2006 October at John Mackey's Blog



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  • October 31, 2006

    USC rehearsal

    I got a call Friday morning from H. Robert Reynolds, the conductor of the USC Wind Ensemble. He’s performing “Turbine” this Sunday, and he called to invite me to a rehearsal. He figured that it was too short of notice to get me there that afternoon, but Bob doesn’t realize that I mostly spend my days sitting around doing cross-stitch and drinking.

    Their concert isn’t until November 5, and they have a few more rehearsals before then, so the piece was probably at 75%. But 75% for the USC Wind Ensemble is 250% for many others, so it already sounded pretty damn good.

    I’ve raved about Bob Reynolds a lot in the past, but two things happened in Friday’s rehearsal that reaffirmed why he’s the best. There’s a part in “Turbine” where I asked the French horns to play stopped notes. The problem is that there’s so much going on at that moment that you never hear any pitch definition from the horns, and you’re lucky if you even hear the buzzing sound that stopped horn creates. The pitches the horns are playing, though, are important — they’re the most important pitches happening at that moment — and I’ve been resorting to having the horns play open instead. It loses the cool buzz effect, but at least you can hear them, and can hear the pitches. Gary Hill at Arizona State had a cool solution — having 4 horns play stopped, and 4 horns play open — but he had eight horns at his disposal, and Bob Reynolds is doing a true one-on-a-part performance of the piece, so that wasn’t an option here.

    (In case you’re curious what “stopped” horn or “open” horn is… “Stopped” horn is when the horn player sticks their hand (or a “stopped mute”) up into the bell of the instrument, “stopping” the sound. The result, as described above, is a buzzing sound with less pitch definition. “Open” horn is just straight-forward, standard playing, with the bell, well, open.)

    When the group stopped for a moment to get notes from me, I asked the French horns to go ahead and play those measures open. Bob interrupted to ask if, as a former horn player, he could try something. I obliged (what, was I going to be like, “no, I got it covered, thanks”), and he asked the four horn players to get out their standard mutes and put them only half-way into the horns. I’ve never heard of this before — half-muted horn — but when they played the same 4 measures this way, it was perfect. It buzzes a bit to give it some edge, but there’s still pitch clarity. Finally, that issue is solved. Thanks, Bob.

    The other moment was when the bass clarinet plays the Big Tune for the first time. I put the solo in the bass clarinet because it was a cooler sound than standard clarinet, and there aren’t a ton of lyrical bass clarinet solos. The guy was playing it great, but I want it to be very expressive — being the first time we hear something lyrical in the piece, after 4 minutes of relentless banging — and Bob gave him the greatest note. “Play it as if it’s the Brahms Bass Clarinet Concerto.” There’s no such piece (wouldn’t that be awesome?!), but that suggestion was exactly what that solo needed. (I’m totally using that suggestion in the future. I’m undecided about whether or not to credit Bob.)

    I’m going back tomorrow to hear the piece in the hall. I’m psyched. It’s pretty excellent to live 15 minutes from one of the best wind ensembles in the country.


    October 28, 2006

    A camera comparison

    I’ve had the new camera for about a week, and there hasn’t been a lot of opportunity to get to know it yet, but I’m enjoying it — and it takes fantastic pictures. I thought it might be kind of interesting to see an A/B comparison between the new Canon PowerShot SD800 IS and my older camera, the Sony DSC-T9. The differences are pretty striking. Keep in mind that all settings are on default, and there’s no flash. If I put one camera on macro, both are on macro. If I set white balance to something other than auto (say, natural sunlight), both went to that setting.

    Here’s a shot from the deck. First, the Sony:

    And the Canon:

    What is the Sony focussing on? One thing to note is that the two cameras were in the same position, but you can see a whole lot more in the Canon shot because of its wide-angle lens. (The Sony is not zoomed at all; that’s just the lens difference.)

    This is “Self-Portrait in Mirrored Lamp.” First, the Sony:

    And the Canon:

    In this case, the Sony has come a little closer to the wall color — it’s not quite as gray as the Canon indicates, but it’s also not exactly peach as the Sony reads — but the Sony is way off on the red levels in the photo next to the lamp. I might have been slightly flush at my birthday dinner last year, but I wasn’t that red.

    Here are some coasters. First, Sony:

    And Canon:

    In the Sony, it appears that the rust-colored coaster is on fire. It’s not. That chair in the background is also not supposed to be orange. It’s brown.

