shelters. Jack Vees has suggested a composers petting zoo. I like that idea.


I haven't done much electronic music, and what I have done is not anything I could say I am known for, if I am known for anything at all.

My introduction to electronic music was during my freshman year in college. I took a class that included the Moog modular synthesizer – the kind used by Wendy Carlos, when she was still Walter, on the album Switched On Bach - with a very nice gentleman by the name of Leslie Kleen.

One day I got very excited when I accidentally stumbled onto the fact that you could pretty much haphazardly connect a bunch of patch cords into the various voltage controlled modules, and the Moog would take over and do these long, crazy loops. I had a real nice one going, very hypnotic and seductive – and something I could not have foreseen or deliberately come up with on my own – so I immediately started the Revox and got a full reel of it on tape.

Not long after that Dr. Kleen gave us an assignment for our final exam. I don't recall all the parameters or requirements, but we had to produce some kind of studio piece using things we had learned and worked with in class.

I thought "Hah, I've already got my piece finished. No sweat". Then Kleen went on to say "But you can't just plug a bunch of patch cords into the Moog and let it loop. Everyone stumbles onto that right away".


So I had to come up with something from scratch. I think mine was a musique concrete tape piece, with reverb used to the extreme, almost as an instrument in itself, not an enhancement. I recall getting a good grade, with Dr. Kleen remarking on the effective use of reverb.

That was my last foray into the realm of electronic music for probably the next twenty years or so, other than building a few ring modulators and other effects to use with instruments in performance. I didn't do studio pieces – and still don't. But I digress…

Anyway, I heard a lot of electronic music when I was in grad school, most of it done live on Serge modular synths. The thing about the Serges was that everyones' was different. Some guys were way into pulse generators, whereas someone else might need a larger filter bank. In effect, everybody using a Serge built their own instrument. But to be hip, to be in the club and have any respect, you couldn't label anything. You were supposed to know what everything was, and if you had to label any module you were a total loser. But my real point is, the music was loud.

Okay, not Butthole Surfers loud. I heard the Buttholes twice, and standing in the back of the hall with ear plugs it still felt like getting punched in the chest every time the drummer played the kick. It was LOUD. I also heard Cage's Lecture On the Weather, accompanied by Marianne Amache's recording of a thunder storm. Just setting up and sound checking she blew out two or three sets of JBLs. She wanted it REAL LOUD, and it was hard to find gear that would stand up to her demands. But once they worked it out, it was like being in the middle of that storm, awesome. Then there was the time I heard Zorn at Harvard, with Bill Frisell and some other guitarist. They were all playing through Twins, turned up to 11. That's the loudest thing I ever heard, so loud there was no music discernable to my ear. I haven't heard anything by Zorn that I much care for, but I couldn't say for sure whether I might have liked that set or not. It was so loud I couldn't hear it. It was, in my assessment, deliberately confrontationally loud, a way to see how quickly he could clear the room. People were leaving in droves, if only to save their hearing (some of us would like to be able to listen to music for the rest of our natural lives). I'd say that was too loud, beyond what any music requires. My point is I've heard some real loud music. But I digress…

What I'm getting at is that a lot of the electronic music I heard in grad school I quite liked, and most of it was pretty damn loud. It sounded good loud, and I liked it that way. It was like, hey, the stuff is amplified and coming out of loudspeakers, maybe it's meant to be a bit louder than what you can do with only instruments, even a whole orchestra.

So anyway, several years ago I was performing on a concert of (mostly) live electronic music. And it was all so polite. So gentle, so peaceful. And so quiet. And so not interesting. Not only was it not loud, it wasn't noisy either. Electronic music is mostly done with computers now, and it seems to me that the Holy Grail of these laptop composers is to create the cleanest noise possible. Sorry guys, I like REAL noise. Give me a Big Muff anytime. Hell, just plug it in and you've got some real noise without even putting a signal in it. Now THAT'S noise. What's this obsession with clean noise anyway? And quiet besides.

