2004 September at John Mackey's Blog



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  • September 23, 2004

    It's Done!

    I finished the new percussion piece last night. It’s completely finished — parts and score are printed and bound, and it’s in an envelope, ready to deliver tomorrow. As always, it’s a relief to finish a new piece. This was a difficult project. The past few pieces have felt really hard while I was working on them.

    I’ve been trying to do something different with each of the past three pieces. “Under the Rug” was a parody of 1950s television music, “Wrong-Mountain Stomp” was an attempt at bluegrass, and the new piece, tentatively titled “Mass,” was my first real attempt at writing a minimal piece. I’ve tried writing in a minimal style several times before, but I usually give up after about 4 bars. It’s really difficult to build tension through repetition without letting the piece become boring.
    I’ve created Mackey-Meets-Reich-lite. Very, very lite.

    Now that the piece is done, I can catch up on a few other things. In addition to uploading the score and audio for “Mass,” I’ve just posted the audio from the premiere performance of “Under the Rug.”

    Next agenda item : practice NCAA College Football 2005 on the PS2. It will be a busy weekend.

    1 Comment

    September 20, 2004

    Shaking of Hands

    I just delivered a CD to somebody at the New York State Theater. On my way back to work, I passed by Avery Fisher Hall, where John Kerry was speaking at a luncheon. A small crowd of 10-15 had gathered by the stage door, and I joined them, hoping for a glimpse of John Kerry.

    Sure enough, moments later, John Kerry and Teresa walked out the stage door. Kerry smiled and waved to my group that was about 30 feet away. He and Teresa stood side by side with their arms around each other and posed for the cameras that were on the opposite side of the stage door. My little crowd clapped and waved again, and Kerry walked over to us to sign somebody’s autograph. He made a little joke that I couldn’t quite hear, and then he started working the line to shake hands. I’m pretty short, and I didn’t want to push my way towards him (there were two people right in front of me), but after he shook their hands, he waited a second for them to move, and then he shook my hand.

    Yes, John Kerry shook my hand. I was giddy like a school girl.

    And this will sound silly from that 5-second encounter, but he felt completely genuine. He looked like a sincerely good man, and somehow looked like he cared that I was there. There was a kind, unforced smile, direct eye contact, and a firm handshake.

    And in those 5 seconds, the candidate whom I’ve wanted so desperately to feel connected with — he finally connected.

    If only he could shake another 100 million hands in the next 6 weeks.


    September 16, 2004

    Rehearsal, take 2

    Robert’s second rehearsal was last night. This was the first rehearsal that he actually used to choreograph (the first rehearsal was really an audition to choose the dancers), and by the end, he’d already choreographed over 2 minutes. I’m excited about what he has so far.

    I had no idea what to expect from him for the beginning of the piece. It starts extremely slowly, and almost without any pulse, with just rolled marimba and bowed vibraphone. The slow tempo was a small issue for him yesterday, as the music is too slow to count traditionally. I figured he’d just have the dancers barely moving — to match the music — but he went against it. They’re moving quickly in small groups, forming complicated patterns throughout the space, and it works brilliantly. If they’re moving this quickly when the music is barely moving, and the music, by the mid-point, is fast and (hopefully) exhaustingly intense, what on earth does he have coming?

    I had an exciting moment in rehearsal. It was one of those moments that I love in the process. The music is really just sustained tones for the first 90 seconds, and then, finally, there’s a traditional minor chord. I pointed it out to Robert — that to me, that isolated chord felt like a “moment” — and on the spot he rethought what he was originally intending for that measure and created an image that perfectly compliments that bar. (The dancers, spread around the stage, all move to the center and for a second, they look like a church choir.) It’s hard to explain, but it was amazing. All I did was say, “I like this measure, ’cause the music changes a tiny bit here, and it’s kinda pretty,” and Robert visualized something subtle but beautiful.

    I’m lucky to work with him.


    September 14, 2004

    Rehearsal, take 1

    Robert’s first rehearsal was yesterday afternoon. Not much to report yet, as he really just used the time to look at the dancers he’d be working with. There are 17 of them, and he plans to use them all. They seem to be a nice group with a lot of energy, and holy cow, some of them are crazy-fantastic dancers.