    Finally, what would this comparison be without pictures of food? Here are some homemade molasses spice cookies. (Best recipe for these can be found in Cooks Illustrated. Mmmmm.)

    And Canon:

    There’s considerably more detail in the Canon, and it’s not due to the increased resolution (7.1 MP vs. 6 MP). You can see a lot more individual sugar crystals. The difference in the wide angle lens on the Canon is hard to miss here. The Sony admittedly used to take good pictures — until I sent it to Sony for servicing on the sync issue, and it came back like this. Nice job, Sony. You suck.

    Here are a few pics from the Canon alone. First, it’s Loki in his artsy senior picture pose.

    One of the silly but fun features of the Canon is the ability to shoot only one color, and have the rest of the shot in black-and-white.

    AEJ suggested this shot. Presumably due to disease, some huge old trees are being cut down a few doors from our place. Their current state — against the insanely blue sky of a smog-free LA day — is pretty cool.

    Here’s Loki, tryin’ to look sexy. That’s right, ladies, he’s available. And fixed.

    And last but not least, because I’m apparently doomed to be a crazy cat person, here’s a shot of the 3″ cat figurine who sits on a speaker in my studio. Yes, we bought it as a joke. Or did we?


    October 25, 2006

    Bergen Filharmoniske Orkester

    UPS brought an exciting package today. No, it wasn’t a new watch (although I now have my eye on these incredibly awful holiday watches from QVC). It was the return shipment of parts for the orchestra version of “Redline Tango,” just back from their exciting trip to Bergen, Norway.

    Being a European orchestra, there are none of those silly “composers can’t have a recording, or if they do get one, it’ll be crippled, or if it’s not, and they ever make a copy for anybody, we’ll sue them for more than they could ever make in a lifetime” union rules. As such, tucked between the string parts, I found a CD of the orchestra’s performance from October 5. No waiver to sign, no restrictions on use, nothing. Just, “here’s your piece. Enjoy.”

    If you’ve never heard the original orchestral version of “Redline Tango,” I encourage you to check this out. Even if you have, but you’d only heard the recording that was previously posted here, please give this a listen. It’s spectacular, from the big violin solo in the tango (I think the best I’ve heard it), to the Eb clarinet soloist (this Norwegian guy sure gets klezmer), to the waa-waa trumpet moment (where the player goes for it with such conviction that the tiniest little squawk sounds like it must be written in the part — and maybe it should be).

    This is the third orchestra with whom Andrew Litton has performed the piece — having previously conducted it twice with the Dallas Symphony and once with the Minnesota Orchestra. He gave two performances in Norway, and he tells me that the second night — which, sadly, was not recorded — was even better. Considering this recording from the first night is probably the best the piece has ever sounded, I can’t even imagine what the second night was like. As an added bonus, it’s pretty cool to read one’s bio in Norwegian. (“John Mackey ey fra New Philadelphia i Ohio, og er utdannet ved Juilliard Scool of Music i New York og Cleveland Institute of Music. Han er spesielt opptatt av musikk som har med dans a gjore, og har levert en rekke komposisjoner til blant mange andre New York City Ballet.” It also proclaims, “Redline Tango har tre avsnitt.” That it does, my friends. That it does.)

    Now I just have to decide if these QVC watches are too cool. I mean, this one has major holiday bling with those fake diamonds inside. It kind of completely screams “tacky and gay,” but it might be so over-the-top that it ends up pulling the fashion mind trick of proclaiming, “I’m so cool that I can wear this incredibly stupid watch and make you think it’s cool, even though it is the lamest watch ever produced.” It’s going to be a tough decision.


    October 24, 2006

    My Current Delusion

    Truthiness tells me that I receive countless emails from people offering to send me gifts to show their gratitude for what I do.* “You are like a king to me, Mr. Mackey. Is there anything you desire?” Usually I just email back with a condescending smile (what’s the emoticon for that?), and say, “no, just keep being you. That’s all I ask.”

    Well, it appears that Bergdorf Goodman — the fancy-schmancy store in NYC where one might even find high-end mouse shoes — has finally produced an appropriate tribute. I present to you “Turbine” cuff links and studs.

    Yes, it’s true. Here’s the link. As you’ll see, the cuff links are a little expensive at $2,850, but the studs (which are probably much more appropriate, if you know what I’m sayin’) are a bargain at $2,650.