So, a while later I happened to cross paths with Barry Schrader, composer of electronic and electro-acoustic music. I said "Barry, didn't electronic music used to be loud? It's all so quiet now."

Barry said "We got smarter".

Sorry, Barry. I liked electronic music better when it was loud. If you want quiet, write for recorder.
And you can keep your clean noise, too. I like mine dirty.


Okay, so once I was playing with a well-known contemporary music ensemble at a major festival in the United States. One of my pieces was on the program. We had a false start because a keyboard wasn't turned on, but once we got that straightened out the performance went very well indeed, and I thought the piece was well received.

So sometime later some friends of mine who are in another very good contemporary music ensemble were having a party. One of the guests in attendance was a woman who had been the Executive Director of the aforementioned Major Festival the year we perfomed my piece. The exact words were never reported to me, but apparently this woman was dissing me in no uncertain terms. She really did not seem to like me.

One of my friends asked her "What's your problem with Mr. Composer Head? I think he's a real nice guy, and a fine composer".

Former Major Festival Executive Director Lady replied "Mr. Composer Head cost me my job. Because of his piece, I was fired".

I'm not sure how that's possible, but that's what she claimed, or so I was told.

So, when was the last time your music cost someone else their job?


A couple of years ago my mom turned 80. (Come to think of it, her 83rd is coming up soon. ) She has, by the way, NEVER taken a prescription drug. She will live to see me buried, I am sure of this. But that's another matter…

Anyway, we had a big party at my brother's place, and many relatives were present. I don't actually know most of my relatives. My dad always insisted that we were a very close family, but I had to question that when I figured out I had uncles that I had never seen face to face, and have cousins my own age that I haven't seen or communicated with since I was five.

But here's what I'm getting at.

My wife is not a very "spiritual" person. She is a Unitarian. That means you don't really committ to any particular belief, although you could if you wanted to. I think she believes in some sort of god though, and her sense of ethics is way beyond reproach. Sometimes it pisses me off. When we travel, she takes all our trash back home so she can recycle it. That's just too righteous for my taste, sorry. Just leave the Pellegrino bottles in the trash please. THEY can recylce them if they are so inclined.

But I digress…

Where was I? Oh, yeah. Actually I am probably the more "spiritual" one of us, in a strange way. I was raised by an Evangelical minister, whose idea of a summer vacation for the family was to drag us all to Bible camp. Can you even begin to imagine just how much that sucks? It truly and surely reeks. It bites. It blows. You never want to go to Bible camp, even if you are a Christian. But I'm getting off topic again.

My point is that my wife has a creedless faith, and I have none, but I know a lot more about faith and creeds and spiritual pathways than she ever will. My "Damascus Road" experience, however, was not what my dad would have liked me to have. I remember the weight, the burden, the onus that suddenly left my weary shoulders and flew away the day I was first able to look at myself in the mirror and say out loud "I am not a Christian". If felt so good, I said it over and over again. "I am not a Christian, I am not a Christian, I am not a Christian".

Then I went a step farther. I realized, fully and truly, that I don' t have to believe in anything. I can if I want to, but I think that real freedom is knowing that you don't owe it to God, your dad, or yourself to commit to a belief of any sort. Frankly, I actually don't care if there is a god or not. It's just not a question that I need answered. If God exists, I would prefer he just leave me alone.

But here's what I'm leading to.

At this party, my wife was playing some music with my niece. My niece is a competent pianist, and my wife is a very fine cellist. My wife brought a bunch of music that she selected because she genuinely respects and honors my mother's Christian faith, and wanted to give her a gift of music that my mom would know and appreciate. And face it kids, there's nothing wrong with the musical quality of traditional "Negro spirituals" even if they don't resonate your own personal faith.

So the cello and piano duo start up Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. One of my brothers, who does believe, just jumped up and went over by my wife and started singing. He was just moved by the spirit to burst out in song. I was so moved by how moved he was that I went and stood next to him, singing in full voice. Then my oldest brother came and joined us. Three brothers, not much faith among them, singing as one, a song that means a lot to one of them, maybe a bit more to the oldest, and very very precious little to me.

