2005 April at John Mackey's Blog



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  • April 29, 2005


    Our houses are in disarray.
    I had some problems with my new computer monitor, and I exchanged it last week. The new one arrived, and exhibited the same problem, so I exchanged the video card. That, too, didn’t fix the issue, so on Wednesday, I took my G5 to the Apple SoHo store for service. My friend (and fellow Buckeye fan) Craig, who works there, ran the Apple Hardware diagnosis CD, and found no problems. Then we hooked it up to the store’s 30″ display, hoping to see the same defect that I’d reported, but after about 20 minutes, everything still appeared to be fine. Craig went ahead and checked-in the computer, hoping that Apple’s behind-the-scenes hardware check would reveal a problem. It’s Friday now, and there’s no word yet. Most unfortunate, as I’m receiving my copy of Tiger, Mac’s new OS, this afternoon, and I’d sure love to install it.

    Since I have no computer at my apartment, AEJ and I have been staying at her place for a few days. (AEJ, for those who don’t know, lives directly across the street from me.) The problem at her place is that there was a “boiler incident” about a month ago, and the gas for the building was shut off. They got the hot water working again within a few days, and the heat for the building working a few days after that, but there’s still no cooking gas. It turned out that ConEd found a problem with the building’s original gas lines, and had to run new lines throughout the building. This is a huge job, requiring drilling holes from apartment to apartment. AEJ has a great kitchen — a rarity in Manhattan for mere mortals — and rather than risk having everything covered with dust from the drilling, we covered most of the kitchen with plastic tarps. It’s worth it, as it saves us having to re-wash every dish after the work is done, but it means we can’t get to the sink, and opening the fridge means lifting the tarp and crawling under it. It all kind of looks like that scene from “E.T.”

    So, my place has no computer. AEJ’s place has no kitchen. Which would you pick?


    April 25, 2005

    Good Weekend in Rant Form

    AEJ and I had a pretty good weekend, although this post may sound unreasonably pissy. (My apologies in advance.) I have a bit of a cold, and I think it’s making me cranky.

    On Friday night, we attended “Beyond the Machine,” a concert by the Juilliard Electric Ensemble. The highlight was definitely Steve Bryant‘s new piece, Veo Lux, for string quartet and electronics. It’s pretty rockin’, but I wish there were two more movements. (It’s lone, 6-minute movement, is very hip, but I want more!)
    I also liked a piece by Milicia Paranosic. It melded Bulgarian vocal singing with electronics, but I wished it had used a lot more of the vocalization. (The melding of the two was great, and I thought it was the piece’s highlight, but I wanted a lot more.) The work, like many on the program, also included projections, but I thought they were unnecessary, as the music had the power to stand on its own.
    The rest of the concert, I have to say, ranged from somewhat tolerable to infuriating. I have some major pet peeves in music, and various pieces on the program managed to nail them, unfortunately. When it comes to electronics in music, I need them to accomplish something truly special. If a skilled orchestrator can get more interesting sounds out of an acoustic ensemble than you can get using electronics, don’t bother using electronics. Amplification: cool. Distortion: cool. Tape parts that are crucial to the musical success of a piece: very possibly cool.

    Sound effects that aren’t very interesting and could be more interesting if made by a musician rather than a tape part or a silly computer patch: not cool.
    Tape parts simply because you think it’s cool to have a tape part: not cool.
    Spoken pretentious narration on top of uninteresting music: way, way not cool.

    Wow, I hate Spoken Word on top of music. Ugh. I’ve heard it work, and if you’re a composer who can actually make it work and not seem embarrassing, you get some major points from me. But really, why have text that tells me what I’m supposed to be thinking? If the answer is “because the music isn’t powerful enough to tell you on its own,” then maybe this isn’t the piece that composer should be writing. If the text gives me any mental association with those old recordings of William Shatner performing “Mr. Tambourine Man” — and the composer is serious — then they’ve blown it, and I’m likely becoming increasing irritated as I sit there waiting for it to end.

    Wow. I had no idea this was going to turn into a big rant. Maybe I shouldn’t blog before my coffee kicks in.

    The rest of the weekend was excellent. AEJ and I had a perfectly lazy time on Saturday, renting “Sideways” (it really was a great as everybody said), and going out to dinner to a tasty tapas place just a few blocks from the apartment. The place has been open for quite a while, but we’d never tried it. It was fun to finally check it out and see that it’s truly tasty, and we’ve gained a new dinner option for the future.

    When we got home after dinner, we watched “Oceans 12.” (It was a big DVD day.) I was pretty disappointed. Whereas “Oceans 11” was laid back and “cool,” “Oceans 12” was just slow. The plot was far-fetched and not interesting, and when the movie tried to surprise me, I felt like I was expecting to be surprised at that point. Watching it made me wish that I’d bought “Sideways” and rented “Oceans 12,” rather than the other way around. Oh well.

    On Sunday we walked through Central Park to the East Side and did a little browsing in the stores on Fifth Avenue. Then we came back (without actually buying anything!), took a little nap, and then headed to an amazing dinner at Mesa Grill. I hadn’t been there for a few years, and wow, it was delicious. AEJ started with these little chicken tacos whose presentation was as top-notch as their flavor. They came on a glass platter with two mini tortillas, two chicken skewers, a little cup of spicy sauce, and a small stack of grilled onions. It was like a mini-fajita appetizer.

