Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Generic 12-tone Happy Birthday

Turns out today is the 36th birthday of new BSO conductor, Andris Nelsons. Good for him, and let's face it, there are probably others with birthdays today as well - in fact, odds are that every day is someone's birthday, so I've repurposed a little 12-tone birthday song I wrote for a friend into a more generic version that can work for anyone deserving of a greeting. Happy Birthday to All!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

George Pastic's "The Violin"

Most of the multimedia featured on MMmusing is at least partly original in conception, but there are also a few "finds" that I'm pleased to have made available even though I had nothing to do with their creation. One example is George Pastic's "The Violin," a marvelous short film from 1974 which I'd first seen at several Suzuki Violin festivals more than thirty years ago. I had begun looking for it about ten years ago for my then young violinist daughter and managed to find an old VHS copy at the Boston Public Library. I decided to upload a copy to YouTube back in 2008 since it didn't seem to be available by any other means. Since then, many viewers have mentioned how much they loved this film and how glad they are to be able to see it again.

Last week, the following comment appeared on the video page from Greg Pastic, the director's son:
Michael, I don't know you but I want to thank you so much for uploading this to YouTube.  My father, George Pastic, passed away at the age of 86 on November 4th 2014, just six short days after losing his wife of 62 years in a tragic car accident.  The accident happened on Oct. 30th.  George had been ill for two years and my 83 year old mother and my younger brother Russell, had been caring for him at home.  When mom was killed, he simply lost his will to live.  This short film truly embodies my father's love of music, storytelling, the power of simple images, and most of all, his love for people.  I hope that, at some time in the future, my family can afford to release it on DVD.
Such sad news (an obituary for Pastic and his wife is here), but the film is certainly a wonderful tribute to Pastic's artistry, as beautifully described by his son. After seeing Pastic's comment, I noticed that an "official release" of the film on YouTube bad been posted back in August. You can view it here.



You can read a bit more about George Pastic here, and my original blog post from 2008 is here. The "print" of the film I'd posted is a bit darker in color, though I think the aspect ratio might be a bit more accurate. It would be great to see a fully cleaned-up transfer on DVD, but there's something about the old-world charm and simplicity of the film that easily overcomes these imperfections. A film about music and memory, it manages in less than thirty minutes to be lighthearted, bittersweet, and memorably musical.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

500 miles

For what it's worth, this is my 500th post here at MMmusing.

Milestones are quirky, arbitrary things, I'll admit. If we had eight fingers instead of ten, 320 might look like 500, and this would be post #764. Furthermore, a "post" is a wildly inconsistent unit of measure since a single post might feature 50 words or 500 words - or a picture that's worth 512 words (which would be 1000 words in base 8).

Furthermore, if you look at the number of posts by year, you'll see that I was more than 1/3 of the way to 500 after just one year! What happened?


Obviously, things have changed from those manic first couple of years, though not necessarily for the worse. (Perhaps I'm just closing in on the perfect zero!) There are a couple of logical reasons why the numbers have dropped so precipitously. First, when I was starting out, I didn't really know what I was trying to accomplish, so I was much more focused on getting something going - momentum seemed very important in proving to myself that the blog was a living thing. It reminds me of when I went camping this summer and tried to make a couple of fires, working with the limited skill set of someone who never made it past Cub Scouts. Even though I bought camp firewood and had a lighter, I'd still spend about half an hour feeding stacks of paper napkins and the like into the flames, along with whatever kindling I could accumulate (where's a viola when you need it?), until things really got going. There are definitely some stacks of paper napkins in those first couple of blogging years (though there's a lot of good stuff too!).