But it was the first and only time I have ever raised my voice in song with my two brothers. And you can't buy that kind of experience. Music that just happens, in a moment unplanned, for no real reason except I am not going to miss the chance to sing with my brothers! Hell, we didn't even harmonize. We just sang in unison. And we didn't really know the words, so we just recycled the first verse.

Then we sang Amazing Grace. I hate that song, and I hate what it means. But God, please give me one more chance to sing like that with my brothers. I still won't believe, but I will give thanks.

That was a blessing, and my mom was filled with joy. Not such a bad thing for music to do to a person, or family.


I've never been one for background music, although I like Satie, and even Brian Eno well enough. Although Satie's Furniture Music doesn't really work. At least it didn't at the premiere, where he had to tell people to stop listening and talk and visit. And a lot of Eno is installation, music that you really can walk in and out of, listen as long as you like, or not. It works, because it's made that way on purpose. Most music is not.

Some people can't seem to live without background music, and many are prone to using it in what I consider inappropriate situations. My wife once put on Ives string quartets during a small dinner party. I asked "Honey, what are you thinking?". She said "Everyone here likes this". I like Ives too, a lot - but…

Anyway, I woke up this one morning with a song going through my head, not one of my most favorites, but one I like a lot. So, it wasn't driving me crazy, but it was persistent. I had some work to do, and – uncharacteristically for me – I figured what the hell, if the song wants to be heard that badly I'll put on the record. So I dragged out the vinyl LP and put on Side One, the side with THE SONG on it. Then I went about my work.

Well, what I was doing took me back and forth, back and forth, between the house and the garage. The garage is just off the kitchen, so I could still hear the record, sort of. But I always closed the garage door behind me so as to keep the kitten out of there, so I couldn't "really" hear the music. So the music kept cutting in and out on me, and it was my fault. It was driving me crazy. Just when a great guitar solo would start, I would need a tool.

So, I figured I either had to turn off the record and get back to work, or sit down and listen until the side was over.

The music won out. I listened.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Mister Composer Head Talks About Sincerity

Okay, so I'm back to practicing the banjo. I'm not sure how to spell that – "practising/practicing". They are both correct, but one is more British than the other. I prefer the British one. Whenever I use it (i.e the British spelling) though, an Editor FIXES it. Don't you just hate Editors?

But I digress…

Someone drew this on a sidewalk (c) David Ocker

I can't play much on the banjo, but I do okay with my favorite country song, "I'm Sure To Fall", by Carl Perkins. That's real country, not the country pop shit that we've been subjected to the last couple decades. Make no mistake. Perkins is country pop too. But it is so much closer to the roots, and not pre-fabricated with stardom and money as the purpose of the music. I think he wrote a real song, for all the right reasons. I could be wrong – it would be the first time, but it could happen – but I don't think so.

But anyway, I played a gig in New York once, with a duo I once played in. We did "I'm Sure To Fall". I played sruti box and sang. Now, I should mention that this was a real sruti box. It only produces certain pitches, and you have to work the bellows with one hand. So you only have one hand left ( it could be the right) with which to manage hole coverage duties in order to get the various combinations of pitches that will imply the chord progression. Plus it's really flat by Western standards, so the guitar player has to completely retune. That's no big deal because everybody from Hendrix to Guns & Roses played a 1/2 step flat on purpose.

But I digress…

Someone dripped this on the sidewalk (c) David Ocker

The thing is this. When we went into Sure To Fall, I felt my heart warm up, got a bit of a lump in my throat, and was aware of a little moisture in my eyes. My heart and mind were filled with thoughts of my wife, and I sang that song for her. That sounds stupid, and it is. But I don't care. That's how it felt.

So the same duo did a gig in L.A., and we did Sure To Fall, by Carl Perkins. Afterwards someone came up to me and said "I'm sure glad you did that country song. You obviously love that song, and it put everything else you did in context". Words to that effect.

The next day I go at an e-mail from a composer friend who was also at that show. Heard the same set, the same songs as the aforementioned guy. She said "It must be nice to be able to put yourself on a pedestal like that, making fun of other peoples' work". Words to that effect.

