2006 June at John Mackey's Blog



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  • June 27, 2006


    I just finished scoring the dynamic climax of the new piece. Here’s the PDF of those two pages. The loudest part of this transition includes the return of those big trombone and horn rips first heard at the opening of the piece. Oh, and piccolo playing a high flutter-tongued B at quadruple-forte.

    I’m awfully curious to hear this. The MIDI can’t quite do what’s on the page. There’s a bunch of very slow pitch bending, both in the trombones and in the high clarinets, which will sound pretty freaky. I actually got the idea for this from hearing a recording of a bad performance of a friend’s piece. (The clarinets were playing a “unison.”) It’s a fantastically horrifying sound.

    Oh — and at the beginning of the page, percussion 1 is waterphone, percussion 4 is bass drum, 5 is crotales, and 6 is vibes.

    It’s a little discouraging. I think I spent the whole day on these two pages. Two pages! And it looks like there’s nothing going on! Fortunately, the whole piece is probably only 12 pages long. Still, it seems unlikely I’ll finish by the time my mother arrives tomorrow night — especially since AEJ and I have become addicted to the DVDs of the new Battlestar Galactica, sent to us as a house-warming present several months ago by Collins. We finally watched the first DVD a few days ago, and we’re hooked. Great show. Would you expect anything less from the man who also created Knight Rider?


    June 26, 2006

    Chugging away

    I’m spending long days on the orchestration of the new piece. I had been worried that it was going to be a really tricky scoring job, but it’s not so bad, because the “short score” was pretty-much a full score. My mother is coming to visit for a few days starting on Wednesday night, so I’m hoping to finish the score by then, but that may be a little optimistic.

    It now looks like I’ll have either two or three performances at Midwest this December — one on Wednesday, and two on Thursday. Those are ideal schedule slots, as it means Shattinger Music will have at least a full day to sell scores after even my last performance, and I’ll have just as long to schmooze. I’m a fan of the schmoozing.

    This is still up in the air because directors are permitted to change their programs until September 15, but as of the moment, two groups have programmed works — “Turbine” and “Strange Humors” — and a third group may do “Redline Tango.” That third group has it reserved, which prevents any other ensemble from programming it, but no word has come officially from the ensemble. If that one happens, it will be huge. I’m not saying anything else about it until I know for sure, so as not to jinx it.

    One little bit of exciting programming news is that the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra of Norway will perform the orchestra version of “Redline Tango” on October 5, conducted by Andrew Litton. This will make a total of three different orchestras who will have performed the work, all thanks to Litton. (Litton did the piece with the Dallas Symphony in 2004, and the Minnesota Orchestra in 2005.) I think I’m going to print some “Andrew Litton Rules” T-shirts.


    June 23, 2006

    New piece – preview

    If you’re hopelessly bored — and if you’re checking this blog with any regularity, you probably are — check out the PDF of the first two full-score pages of the new piece. Thanks to Newman for his notation advice.


    June 22, 2006

    New tune

    There’s no title yet — AEJ is working on that — but the new piece is essentially done. This is the piece that was due on March 1. I first pushed it to April 1, and then, once mid-March hit, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to write anything good in time, so I delayed it until fall. (One of AEJ’s title suggestions was simply “Late.”) I don’t think I’ve ever had this much difficulty writing a piece. You’ll notice that I almost never mentioned the piece here on the blog because the process was so slow and labored.

    The first draft is done, as of last night, meaning there’s something happening — a close approximation of the final product — for the entire seven minutes. I think it’s pretty good. I kind of have the “this is the best thing I’ve ever done” feeling, but I think I have that for most pieces, and quickly realize that any given piece, in fact, blows.

    Now I need to score it. I wrote it into a full score, which I almost never do, so it’s basically orchestrated, but a lot of things are for MIDI playback, not real people. The big climax currently uses 12 trombones and 16 French horns, for example. Cool if it’s for the Texas All-State band, but not so realistic in the rest of the world. There are also several percussion place-holders, like a tam-tam scrape where it’ll actually be bowed. So the next several days will be spent creating the full score.