    I had the shrimp and roasted garlic corn tamale. Yummy, yummy. For our entrees, AEJ had what seems to be the best entree they serve: New Mexican spice rubbed pork tenderloin with bourbon Ancho chile sauce and a sweet potato tamale with crushed pecan butter. Holy wow. It was amazing. The pork was perfect — juicy and tender — and the sweet potato tamale was good and sweet — a perfect complement to the much saltier pork. The chef, Bobby Flay, totally nailed this dish.

    I had the grilled red snapper with tomato-New Mexico red chile sauce and creamy green chile rice. It was tasty, but the snapper was slightly charred (on purpose), and mixed with the red chile sauce, it was a little too strongly “smoked” tasting. The rice was amazing, almost risotto-like, but I felt like the snapper was a slight misstep, at least compared to AEJ’s flawless entree.

    Sadly, I have no photos of this weekend’s meals. Boy howdy, though, those two dinners were great.

    After dinner, we came home and watched the pilot episode of “The Greatest American Hero.” (Yes, I bought the DVDs of the first season. I’ll buy just about anything. I like to think of it as supporting the economy.) I remember loving this show when I was a kid, but I don’t remember any specific episodes. The pilot had some problems — yes, that’s stating the obvious — but it was fun. I doubt we’ll make it through the whole first season, but we may make it further than we did on the absolutely terrible Land of the Lost DVD set.

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    April 22, 2005

    Life Is (not) Very Hard

    I purchased the Winds & Brass sample collection of the Vienna Symphonic Library, and I received them on Wednesday afternoon. Unfortunately, that was the same day that I returned that massive new monitor to Apple because it was defective. The replacement should arrive later today. (You can read about the defect here or here, if you’re curious for some reason.)

    Without a monitor — I had given my old monitor to a friend already — I was unable to install any of the new samples on Wedneday. (Boo hoo, right?!) I ended up borrowing my old monitor back last night (how lame is that? “Here, have this nice monitor! I don’t need it anymore because I bought one that’s even bigger. Spend a few days really getting used to it, and then – sike! I’m taking it back! Ha ha ha!” — that was me.), and now that I have a display again, the samples are slowly installing.

    It takes a long time to convert and install over 55 GB of samples. Yes, 55 GB. So far this morning, I’ve only been able to install Piccolo, Flute 1, Flute 2, Alto Flute, Oboe, and English Horn. I’m not even done with the first of four DVDs, and it’s been about three hours. They sound great so far, but I’m really excited to hear some of the weirder instruments — like Cimbasso. What the hell is a cimbasso?! It looks crazy, I have to say, and I can’t wait to hear what on earth it sounds like…

    Tonight I’m going with Newman to hear Steve Bryant’s new piece for electric string quartet. Should be a hoot.


    Fun Sasparilla Quotes

    I’ve received a number of fun e-mails and blog comments about Sasparilla over the past few days, and I wanted to share a few…

    {It sounds like} “Copland meets Corigliano in a dark alley where they beat up Spike Jones.” – JN

    “Thanks again for writing the *coolest* band piece EVER!” – KP (Very kind, but I suspect she hasn’t heard Chunk.)

    “I can certainly see/hear this one turned into a drum corps number, as well. Mark my words!” – KS (I hope he’s right. Ka-ching!)

    “Isn’t it amusing that a composer can write “a la ‘Sleigh Ride’ ” and the trumpets would know exactly what to do?” – KS

    “I was shooting for a horse with a hot poker up his rump.” – BP, player of said “a la ‘Sleigh Ride’ ” moment

    “Sasparilla 9/11. Never Forget.” — TC (Long story. Don’t even ask.)

    “I like “Sasparilla” a lot. This is the second of your compositions that I would like to animate with stick figures. The first was “Under the Rug.” The sax player did a nice job on the solo. Where did you learn those rim shots (I call ’em Hip Shots) during the sax solo? They don’t even do that anymore in the hoochie coochie bars.” – my Dad

    “My husband really liked your piece, and he hates everything.” – audience member

    “Are they feeding you down here in Southeast Texas? It certainly doesn’t look like it.” – somebody’s mom, post-concert


    April 19, 2005

    Links 'n' Such

    First up, a few interesting links to report.
    Here’s a story about my recent visit with the composers at the University of Kansas.

    This has to be my favorite blog entry in a long time. Any blog entry with me as the subject has to get a link!

    The Cabrillo Contemporary Music Festival has announced their upcoming season. Here’s the program that includes the orchestra version of Redline Tango.

    In other news, I’ve just posted a few new audio files. The big one is the premiere performance of “Sasparilla,” which happened on Sunday afternoon at Lamar University. Check it out, and let me know what you think.

    I also just posted the recording of H. Robert Reynolds’ performance of “Redline Tango” at USC on April 3. There are absolutely no edits to the recording, and I pulled it directly from the CD of the concert. A lot of people have been asking to hear this when it arrived, so here it is.

    Happy clicking!

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