She picked up on no love, no sincerity.

Why would I work so hard to poke fun at something I don't like? I just would not bother.

I explained this to her. She sent an apology. That was gracious, if unnecessary. She is a classy person.

Someone spray painted this on the sidewalk (c) David Ocker
A friend of mine has often commented that Bruce Springsteen sells "mock sincerity". I think that's fair. Bruce can convince his audience that he actually cares about what he's singing about. I suppose only his hair dresser knows for sure.

But another composer friend remembers hearing Bruce at a bar in New Jersey, way before stardom. He said "You don't have to like Bruce Springsteen, but it was about the best bar band I've ever heard". Words to that effect.

Funny thing about bar bands. They rarely "make it". No matter how good they are.

Keith Richards was asked once what he thought of Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine. He said "They're a lounge band that made it".

I once roasted a pig, named Gloria Estefan, and she had a caption bubble that said "I'm Gloria Estefan. I'm a real pig, and you can eat me!"

Words to that effect.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Mr. Composerhead Tells A Cage Story (OR TWO)

(As Mr. Composerhead's Amanuensis I apologize for falling behind in my work. Here is a long delayed Mr. Ch. essay with my pictures. Comp-head doesn't DO pictures, I guess. As a lesser student of Earle Brown I had personally forgotten about the Kontarskys but what Composerhead says is very true. /David, Mr. Head's-uensis.)

Fallen Conehead (c) David Ocker

Okay, so John Cage was fond of telling stories, and he told a lot of them. Much of his writing consists in anecdotes. Sort of reminds me of Earle Brown, except Earle didn't write that much. But his "teaching" consisted, for the most part, in telling stories about the Kontarsky brothers…

But I digress

Behind the purple fence (c) David Ocker

There's another composer who has a blog and recently posted a little anecdote about John Cage. It's very nice. (They always are.)

An artist friend once said to me that about the worst word you could use to describe anything or anyone is "nice". He considered "nice" to be a particularly derogatory word. But in a backhanded sort of way, because it doesn't sound bad. It's how you use it. Just like "bad" actually means "good", when used in an 80s slang sort of way.

When I was a kid living in Michigan my older cousins were using "tough" to describe a particularly desirable girl. "Yeah, she's tough". I never adopted that one myself. But I think I got it.

You can make a word mean almost anything you want, just by how you use it.

I think it has been said, somewhere, by someone, "Context is everything".

Window in a Green wall (c) David Ocker
When I was in college in Ohio, some of the guys were using "tits" to suggest that something was particularly cool. "Man, that's tits". I'm not sure how you would use "tits" to suggest that someone had particularly nice tits. I never adopted that term for my own vocabulary either. Although I have no problem with tits. I think they're nice.

Another friend in college was using "harmless". He would say, referring to something that had no impact at all on any level "Yeah, get harmless!!". In other words, it wasn't even interesting enough to suggest that it sucked.

It is generally understood among musicians - and especially composers - that the most damning word you can use to describe someone's new piece is "interesting".

That makes it very difficult to tell someone you found their piece interesting – when you mean it. What if you were genuinely engaged? Liked it, didn't like it. Really doesn't matter. But what if you were interested? What can you say? It was nice? Tough? Tits?

"Yeah man, those were some nice tough tits. Interesting too."

Maybe just say it was bad.

Personally, if I was interested, I would say "It was interesting – AND I MEAN IT!".

But I am not often all that interested, frankly.

A yellow crosswalk line (c) David Ocker
So "What does any of this have to do with John Cage stories?" you may be inclined to ask, and understandably so.

[Personally, I never stand under anything I don't understand. But I digress…]

Nothing, so far. But we're getting there.

So anyway, on this other composer's blog someone left a comment to the effect that it's about time someone put together a collection of Cage stories. How nice that would be.

Well, this was in the works years ago. I don't know if it ever materialized, but I was on a list of people who were asked to tell their favorite Cage story, for some sort of compilation.

