2007 May at John Mackey's Blog



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  • How I Spent My Teen Years
  • New stuff for Fall 2014!
  • UTWE Tour : Shenzhen
  • Wine-Dark Sea – the video
  • Wine-Dark Sea – recording and score
  • “Wine-Dark Sea” – the program note
  • We’re buying a house!
  • Symphony for Band – an update, with audio
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  • Cats: LA Cat Show
  • Design: Cambridge Studio
  • Design: Dining Room
  • Design: Family Room
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  • Design: Living Room
  • Design: The Austin House, part 1
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  • Food: Samar
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  • Japan, part 2: Sushi
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  • Japan, part 5: Tawaraya
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  • May 28, 2007

    Finally home

    AEJ and I flew to Florida last week to deal with a horrible family scare. I couldn’t have made it through without AEJ. Fortunately, everything is fine now.

    For a cheery change of pace from the usual photos of Loki, here’s a picture of my mom’s dog, Molly.

    Here’s one of my mom’s cats, Needles. A much sweeter cat than Loki, I’ll admit. Not as fun, but sweeter.

    This is one of her other cats, Beverly. This cat is a bitch. She’s all, “meow, meow, pet me, meow” (not unlike Henrietta Pussycat), but when you pet her, she bites you. Somehow, my mom loves her.

    In other happy news… I discovered a new recording artist recently called MIKA, a British pop singer who may or may not be known much in the US. (I’m totally out of the loop when it comes to pop music, which, for the most part, makes me gag.) MIKA’s stuff is like Queen plus Scissor Sisters plus ELO. It has that retro sound that somehow feels completely current. And man alive, it is CATCHY. The album (iTunes link) is “Life in Cartoon Motion.” Check out “Grace Kelly” (could totally be a Queen song — he even mentions Freddie, presumably Freddie Mercury), “My Interpretation,” “Billy Brown” (another very Queen song), and “Stuck in the Middle.” If you’re a fan of Queen’s “Fat Bottom Girls,” check out MIKA’s “Big Girl (You Are Beautiful).” The entire album is only $7.99 on iTunes, and I recommend the whole thing (only one song is kind of a dud — out of 14 tracks). If nothing else, if you like Scissor Sisters, Queen, ELO, or Elton John, you should check out the iTunes previews.

    In the happiest news of all, word is that our friend Jonathan Newman and his wife, Melissa, have had a baby (with Melissa doing considerably more work than Newman), and everybody is doing great. Congratulations!!!

    I have a picture of the baby (who, admittedly, is even cuter than a cat), but I don’t want to share more than I’m supposed to, so to keep things private for them, here’s another picture of Needles.


    May 15, 2007

    Miscellaneous photos – just for fun

    I’ve been chugging away on the Soprano Sax Concerto. If you don’t believe me, just ask AEJ. I played excerpts for her for the first time today. She, for good and bad, confirmed my instincts — that one movement is going really well, and the other movement needs a little somethin’-somethin’. I think I know what that sump’n-sump’n is, thanks to her.

    When I’m not working, I’m taking lots and lots of pictures with the new toy. I love this picture of the CostCo-brand Tylenol, on top of a recipe for Pepper Crusted Filet Mignon in an issue of Cook’s Illustrated. The photo looks doctored, like I did some crazy processing in Photoshop, but this is straight from the camera.

    Here are two of those crazy-colored pills on our sofa.

    If you play with pills on the sofa, Loki gets very interested.

    This is my new headshot — a self-portrait, taken with the ultra-wide angle lens. Incredibly flattering, I think, and it makes me look super smart. And intense. I’m pretty sure that’s what the ladies love.

    Last night, we made Rice Krispies Treats. They were delicious. It felt like I was 7 years old. You just have to change the Rice Krispy / marshmallow ratio to make them a little softer — a little trick I learned from my sister.

    Today, I got a new lens attachment that lets me take much more close-up photos than I could before. I took a few pictures of my vast book collection.

    And look! More pills. Don’t they look yummy?!

    Mr. Kitty.

