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