I submitted a story about when I heard Cage read the preamble to Lecture On the Weather. It was a very engaging read; he was obviously into it. When he was done, the friend I was with said "Everyone thinks he's all sweetness and light, but that man has a lot of anger".

My story was never used, and I have always suspected it's because it was not nice enough.

A colorful plastic totem pole (c) David Ocker
But here's a nice one.

Once I had a piece performed on a concert that included Cage's Freeman Etudes. After the concert I encountered Cage in a corridor, with no one else around. He said to me "Yours was my favorite piece on the concert". If I had been quicker on my feet I would have said "Mine too". But instead I said "Thank you", not nearly as interesting or fun.

I don't recall if I said anything about the Freeman Etudes. I do think they're interesting – really - but I would never go out of my way to hear them again.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Mr. ComposerHead Asks Himself – WHY TO BLOG?

(Note: When Mr. ComposerHead says he has been invited to post his comments "here" - he really meant "there". Starting with this post, however, Mr. C's writing will appear in full only "here", i.e. on Mr. C's own blog - even if he must still rely on me to upload his material for him. The pictures are still my idea.

Meanwhile, over "there", I will add another article pointing back over "here" with some highlights from this post. Kind of a digest. Or maybe more of a teaser. Sort of a promo. Got that? /David, amanuensis to Mister H.)

Mr. ComposerHead Asks Himself – WHY TO BLOG?

I have been generously invited to post my comments here from time to tme. I have also been encouraged by some people to consider a blog of my own. I don’t think I will do that just now. But I am enjoying thinking through some ideas, and finding it amusing and useful to submit a few occasional ramblings. And I am currently writing more than composing, so it’s kind of timely.

I am finding it, at present, more interesting to write about my experiences than to have more of them. I’ve had a lot of good ones, some not so good, some better than others. But a lot of things don’t drive me anymore to have that thing again. Some of my favorite albums. I don’t want to hear again. I am saturated. Some of the pieces I worked so hard on, passionately, you could not pay me enough to ever perform again. I’ve probably given up the instrument, so it would be moot anyway.

It would be nice to hear a new album, a new artist, that excited me like I was in the days of my youth, the way Captain Beefheart, or Stockhausen, or the Beatles did. The most inspiring thing I’ve heard in decades is Twilight, by the Handsome Family. I bought several copies to give to friends. But I bought another album by them, and I listened to it once. Ehh. I almost don’t listen to music anymore, because it’s so hard to find dead air, and so refreshing when you do. If I put on a CD I sit down and pay attention, and that will probably be “American Recordings” by Johnny Cash. He was awesome, what a superb artist. Although he did the most God Awful version of Leonard Cohen’s Bird On the Wire. You can’t believe how horrible it is. Some shitty orchestra, it sounds like a Disney soundtrack gone to a very deep level of hell. It’s nice when he plays it solo though.

The Band was really good. I sometimes watch the Last Waltz, and wish I could have done that. Zappa’s movies all suck. He should have stuck to music and let other people make movies about him. That would have been in his better interest. But I digress…

SIGNAGE - photo by David Ocker
Stockhausen was asked in an interview what he listens for in a younger composer. He said “Surprise me”. Yeah, right. When was the last time anyone surprised you with “new music”?

Okay, I should add that I attended a local event recently that almost made me wish I had a notebook handy. I jotted things down in the car later, so I wouldn’t forget. It is still possible to hear a concert of new music and go home inspired to write some more of your own. Brautigan has a poem along those lines. His friend read his poem and said “It makes me want to write poetry”. That is such a precious moment, a thing more precious because it cannot be bought. When someone else’s work makes you want to do your own. Not copy them or do something even like it. But ideas begin to form, and connections are made. That’s where Art happens. The creative dialogue. We can’t make much art without each other. Art begets art.

That’s why the Guardians of Art suck so much. No one can use the texts of James Joyce or Kurt Schwitters until they go public domain, because their nephews or lawyers, who are not arists, think they are somehow protecting the Artists’ legacies. Personally, I can’t read Joyce. Makes me want to read Ferlinghetti or Brautigan. Ginsberg is good. Really good in fact, even at his most self-indulgent. But I digress…

PAINT CHIP - photo by David Ocker
But how to fnd that Art that inspires?