    On paper, this thing looks really easy, and would pass for a “Grade 3.” (That basically means not-good-high-school-band level.) It’s almost entirely 8th-notes or slower, and basically in 4/4 the whole time. It’s loaded with exposed delicate solos, though, and some of the dense harmony is going to be a bitch to tune. In other words, it could sound really, really bad if a bad band plays it. With a good band, though, I’m optimistic. Fortunately, the schools in the consortium are great, and one of them — James Logan High School — may be the best high school band I’ve ever heard. (It’s really their fault that the piece is this hard.)

    I’m off to pour some coffee and get crackin’. After literally months of self-doubt about where this was going — and countless days spent thinking “maybe I should just transcribe an old piece” — the hard part is done!


    June 18, 2006

    Chopping Mall

    If you enjoy campy 80’s horror, you must see “Chopping Mall.” A horror movie filmed in 1986, they packed a fantastic amount of brilliance into those 77 minutes. The movie is about three new incredibly high tech (for 1986) security robots designed to patrol an LA shopping mall at night. They seem awfully expensive for this job, and curiously over-weaponized for scaring away teenagers, with their tazers, mechanical claws, explosives, and the ability to shoot laser beams out of their “eyes.” Essentially, they’re military-grade killer robots, programmed not to hurt anybody, so they’ll be safe for mall security. For some reason, though, they’re called “Killbots.” You can see where this is going.

    The movie is set in LA (or rather a mall in LA), where it almost never even rains, but out of nowhere one night, there’s a crazy lightning storm. No rain, just insane lightning. Oh no! What will these sudden power surges do to the robots and the mall computers with which they share an interface?! It won’t turn the computers (which control the doors, locks, and elevators of the mall) evil, will it?

    I was shocked when it did. But what could it matter, having security robot go bad after the mall closes? Well, I’ll tell you. It just happened that that very night, there was a party at the mall furniture store. An AFTER-HOURS PARTY! With TEEN-AGERS (presumably) who worked in the store. The furniture store aspect was brilliant, because otherwise, how would these kids have sex? If they have a party in the record store, sure, they have sweet 80s tunes, but it’s hard to get freaky in the cassette bin. No, this was the furniture store, so there were lots of beds (and, in a case of inexplicable set design given the intended demographic of the film, a $3000 Eames Lounge Chair & Ottoman). The issue here is that it’s not an 80s horror movie without boobies. No worries; there would be boobies. (On really skanky chicks, but still — boobies!)

    So the mall closes, a bunch of kids and their girlfriends stay after work at Furniture King to party, party, party (perhaps the lamest party ever, considering there are only eight people), three of the four couples get naked (since one couple — the nerdy smart couple, of course — does not, you immediately know who will be surviving until the end of the film), lightning strikes, one robot kills the guy who monitors the security system up in the “computer room,” one of the girls wants a cigarette but doesn’t have any, so she sends her boyfriend out into the mall for smokes. (To get him to come back soon, she flashes him. Oh, and there was also a little nudity in the locker room. At the mall. Because if you’ve ever had a job at a mall, you probably showered there.) The guy goes to the cigarette vending machine (remember those?) out in the darkened part of the mall, and surprise, a killbot kills him. His girlfriend, wondering where he’s been, goes looking for him, finds his dead body, and the murderous killbot. The killbot chases her, shooting lasers at her as she runs down the mall hallway. As she passes in front of the furniture store, where her friends are all watching through the glass doors, the killbot lands a laser blast right in the gal’s head, causing it to grotesquely explode. It was sweet. It was so good, I found the video. Click it to view.

    The film goes on from there, with the three killbots chasing and killing the kids. The kids do manage to kill two killbots using supplies found at the sporting goods store and the auto supply shop (explosive propane tanks, flares, and a machine gun — it’s a really kick-ass sporting goods store).

    Some other highlights:
    * At one point, after seeing his girlfriend killed, a guy goes all kamikaze, screams insanely, and drives a golf cart into a robot. You really need to see it. (Sadly, I can’t find a video of that moment. Really, there are so many priceless moments…)
    * A great line: “Let’s go send those *uckers a Rambogram!”
    * Another great line: “It’s not you, Bernie. I guess I’m just not used to being chased around a mall at night by killer robots.” Amen, sister.

    It’s available on DVD, but we saw it on Showtime. Don’t watch it alone — not because it’s actually scary, but because this is a film that must be watched with somebody special to be truly appreciated. ***** out of *****. Oh, and you can watch the entire trailer here.