    And just to prove to the doubters that yes, I am writing music, here’s a little sample — with my favorite accent!

    Tonight, we went out for sushi — my favorite food — at a restaurant called Jinpachi in West Hollywood. Here is Japanese red snapper with Hawaiian sea salt, chili sauce, yuzu, and garlic chips. Mmmmm…

    Not the best photo, but here is yellowtail with cilantro, yuzu, garlic, and jalapeno. Again… mmmm….

    And finally, a sushi plate, with eel, yellowtail, salmon, blue fin tuna, and toro. Just delicious.

    I swear, if I could afford to spend $100 on dinner every night, I’d eat sushi daily. Maybe someday. Your Band Booster dollars at work…


    May 14, 2007

    Turbine : Owned

    I received the CD today of the CBDNA performance of “Turbine,” performed by Rick Clary and the Florida State University Wind Orchestra. At the time of the concert, I thought it may have been the best performance I’ve ever had of any of my music, in any medium, ever. I wondered if I’d just been caught up in the moment. Now that I’ve heard the recording, though, I know my first impression was right.

    This performance is, quite simply, a perfect rendition of “Turbine.” I don’t know how Rick Clary managed to fix every screwy balance issue in this thickly-scored piece, but he sure as hell did. The previous two FSU performances of the piece — posted here in February — were great, but this trumps them both, and by a lot.

    I didn’t know the piece could ever sound this good. Check it out.


    May 9, 2007


    Yesterday was crazy here at the homestead. Southern California is usually a pretty fantastic place to live, particularly considering the weather and the surroundings, but when LA gets slammed by nature, nature doesn’t mess around. As you probably heard, there was a brush fire in Griffith Park yesterday (and still burning today). Griffith Park is near the Hollywood sign, and is home to the Griffith Park Observatory, hiking trails, a golf course, the LA Zoo, and lots more. Griffith Park is in Los Feliz. We live in a neighborhood called Silverlake, just next to Los Feliz.

    I was trying to work yesterday afternoon (I say “trying” because I wasn’t coming up with anything particularly useful), and I saw smoke from what I assumed was a house fire across the reservoir. When I looked more closely, I could tell it wasn’t just a house. I took this picture from the deck.

    A few hours later, the LA Fire Department started flying helicopters to the Silverlake Reservoir (the lake in front of our house) and taking water back to the fire. The first time I saw a helicopter strafe our house, I was a little freaked out.

    AEJ and I headed outside to street level for a closer look at the choppers.

    The smoke was still pretty bad.

    Then they brought in the big guns. I’m not a fan of flying — and being in this low-flying plane would freak me out.

    We weren’t the only people who were interested in checking out the choppers.

    The squirrels were curious, too.

    It was pretty exciting — and loud.

    The fire had seemed to be under control, but as it got darker, the wind shifted, they had to stop flying the huge planes, and the fire got worse. Now we could see flames on our side of the hill.

    The fire department doubled up the number of fire choppers, flying them not just to the far side of the reservoir as before, but also to our side of the reservoir — literally in front of the house. This was shot from our deck.

    I wasn’t the only one taking pictures. (That’s Ed, our landlord.)

    The smoke got blacker…

    And the flames started to look almost like lava.

    It was surreal. Last I heard, no houses were seriously damaged, and the fire fighters, so far, are all still unhurt. A few minutes ago, they resumed the helicopter runs to the reservoir, so that’ll be a fun distraction out my studio window throughout the day. Ah, the excitement of Southern California…

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    May 5, 2007


    Perhaps the highlight of our trip to Japan in March was our night at Tawaraya, a 300 year old Japanese-style inn (ryokan) in Kyoto. Here’s a brief description from Concierge.com :