Some ways. Listen to too much music hoping to fnd the composer who surprises you. Inefficient.

Choose to change your style or (especially) technique, so you have to learn to think again, or think about things differently. You have the advantage if you don’t know what you’re doing. Beginner’s Mind. Shunryu Suzuki said “Always be a beginner. That is the secret of the arts”.

I do not consider myself as having Beginner’s Mind. But that is an intriguing idea. And those are hard to come by – especially within the realm of religion (in this case Zen Buddhism). BTW, I am not a Buddhist, but might consider becoming a Zen-ist, on a trial basis, as long as there are no uniforms or dues.

Or you can just keep servicing the customer (assumimg you have one) and not change a thing.

SCRAPED TRAFFIC POST - photo by David Ocker
Mr. ComposerHead has been known to say “Don’t fix it if it id not broken”. But some things HAVE to be broken, or you don’t work quite right. Composition can become too easy. I like it when it’s easy, when it flows. But it can become TOO easy, and then it’s real hard to do anything much worth doing. There has to be a certain kind of unknown, an edge that you have to negotiate. You have to be learning the piece’s own language as you write it. If you already know it too well, the music is already dead.

Maybe that’s good, because then you are probably already a dead composer! More success to ya!

You do not have to suffer to make good music. But the work should take you on a journey, not just a well-trodden path. Personally, I go to Joshua Tree for that. That’s comfort. Art is not about Comfort.

I don’t know what it’s about, but I don’t think it’s about getting cozy.

Eat mashed potatoes and curl up with a good book for that.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Right Tool

(This post is appearing simultaneously at Mixed Meters)

(Editors note: This post will also appear in Mister Composer Head, a new blog dedicated to the posts of (wait for it), yes, Mister Composer Head himself.

He refuses to start his own blog, although he should (in my opinion). So I've started it for him.

For a while I'll post his writings both here and there in identical format.
But eventually, like maybe the next time, I'll post an announcement here, with excerpts - the Reader's Digest version - and my three readers can click over there to read the whole thing. Hey, that would be way cool, huh? Or what?

The red squiggle pictures don't have anything to do with this post - but I had them ready and was going to run them anyway. That's what Mr. Composer Head gets when he lets me run his blog. /David - Mr. Composer Head's Amanuensis)

red squiggle logo on a bike shop
Okay, so folk wisdom has it that you should use the right tool for the job. I can go with that, and I have quite a few tools. In fact, I have most of my power tools thanks to an N.E.A. grant. They stopped giving those to composers right after I got mine. I wonder why? Never mind.

But what about the right tool for the song? Where does folk wisdom get you on that one?

“If I had a miter saw (and I do) I’d miter saw in the morning…”

Hmm, not quite there, let’s try

“If I had a complete set of socket wrenches - both SAE and Metric …”

Maybe not.

“If I had a radial arm saw…”

Now that one’s good, because I don’t have a radial arm saw, but would like one. Where’s the N.E.A. when you really need ‘em? Are you starting to catch my drift?

“If I had a cordless screwdriver,
I’d cordlessly screwdrive in the morning.”

I sort of like that, but I’m not convinced by the image of a Cordless Screwdriver of Justice, which is what the song is getting at.

So you need to have the right tool for the song.

red squiggle ess on a hair salon
What is the right tool for the song? Obviously, a hammer. But why?

Because it sings smoothly, has a kind of authority that, say, “wood rasp” lacks, and most importantly, “hammer” is both a noun and a verb.

You can have a hammer, and hammer with it, in the morning or the evening as you like, all over this land.

But you can’t really “plumb bob” in the morning. Even if I could, I wouldn’t want to.

Although a “level” of Justice does seem to make some sense.

So anyway, you have to have the right tool for the song. And you can’t just make this stuff up.

red squiggle someone cleaning their brush on a wall
There are rules that we do not make, but by which we must abide.

