2011 July 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
  • Xerxes — for metal rock band
  • (Redacted)
  • Favorites

  • Cats: LA Cat Show
  • Design: Cambridge Studio
  • Design: Dining Room
  • Design: Family Room
  • Design: Front Door
  • Design: Kitchen, pt.1
  • Design: Kitchen, pt.2
  • Design: Kitchen, pt.3
  • Design: Kitchen, pt.4
  • Design: Kitchen, pt.5
  • Design: Living Room
  • Design: The Austin House, part 1
  • Design: The Austin House, pro shots
  • Food: Alinea
  • Food: Babbo
  • Food: Eleven Madison Park
  • Food: Jean-Georges
  • Food: Joel Robuchon
  • Food: Next: Childhood
  • Food: Samar
  • Food: Scarpetta
  • Food: WD-50
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  • Japan, part 2: Sushi
  • Japan, part 3: Kyoto
  • Japan, part 4: Kobe beef
  • Japan, part 5: Tawaraya
  • Loki's First Birthday
  • Music: In Defense of Marching Band
  • Music: My Process
  • Music: Picking a School
  • Music: Pulitzer Tub
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  • Music: Self-Publishing part 2: audio
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  • July 22, 2011

    Facebook, part 2

    I just created a new Facebook page. Facebook has a “friend limit” of 5000 people, and I hit that a while back, so I started the next best thing (or so I thought), a “fan page.” The fan page thing is not nearly as fun, so now I have a different personal page. Here’s the link. Add me if we aren’t already “friends!”


    July 21, 2011


    I’m not a good pianist.  I’ve said before that I play piano like a bad typist types.  I can find chords, but I can’t “play.”  Through undergrad, though, I wrote all of my music at a digital piano (now passed on to our friend Liz Love), and my music was frequently more lyrical, probably because if I was going to be able to play anything at all, it would, out of necessity, be slow music.

    As my sample library improved, I wrote more and more exclusively at the computer, where my primary interface was a computer keyboard, and the MIDI keyboard became secondary. I also stopped playing “at” the piano because my setup, out of necessity, prevented the piano from being played comfortably, as you can see from this picture of my studio in NY:

    The digital piano remained on my desk through my time in LA and Austin. Here’s a shot of the former Austin studio:

    As you can see, the keyboard really functioned as a MIDI controller, not an “instrument,” since the position is all wrong, and there aren’t even traditional pedals.

    Last summer, I sublet a place in NYC, and that apartment had an upright piano. I wrote one piece on that piano — a piece that, not surprisingly, was the most lyrical piece I’d written in years: Hymn to a Blue Hour. I decided, after playing that (out-of-tune, upright) piano for about 10 minutes, that I needed my own piano.

    That was the only thing I really wanted to accomplish with our new house in Cambridge: to find a place where I could have my first real piano. As for the specific instrument, I knew I wanted a Yamaha — they produce my favorite piano sound — and I wanted it to be not just a piano, but also serve as my MIDI controller. Enter the Disklavier.

    Literally our second day in Cambridge, I ordered the Yamaha DC3M4.  This is just a Yamaha C3 grand piano – a very nice piano to begin with – with Disklavier built-in.
    As a side note, Yamaha makes all kinds of stuff besides instruments.  They also make motorcycles.  This is not the Yamaha C3 I bought:

    The Yamaha Disklavier is, first and foremost, a traditional piano, with strings, hammers, and pedals. But hidden inside and underneath the instrument is some amazing Linux-based technology that allows the piano to record what you play and send it as MIDI data to your computer, just like any synth would. This is accomplished without changing the touch of the piano at all, as the sensors are entirely optical, so nothing (other than light) is making physical contact with the keys. Like an oldie-time player piano, the Disklavier can play back that same data, moving the keys and pedals as it plays. The piano even has a “silent mode,” which blocks the hammers from the strings, and instead sends the sound through headphones or MIDI alone. Again, the touch isn’t changed, so it feels the same whether or not the piano is in silent mode, but this allows you continue to play at any hour of the day or night without being concerned about noise (or anybody hearing how badly you play).

    The piano arrived while I was at Interlochen a few weeks ago, so I got home to find it already set up. And, knowing about my large collection of those Schirmer Library of Musical Classics…

    … AEJ had this waiting on the piano. If you meet somebody who does something like this for you, you need to marry them.

    The piece is really pretty good. I particularly like the use of 5/8+4/8, followed by 5/8+3/8.  I may use that in the upcoming Percussion Concertino.

    I loved the piano at first sight. Loki, on the other hand, was unsure.

    He totally didn’t understand its ability to play itself.

    It did at least provide some good spots from which to peek.