    If you’ve heard rumors of Tawaraya, you’ve heard that it’s a favorite of heads of state, movie stars, and obsessive Japanophiles. You may have also heard that it’s devastatingly expensive. All true. Tawaraya, the three-centuries-old ryokan located in the heart of town, is Kyoto’s über-inn—perhaps one of the finest in the world. Its wabi-sabi elegance and attention to even the tiniest details will make the aesthete in you swoon: the wetting-down each morning of the stone path in the garden; the perfectly aligned slippers inside the front entrance; the candle lamps in the hallway; the deft intermingling of mid-century Danish pieces among the Japanese furnishings; the sublime service performed by maids whose kimonos reflect, in design theme and color, the season. There are only 18 rooms (and a staff of 60!), and they’re almost always full (though, as one visitor remarked, you feel as if you’re the only guest). If you want to experience traditional Japan in all of its excruciatingly understated splendor, call—way, way in advance—for a reservation at Tawaraya.

    We hadn’t heard of Tawaraya until a few weeks before our trip to Japan. Our friend Wataru came over for dinner to give us some tips about the upcoming trip, and he recommended Tawaraya, if we wanted to completely splurge. Since we had no idea when (or if) we might ever be back to Japan, we figured what the hell. We had Wataru call Tawaraya to reserve a suite for us (which would have been difficult for us to do, with the fairly intense language barrier), I faxed them our information, and we were all set.

    The night before our arrival, we had stayed at another hotel in Kyoto (we couldn’t possibly afford more than one night at Tawaraya), so we took a taxi to the ryokan that afternoon. When the taxi arrived, the driver got out of the car, asked us to wait there, and he ran inside. Somebody came out of the inn to escort us from the car and take us into the front entrance. Our bags had somehow already been taken out of the trunk of the taxi and brought upstairs to our room; we never saw it happen. Once inside, we were offered house slippers to change into, leaving our street shoes behind.

    We were then escorted up to our room — Kujaku (the Japanese word for peacock, and also a type of koi).

    Most hotels would have a directory to show you where to find the gym, the vending machines, and whatever else, and it would be the same for every room. Our “directory” at Tawaraya was hand-painted with watercolors. On the left is a painting and floor plan of our room, and on the right are paintings of the public spaces such as the library.

    Some fancy-pants people have stayed at Tawaraya in the past, including Bernstein, Alfred Hitchcock, Walter Cronkite, and Brando. (I later read that more recent guests have included Steven Speilberg and Keanu Reeves, though presumably not at the same time.)

    And here’s the main room of our suite. The suite had a bedroom (to the right), this living/dining area, and (to the left) a small room with a daybed.

    Before I could take many pictures, our kimono-ed attendant came into the room to talk to us about dinner. She brought us green tea…

    … and little rice cookies.

    There was a little issue with language — AEJ is allergic to shellfish, but Wataru had written that information down for us in Japanese, so we could be sure that none of her nine courses at dinner would kill her. We thought we had requested a “beef grill” dinner for her, but that wasn’t what she got. You’ll see what we ate soon enough, though. We requested an early dinner time, knowing it would last several hours. With that, our attendant left us to make dinner preparations.

    The entire inn is designed to bring the feeling of the outside gardens into the rooms. Here’s a shot of our garden, with the remote-controlled blinds raised.

    Here’s a picture taken from that daybed.

    Here I am at the little work area. There was a sort of well area sunken into the floor so that I could bend my legs and sit normally, even though it appears that I’m sitting flat on the floor.

    This is the “view” from the desk. Not an unpleasant place to work. The red box on the left contained materials for calligraphy. The little green leather thing is a notepad.

    The wallpaper in the closet — covered with calligraphy. I wondered if it was somebody’s crazy manifesto.

    Here, again, is the garden area, our dining table, and in the back, the “nap room.”

    And here’s the living/dining room, with the bedroom area in back, as taken from the work desk.

    The bathroom at Tawaraya was pretty spectacular. It had, as expected, a Japanese-style bath, although this was private, not public of course. The tradition is that you don’t wash in the bathtub — you shower first, and then get into the hot, cedar bath simply to relax — kind of like a hot tub, but scented with oils, and without jets. Here’s the shower area with the covered (pre-drawn) tub. That’s a thermometer on the floor. We didn’t take baths until after dinner, but man alive, they were amazing. The water was so hot it was almost uncomfortable, but not quite. I got a little dizzy in the tub, but I think it was simply from being fully relaxed for the first time in, like, 16 years.