So, for example, why did people, in the 1980’s, start making verbs out of nouns? Because you have become a parent, you are therefore “parenting”? That is so lame. I think I understand why people try that, but that’s just not how language works, as far as I can tell.

Just try composing the salutation for a letter to someone you don’t actually know! Ha! Try sidestepping gender specificity. NOT easy to do. Language likes gender differentiation. There’s a Hammer of Justice for ya!

“Hey, I got your Hammer of Justice…”

Which reminds me of another song about a tool.

“I’d rather be a hammer than a nail…”

Simon and Garfunkle. My sisters were huge fans, and always said they liked “folk music”. Sorry gals. S & G were (still are I guess) pop stars. Folk music is another thing altogether.

Right Tool Left Tool Tags: . . . . . .

Mr Composer Head: Don't Fix It If It Id Not Broken!

(This post originally appeared in Mixed Meters on July 20, 2007)

(Mr. Composer Head has graciously and anonymously provided another guest post while I consume the other things on my plate. I thank him for all his efforts. Click here to see a list of Mr. Composer Head's previous Mixed Meters appearances.

I'd like to point out that Mr. C.H. provides no images, a hallowed M.M. tradition, hence I scrounge those myself as best I can. There are no pictures of Composer Head's actual composer head. Instead I've substituted the well known Mr. Potato Head - whose head, I'm sure, is equally big and brainy. /David)

Mr. ComposerHead Saze…

Don't Fix It If It Id Not Broken!

Okay, so most of my music is released on my own label, recorded at home, and the CDs are burned one-at-a-time as needed – which is not frequently. That makes it possible for me to make my music available.

Okay, so I stick labels on the CDs to make them look nice and finished and if you pay attention you'll notice that it's a LABEL, not printed on the CD. Of course then you'll look at the back of the CD and see that it's a ONE-OFF, not pressed from a glass master at a big factory. That might seem cheap. IT IS!!!! That's why I do it.

CD Stomper
One astute consumer, noticing these details, wrote to complain, thinking I was dealing bootlegs, and asked if the artist was getting any royalties from the sale. He also felt a little cheated because it wasn't a "real" CD, and it was also kind of short.

I refunded $5 of his $15 purchase price, via PayPal, and explained why I make my CDs this way, and that, yes, the artist gets royalties. I get ALL of them.

He wrote back about the five bucks saying "I guess you didn't really have to do that".

He was right – I didn't. But I digress…

Mr Potato Head as Darth Vader and Mario
Anyway, as someone doing things as described above, I have always been thankful for CD Stomper, a simple and efficient way to make a nice label and stick it on your CD very quickly and easily. I have even recommended it to students, friends, and colleagues. A Great Product for us DYIers.

Then they fucked it up. And don't "they" always?!

Coke Museum Las Vegas
The other day I ran out of labels and needed to burn a few CDs. So I went out and got a Big Honkin' Box O' Refills, and what did I find?

Instead of the super-mindlessly-simple peel 'em off-and-stick 'em ons that I have grown to love and depend on, they now have TABS – not just one, but two, one on each side, plus a dubble donut hole in the center. So, you have to gently pull the tab so as not to rip the label, and while lifting the label GENTLY put your finger in the sweet spot to pull away the unwanted donuts, and once you manage to get the *^$%#*ing label on the disk, you have to GENTLY try to remove the tabs without ripping the edge of the label – which I can do about one out of three times.

So, now I get to spend about three times longer than I used to putting a label on one CD [thank God there's not much demand for my work!], and the end result is no better than it used to be with the old labels about one third of the time, and worse the other two thirds.

Win money making a Heinz ketchup video
My point (besides bitching that the world is not made to my specs)?

Some things cannot be improved. So don't try to do that to them. Heinz ketchup. Coke. These things are either perfect, or beyond repair.

But I think there are people who have jobs - probably well-paid, with benefits – and their job is to find ways to "improve" whatever product.

Those people should go kill themselves before they do more damage.