    And it’s not a bad place to lounge, either, at least when it’s not banging away.

    While photos are great, something like this demands video. So, here is a short video of Finale 2008 playing an excerpt of the piano part from “Breakdown Tango,” which was the original version of “Redline Tango.” The sound isn’t great — the actual volume in the room was loud as hell — but you’ll get an idea of what the Disklavier does. The best part of the video is the first frame, which shows the bandaids all over my hand from the injuries I sustained during a bike crash the other day. (More on that in the near future, but in the meantime, if you live in a major city, and you park on the street, you might want to check your side view window before opening your door.)


    July 4, 2011

    We’ve Moved – again

    No blogging for TWO MONTHS? What the hell?

    We’ve moved, and holy hell, that takes a lot of time. 11,900 pounds of stuff, all loaded onto this truck.  If you have 6 tons of stuff, you have too much stuff.

    The movers spent a full 11-hour day packing everything that we hadn’t packed ourselves. (We had them pack the furniture, and everything that seemed fragile — which, it turns out, is just about everything we own.)

    The house really wasn’t livable that last night. It had gone from this…

    To this:

    Sad, really.

    The drive to Cambridge — 2000 miles — was actually kind of fun, even with a cat in the car. Loki had a good time, and surprisingly, he seemed not to mind the air conditioned seats.  (Greatest car invention of the past 50 years?  I’m going to go with air conditioned seats.)

    He spent most of the ride on AEJ’s lap, playing with his new toy, Yellow Fish.

    Little guy loves this thing.

    Loki made hotels kind of challenging. “Pet friendly” hotel usually means “animal urine in the carpet,” and that’s not our thing, so for the most part, we’d sneak him into regular rooms without declaring that we had a cat. He’s loud, but his meowing sounds like a weird alien baby, so nobody seemed to suspect that we had a feline with us. When we stopped in Columbus to visit my family, though, we made it “official” and paid the extra pet fee , since we wanted to be able to leave him for several hours without risk of him being discovered by housekeeping (or security — this cat throws a mean party). He was pretty excited to finally be in a room where he could explore the windows.

    Or maybe he was just excited to be out of the car.

    But eventually, back to the car we went.

    When I was about ten years old, my grandfather, Harvey, taught me how to read music using a piece of music software called Music Construction Set. My grandfather was a musician — he played clarinet and flute — and he also owned a music store. He passed away about 15 years ago, but his store, Harvey’s House of Music, still exists in Mansfield, Ohio. Since it was on the drive anyway, we stopped to see the store, which I probably hadn’t seen for 15 years.

    The place — the carpet, even the smell — is exactly the same as it was when I was little.

    My grandfather had painted this music mural on the wall back in the early 1960’s. It’s totally groovy (although his pitch material is a bit minimalist).

    The next day, we arrived at the new house in Cambridge. (Cambridge, for those who don’t know, is across the river from Boston. You could throw a rock from Boston and hit Harvard. Well, I couldn’t — I would say I throw like a girl, but that’s offensive to girls, who certainly throw better than I — but maybe you could throw a rock from Boston and hit Harvard. But you shouldn’t.) Anyway, we got there on Wednesday, but our stuff didn’t arrive until Friday. We needed somewhere to sit, so we went to Target and bought the only beanbag they had.

    Needless to say, we were pretty excited when our real furniture arrived.

    Loki, stop that.

    This picture has nothing to do with anything else, but I like it. We just got these brass mini giraffes, who for a short time lived on our kitchen island. It’s like mini giraffes in a savanna.  AEJ has been obsessed with tiny giraffes since she saw that “Opulence, I Has It” DirecTV commercial.

    Since this blog is presumably supposed to be somehow about writing music or some such thing, here’s a picture of the room that will become my studio — the day before the movers arrived.

    But soon it was full of boxes.

    And as we unpacked, we put all of the packing paper and empty boxes there.

    We eventually got all of that cleaned out again, but soon more boxes arrived in the mail. I’d wanted to support my grandfather’s music store, so when we were there, I ordered some music.

    Okay, quite a bit.

    Alright, I bought almost all of it.

    I grew up with these Schirmer Editions, and since I have a piano coming this week, I’m going to need some music, right? Who cares that I play piano like an ungifted 5-year-old.

    Ah, the piano. So excited about this. I’m off to Interlochen in Michigan tomorrow, but while I’m away — after writing on a digital keyboard my whole life — my first real piano will be delivered.  Here’s my studio today.  The finished room will be completely over-the-top, complete with piano (a real piano!), leather lounge chair, dragon curtains (oh, I’m serious), and… booby lamp. Oh, it’s going to rock.

    See you next week.

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