    So, if you’re a real fan, you’ll buy these for me. Or, you can wait until next year, when I’m pretty sure somebody will start selling “Sasparillabelt buckles.

    * Although this statement is full of truthiness, the “truth” is that the bulk of my emails are offers for “VfIAGRA,” “Russian Teens,” and notes about how bad my blog sucks.

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    October 20, 2006

    Love for sale

    The new camera is coming today. Before it arrives, let’s say goodbye to the Sony DSC-T9. Last night’s dinner — homemade macaroni and cheese, and homemade spicy pork tenderloin with a jalapeno citrus sauce — was mighty tasty.

    Newman & Steve-o are attending the Bowling Green State University 27th Annual New Music and Art Festival this weekend. Newman is getting a performance of his String Quartet, “Wapwallopen,” and Steve-o is getting a performance of his newest wind band piece, “Radiant Joy.”

    I was fortunate to attend the premiere of “Wapwallopen” several years back, and I wish I could be there to hear it live again — although it’s posted on Newman’s site. Whenever I hear it, I think not of the town in Pennsylvania for which it is named (seriously — click the link. I guarantee you that the photos that pop up — of palm trees and the beach — are nowhere to be found in Wapwallopen, PA), but I think of how effective this piece would be with choreography. I hope Newman gets a good recording of this performance, as the only other recording was made by yours truly using a hand-held microphone in a non-ideal performance venue.

    Radiant Joy” is Steve’s newest piece, and I love it. Steve was nice enough to email a recording of the premiere a few days ago, and I can’t stop listening to it. Steve has somehow managed to write a fast, note-heavy-but-somehow-never-muddy, happy-but-never-cheesy piece. I wish I could be there to hear this live, too, but I’m pretty optimistic that this sucker is going to get played all over the place.

    The programs for the upcoming Midwest Clinic and the national CBDNA convention are all posted — well, almost. (The programs for two CBDNA ensembles aren’t up yet.) I’ve mentioned in the past that Rick Clary is conducting “Turbine” at the CBDNA convention, and that, I’m sure, will be awesome. Rick is also doing a piece of Newman’s, “As the Scent of Spring Rain.” The schedule also shows that Steve-o (not sure why I keep calling him Steve-o) will have a performance at the convention — Florida International University is doing “Stampede.” In addition to FSU’s performance of “Turbine,” I saw from the schedule — I hadn’t known this until the schedule went up — that Central Michigan University (conducted by John E. Williamson) will be doing “Redline Tango.” There’s also a chance that one of the schools that hasn’t posted their program will be doing another piece of mine as a premiere, but that’s not confirmed. It’s all shaping up to be a great couple of days in Ann Arbor in March. I’m excited to hang out with Steve & Newman — and drink a lot.

    I’m probably going to put my old camera up on Ebay. AEJ suggested that I load the memory card with “secret” pictures and/or video and see if that’ll encourage some stalker to bid on it.

    In television news… “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” “Heroes,” and to my surprise, “Friday Night Lights” are three strong series this fall. Unfortunately, they’re all at least somewhat serialized, so it’s tough to join in after missing several episodes, but check them out if you haven’t. “Heroes” is probably the weakest of the three, as two of the main characters are either lame (Niki Sanders) or just downright irritating (Peter Petrelli). One character, though — Hiro Nakamura — is so great that he more than makes up for any of the show’s shortcomings. Plus, Hiro’s super power — the ability to bend space and time — is by far the best super power ever. Niki’s power — the ability to essentially turn into The Hulk without turning green or ruining her jeans — and Peter’s power — the ability to fly — are handled badly. Niki gets really strong, but can’t remember what she does when she’s like that. I think it’s called multiple personality disorder, and I don’t think that’s a super power. Peter can’t even really fly — he kind of just floats so far — and he can only do it around other superheroes. Oh, and he also spends way too much time playing with his hair. Dude, if it’s in your eyes that much of the time, get it cut. Emo is fine and all, but you’re, like, 30. Get over it.

    “Studio 60” also suffers from a bit of miscasting (if not poor writing; I’m not sure yet), but overall, it’s well done — and Matthew Perry is shockingly good. (I say this as a hater of “Friends.”)

    Also in television news, Jeffrey has won Project Rungay. I’m just happy that Laura didn’t win. A lot of people seemed to love her and her stuff, but I found it — and she — bitchy, old, and boring. I wonder what MS thought of the whole thing…