Morton Feldman, the Godfather
I suggest that some things are as good as they can be [that's not the same thing as "perfect". I heard Morton Feldman say, in a lecture, "My pieces are perfect". I thought that was about the most fucked-up thing such a good composer could possibly say. But I digress…]


This brought to mind what Frank Zappa did with some of his best recordings, early works that I consider true classics, as good as music gets. He "improved" them, by having the drum parts re-recorded, many years after the albums were history.

Frank Zappa with milk and cookies
My teeth hurt whenever I hear Chad [Wackerman] playing drums on Cruisin' With Ruben And the Jets. (Sorry Chad. I know he made you do it.)

Frank said, regarding We're Only In It For the Money, "Some of those snare drum parts were me playing with brushes on a telephone book".

Know what Frank? That's the album we bought, and that's the album we love.

I guess my point is that some things can't be improved. Brings to mind Cage's essay "How to Improve the World – You'll Only Make Matters Worse".

Morton Feldman and John Cage - together via photoshop
I often wonder about composers who need to revise after a premiere, like that's part of the creative process.

I think you're supposed to get it right the first time. Or learn from the experience, and write something else.

Mr. C/H

Rant Tags: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Picture Sources:
The C.D. Stomper
The Morty Pictures
Frank Zappa with Milk and Cookies
The Coke Bottle Building Picture
The Girl With Her Giant Bottle of Ketchup.

Mr. Composer Head: What's In A Name

(This post originally appeared in Mixed Meters on July 5, 2007)

This is another anonymous guest blog by Mr. Composer Head (formerly known only as "Composerhead" but now identified as male, hence "Mister" before C'head. Here is his description of how he came to be called Mister Composer Head. /David

Okay, ....

So ...

I was in Aspen, playing contemporary music with some group.

I was typically wearing at that time gas station type blue work shirts, with names sewn on badges, names like Dot and Art and Manuel. You can get these garments - names included - at thrift stores, real cheap. That's what I did.

One of the Aspen students told me he was really impressed that I wore gas station shirts, with other peoples' names, he thought that was very cool. It was.

So, ...

I'm in my apartment providing cocktails for a couple of younger composers who are both guest composers in Aspen. They get their music played - I get to play it. I get paid.

So what?

So, ....

I asked younger-more-famous-composer-featured-guy what he was going to present in his master class.

He said something like "I'll just play them some tapes of my stuff and ask if they have any questions".

I laid into him with something like "WHAT? You can't just go in there and wing it. You have to at least think about whether you even have anything to say. Use your music to make a point, present an argument, make them go home crying, think you're an asshole, but you have to at least try to give them something, something to think about, if not use."

He said "Jeez, you really take this seriously don't you?"

The other younger-featured-composer in the room had, in a previous conversation with me, referred to the guy I'm talking about as "Mister Composer Head".

I thought "I can use that!"


Here are some travel pictures of Mr. Potato Head from Punk Vinyl.

Why He's Called Mister Composer Head Tags: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Notes from Composerhead

(This post originally appeared in Mixed Meters on June 22, 2007.)

(This is a guest posting from an anonymous reader named ComposerHead. Thank you ComposerHead. I guess Mixed Meters now has three readers. /David)

Notes from ComposerHead

I like best the notes I could have written, but didn't.

notes on top of each other
There are only two kinds of notes. Ones next to each other, and ones on top of each other.

notes next to each other
I like the ones next to each other better than the other kind. Although I will say it's kind of amusing to imagine the implied other ones.

You can quote me


ComposerHead Tags: . . . . . .

(BTW - only the text came from ComposerHead (really). The illustrations were my choice. /David)

Welcome to Mister Composer Head's Blog

This blog is an offshoot of David Ocker's blog Mixed Meters.

Here's a little bit of the history you might want to know:
  1. David asked Mister Composer Head to write some guest posts.
  2. Mister Composer Head did one.
  3. Mister Composer Head then did another. And another. Mister Composer Head REALLY got into it.
  4. David suggested that Mister Composer Head should have his own blog. But Mister Composer Head didn't want to do that.
  5. So David is doing it for him.

Welcome Welcome