Just as importantly, the blogosphere has changed enormously in the last 7+ years. When I started out in early 2007, Facebook and Twitter weren't yet relevant, and even feedreaders weren't all that common, so it meant something to have regular activity at a blog as a way of encouraging return visits. Conductor Kenneth Woods, one of the best and most consistently productive music bloggers I know, recently wrote an excellent article about the way the social media revolution has marginalized blogs in some troubling ways (especially negating the way in which blogs used to feed traffic back and forth to each other), but Facebook and Twitter do offer useful, if Big Brotherly, ways to point readers to new material. Since I was desperate to look alive in those early days, there are a number of posts that are basically marking time by apologizing for slow output and promising more posts ahead.

I know this because I spent the last several days reviewing all 499 existing posts - not reading them all, for goodness sake, but at least glancing at each one, while fixing some dead links here and there. I was tempted to remove some of the paradoxical "sorry, no post today" posts, but then that would've thrown off the 500 milestone and made the post-count even more ambiguous. The line between substantive and trivial is often not clear; substance can be quite trivial, and trivia can be quite substantive! 

Although the best I can do is approximate, I'm pretty confident I've written well over 300,000 words here (about 3-4 novels' worth?), and that's to say nothing of all the fully integrated multimedia creations: more than 100 (mostly) original YouTube videos which collectively have been viewed more than 500,000 times, plus lots of images, live recordings, even a few compositions and computer programs. And don't forget the sonnets and viola jokes. I do sometimes wonder what the return-on-investment of all this is (it didn't get me tenured!), but I know I've created a lot of stuff I would never have otherwise created, and that's honestly satisfaction enough. There are plenty of fantastic music blogs out there, but I feel confident in saying there's no other like this one.*

Of course, one could make the argument that I should be putting some of this material into more permanent form, but let's leave that argument for another day. I still like the idea of working against the ephemerality of blogging and thinking of this richly hyperlinked "document" as a living, breathing permanent thing - although I have to admit that going through all of those dead links was a chore, and I know that many of them will die again, sometimes never to be recovered. In one case, I was sad to see that a lengthy response I'd written to a commenter had disappeared with the commenter's vanished blog! 

Anyway, even if there have only been 21 posts so far in 2014, they have included an intricately executed "shredding" of Bach (with "Pop Goes the Weasel" thrown in), a series of computer programs that interact with 12-tone principles and the formal properties of Erik Satie's music, a cool mashup ragtime arrangement, some experiments in 12-tone composition, and, in the self-referential spirit of which this post is an example, an interactive index for the blog itself. Although I originally expected MMmusing to be populated mostly by think pieces, I've found it's often more interesting to "think out loud" by creating. I've also used the milestone as an excuse to update the ol' "Musing Machine" in the margin, now with about 300 possible random multimedia outcomes. (Sadly, your mileage with that machine may vary on mobile devices.)

One last gesture for this momentous occasion: I've decided to give in to the inevitable and experiment with an MMmusing Facebook page. I'm honestly not sure what I'll do with it, but I've figured I can only figure that out by trying. I hate how little control Facebook provides for the look and feel of a page, and I'm not going to be paying them to promote my links, so it will likely wither away in cyberspace. So, I invite you to LIKE it! We'll see where it goes as I set out on my second 500 posts.

. . . . . . . .

Oh, one more thing. I recently came across this September 2012 recital recording of the Allemande from Bach's Partita in D Major. It is an extraordinary piece (introduced to me by this Jeremy Denk series), quietly unlike anything else of Bach's I know in its searching, meandering quality. I don't think I'd listened to the performance since the recital, but two years seemed like a safe enough distance...and I was pleasantly surprised! Some crazy sort of honesty compels me to admit that there was one very slight memory stumble which I was able to splice out since each half of the piece is repeated; at least this confession allows me to affirm that I performed from memory. It's not perfect, but it says what I think about this piece and Bach and the piano and music perhaps better than words could...so, enough words.




* I know an argument could be made that lack of focus hurts "the brand," that the blog darts in too many self-indulgent directions instead of sticking to a clear kind of theme, but the appeal for me of a self-published blog is being able to link up all sorts of divergent ideas in ways that inform each other. Some day, it will all make sense.