    I’m going to a concert tonight : Quartet New Generation. They’re — get this — a recorder quartet. There’s an article about them in today’s NY Times.

    I had two license negotiations today, and completely buckled on both, agreeing to what was initially offered. Am I getting soft? In the past, I’ve been difficult in negotiations, to put it nicely. Today I felt maybe I should choose my battles, rather than insisting on absolute victory throughout the negotiation war.

    I think my kitty is softening me.

    1 Comment

    September 13, 2004

    Parties, shopping, and printing

    This was a good weekend.

    On Friday, the new printer arrived. It’s a tank — it required completely rearranging the closet to make it fit — but it’s nice. Crazy-fast, double-sided, 1200 dpi printing.

    Saturday was spent on A Mission. Home Depot opened their first Manhattan store on Friday, and AJ and I were anxious to check it out first thing on Saturday. Breakfast followed by a stop at ABC Carpet & Home (I really want a natural white cowhide rug — any thoughts?) followed by a visit to Home Depot. Stepping into Home Depot in Manhattan is like stepping through a doorway to America. Huge aisles filled with people buying doorknobs. (Who knew there were so many different styles of glass knobs?) It gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling. AJ & I browsed and picked out a few items — a light bulb, a microfiber cleaning cloth to wipe the TV screen, and some Swiffer dusters — and then waited in the huge line to check out. Everybody working at the store was almost excessively helpful. “This is my department,” they’d say with pride, “so just ask if I can help you with anything, like finding the best drill bit.” Where are the New Yorkers? How long until the helpful staff disappears from the floor, leaving only self-loathing, bitter, rude “help?” This place has self check-out, too! Who ever heard of the honor system in NY? A fine shopping experience. I hope it stays like that.

    Next it was a tasty lunch at Danny Meyer’s outdoor restaurant, The Shake Shack. After waiting in line for 10 minutes to order, and waiting another 15 for the food, it was a delicious lunch. My only complaint — the music. In honor of it being September 11, there was live music. This consisted of the most earnest people you’ve ever heard singing things like, “We all fight for Jesus/We all fight for Allah/We all die for Jesus/We all die for Allah/Jesus!/Allah!/Jesus!/Allah!/Ahhhhh!” Oy. I mean, if you’re going to sing that while I’m eating my happy little tasty burger, drinking my happy little shake, and enjoying one of the last beautiful days of summer, could you at least use more than two bad chords?

    Next it was uptown to shop for shoes. For a few weeks I’ve been looking for shoes to replace the shoes that Loki (my cat) has destroyed. I found some good shoes last week but they were too expensive. Saturday yielded success, and I now have a great new pair.

    Saturday night was a party. It was hosted by a man who funded one of my commissions this year. He has the largest home I’ve ever seen — anywhere. It’s roughly 10,000 feet. Keep in mind – this is in Manhattan. It’s a brownstone, plus half of the brownstone next door (walls were knocked down to make a 40-foot wide living room), plus an added floor on top, plus the jacuzzi on the roof. It’s amazing. The food, drinks, and company were just as good.

    Yesterday was supposed to be Apple Store Day. AJ called them to confirm that they had the new iMacs on display (she has already ordered one, but wanted to see it in person), and she was told they, in fact, had them on display. Well, we got down there, and there were no iMacs to be found. When she confronted a store employee, AJ was told that whomever answered the phone had “lied.” What’s the point of that? Did they think we’d buy something after being lied to?!

    Last night, I prepared Robert’s score for printing. It’s going to be a lot of work to create the parts for this piece, as I wrote it for playback, not performance. That is, when the computer plays something back, it plays it literally. If you want a very rapid crescendo, you can’t just put a hairpin with “molto” inside of it. Well, you can, but to get the best effect, you might put “p” under the first note, “mp” under the second, and so on, ending with “fff” on the last note, for example. Problem is, that looks silly and messy to a real human player, so those things need to be undone and replaced with said hairpin + “molto” in the printed parts. It’s a lot of work.

    Robert’s first rehearsal is this afternoon. I’m excited to see what he does. I’m also excited to wear my new shoes.