    The sink, complete with every amenity we could wish for — from individual shampoos to a shaving brush.

    And everything was beautifully packaged.

    Here’s the water closet. Nothing in there but a sink and a Super Toilet. Oh, and those “bathroom” slippers that you’re supposed to change into before going inside. (You don’t want to wear the same shoes in the water closet that you’d wear in the bedroom.) The toilet was sweet — well, as sweet as a toilet can be. When you walk into the room, the lid raises up automatically. Want to raise the seat? Push a button on the wall. No need to touch anything you don’t want to touch. The seat, by the way, is heated. The thing also had all sorts of different water jets, but that’s, uh, not my style. I totally want a $6000 toilet.

    Next we decided to snoop around the public spaces of the inn. There are lots of these little inside/outside blurring spaces — like this blossoming cherry tree indoors.

    Here’s the souvenir shop.

    This is the library, again overlooking a garden.

    The entire place was beautiful — and we didn’t see a single other guest while we were walking around.

    Then it was time for dinner. Oh boy. Get ready for some crazy, authentic nine courses of kaiseki ryoti — the Kyoto haute cuisine. Course #1 : tofu with vegetables (left), grilled eel (right), and river fish (top center).

    A close-up of the green tofu (tofu is a specialty in Kyoto), with a vegetable on top. The vegetable looked like a scary green dragon.

    Here’s the eel.

    And did I mention the river fish? Hello, river fish.

    Course #2 : for me, sashimi.

    For AEJ (because of the shellfish allergy), cuttlefish, salmon, and vegetables.

    A close-up of my sashimi, with our attendant in the background. Check out the beautiful presentation, with the tiny purple flowers.

    And a close-up of my other sashimi — shrimp with squid. (Squid is, admittedly, a little difficult for me to chew.)

    Here’s a bowl of white miso soup with a fish ball.

    We were a little scared to open up said fish ball, but inside was some lovely whitefish.

    Course 3…

    Fish-wrapped tofu…

    … and three little bread-based things with different sauces.

    Course 4 consisted of “special sushi” for the festival occurring at the time. That’s rice, seaweed, egg, and shrimp.

    Course 5: a fish soup with bamboo shoots and seaweed.

    Okay, here’s where things get a little out of hand. I mean, it looks beautiful…

    … but it was pretty challenging. That’s octopus. Have you ever tried to bite raw octopus? Well, you can’t. It’s like biting a fish-flavored eraser. You mouth just bounces open — assuming your tongue hasn’t become stuck to one of the leg’s suction cups. And that thing on the left? I was like, oh look! A new potato! Or maybe a huge grape! No, that’s half of an octopus head. The other half went to AEJ. Enjoy, darling.

    Course 7: pickled vegetables and rice…

    … and red miso soup.

    Dessert was delicious — even though it contained no fish! It’s a hollowed-out orange, filled with a fresh orange Jello-like yumminess.

    Lastly, we received tea and cookies.

    After dinner, we were escorted to the study, where I checked email and tried to reply, although it was a bit tricky with the English/Japanese hybrid keyboard.

    We returned to our room to find our beds made, and with pajamas for each of us.

    And here’s our garden at night.

    That was the best night’s sleep I had through the entire trip. I can’t tell you how comfy those beds were — and the bedding was silly-soft and cozy. The next morning, our attendant brought us breakfast — Western-style. No fish, rice, pickled vegetables, and miso soup for us. No, first up, coffee —

    — and then plain ol’ bacon, eggs, and croissants, and the yummiest yogurt drink I’ve ever had. Delicious.

    Tawaraya was an incredible experience. The setting, the service, the food — everything. Some of the food was a little foreign from what I’d normally eat, but that was the whole idea. If we can ever afford to stay there again (which would mean that we would have won the lottery), we definitely would. I’d just first have Wataru translate “beef grill” for me.