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A blog following my musical activities

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Streaming Experimental Music on Earmeal

September 30, 2012

Streaming Experimental Music on Earmeal

Camera 2 on me playing toy piano music for the video podcast Earmeal on LA Artstream, September, 2012.

Because of my participation in a local Sound Art festival called Soundwalk, I was invited to be part of a video podcast called Earmeal, one of a number of great video podcasts about the Los Angeles Art scene.

The host and producer, Alan Nakagawa, offered me a 30-minute slot to perform anything I wished. His aim is to document the experimental music scene in Los Angeles. I decided to show some of the ways I incorporate experimental music and sound art into my music appreciation class curriculum at Loyola High School of Los Angeles.

After a quick setup and sound check, the cameras went live and I was on for a half-an-hour. Alan was wonderful about setting me at ease, but the two camera shoot still made me kind of nervous. Plus, I was using technology in my performances. Despite the best laid plans, gremlins often make appearances when you least want them.

I was really honored to be able to share and document some of my work with Alan. I am not teaching Electronic Music or Sound Art per se. I use these projects in a constructivist manner for Music Appreciation. I am introducing students, who are not necessarily musicians, to experimental music composition and performance.

Alan’s work on Earmeal inspires me. It is an important service he is providing for current and future artists, scholars, and enthusiasts. I hope to replicate Alan’s sense of community and altruism in the work I do with students at Loyola High.

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Heyókȟa Te Deum: A collision of Native American and Catholic Spirituality by James MacMillan

January 13, 2012

By Sioux Chief Black Hawk (born 1832)


I recently found an old recording I made with my former high school choir of the Heyoka Te Deum by James MacMillan. I am not sure how this piece slipped my mind because it is unusual and terrific!

A Heyoka, or Heyókȟa, is a “sacred clown” of the Lakota.

Heyókȟa are thought of as being backwards-forwards, upside-down, or contrary in nature. This spirit is often manifest by doing things backwards or unconventionally—riding a horse backwards, wearing clothes inside-out, or speaking in a backwards language. For example, if food were scarce, a Heyókȟa would sit around and complain about how full he was; during a baking hot heat wave a Heyókȟa would shiver with cold and put on gloves and cover himself with a thick blanket. Similarly, when it is 40 degrees below freezing he will wander around naked for hours complaining that it is too hot.

– from Wikipedia

The Heyókȟa are chosen in dreams. Part clown, part shaman, they symbolize the sacred, the Wakȟáŋ, by satirizing society. They ask the difficult questions by saying things others might be afraid to say so that the community might consider topics not usually thought about, or look at things in a different way.

Heyókȟa are both mirrors and teachers. They provoke laughter in times of despair or stir up chaos when people are too comfortable to avoid the dangers of complacency.

MacMillan’s setting is clever and typical of his style. The Lakota text is set with complex rhythmic cells and coloratura connecting more stable homophonic sections in the trebles. The interval and cell patterns are consistent, despite key and texture changes. This way, MacMillan achieves expressive variety while remaining technically approachable for beginning choirs. The Te Deum is sung in unison to a Gregorian chant-like melody. The Te Deum sections link verses of the Lakota Chant, only intertwining with the Lakota in the coda. The overall effect alternates the florid, swirling visions of the Lakota with the equally visionary solemnity of the Te Deum.

Loyola High School Music Gathers STE(A)M

January 1, 2012

STEM, a govenment acronym for studies in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathmatics has gained another letter in education circles: A for Arts. I join John Maeda as a proponent of STEAM curriculum. Maeda, a former student and faculty member of MIT and current president of the Rhode Island School of Design, writes:

And so I’ve begun to wonder recently whether STEM needs something to give it some STE(A)M—an “A” for art between the engineering and the math to ground the bits and bytes in the physical world before us, to lift them up and make them human. What if America approached innovation with more than just technology? What if, just like STEM is made up of science, technology, engineering and math, we had IDEA, made of intuition, design, emotion, and art—all the things that make us humans feel, well, human? It seems to me that if we use this moment to reassess our values, putting just a bit of our humanity back into America’s innovation engines will lead to the most meaningful kind of progress. By doing so, we will find a way back to integrating thinking with making and being and feeling and living so that left- and right-brained creativity can lift our economy back into the sky.

– John Maeda in Seed Magazine

I recently discovered that my YouTube video of Steve Reich’s Pendulum music was embedded in a Scientific American blogpost about “cyborg yeast”. Reich’s Pendulum Music is a “process piece” which combines the acoustic phenomenon of a feedback loop in conjunction with the randomness of pendulum swings to create a landscape of slowly-shifting pitches and timbres.

Even though my video is only tangentially related to Christina Agapakis’ post-topic, I believe it serves as one model of how easily the arts may be integrated into STEM topics.

I am grateful that Ms. Agapakis used our music video to illustrate a scientific concept. I think she uses it effectively. Its inclusion introduces an artform and aesthetic to students and audiences that it might otherwise not meet.

Because art so easily illustrates science concepts, I fear that general artistic misunderstanding may make this particular example a STE(A)M curriculum model by being a path of least resistance. To be pithy, I imagine well-intentioned teachers assigning crafts and not arts. Art engages the heart and mind. Students deal with metaphor and expressing ideas. Artists grapple with technique and communicating the ephemeral minus the semantics of science while simultaneous applying scientific principles.

My colleagues at Loyola High School are very open to substantive STE(A)M work letting our students get their hands dirty in both the arts and sciences. My recent Fiskabur project and our joint Physics of Music lectures are great examples of STE(A)M work.

Christmas Music from Midnight Mass 2011

December 25, 2011

Seraphim - Petites Heures de Jean de Berry

Two thoughts about programming for music in the middle of the night: 1) Plan something easy. I have never made so many mistakes as when I planned overly ambitious music so late in the evening. 2) The Sewanee Composers Project is a great sacred music resource!

The SJMP is also an interesting business model. By purchasing an annual license, you have access to their entire library online including unlimited reproduction rights. Many of the pieces have sample recordings, too.

From their website:

A new way to think about church anthems
Since 1992 St. James Music Press has been publishing some of the finest church anthems being written today. THE FINEST! And we’re not just bragging. Anthems from SJMP have been heard on national broadcasts, performed at cathedrals and churches throughout the world, and premiered at major music conferences throughout the country. Our catalog does not contain praise-songs, choruses or renewal music. It is, however, filled with new traditional anthems and fresh arrangements of varying difficulty which have been tried and tested by many fine church choirs.
We want you to photocopy our music!
Unlike many publishers, we are committed to each and every anthem that we publish. You won’t like or use them all and that’s fine. We all have different tastes. But if your choir sings traditional anthems on a regular basis, you won’t find a better resource than St. James Music Press. And now – our entire catalog is on-line and searchable. Need an anthem for the third Sunday after Epiphany when your entire alto section has decided to go on a “spiritual makeover” weekend hosted by Noylene Fabergé, the Christian Beautician? No problem. It’s only a couple of mouse-clicks away.
Find the Sunday in our Liturgical calendar, look for the voicing you need, listen to a few, and print out some that you like. Or print them all. Then photocopy enough for your choir (permission granted!) and they’ll sound like a waffle-house full of angels with Gabriel serving pancakes!
Eight thousand churches can’t be wrong. Join the St. James Music Press family.
Anthems by some of the the finest composers and musicians in the business. Cantatas, Psalm settings for congregation, masses and service music, childrens’ choir music (our award-winning Viva Voce! program), organ music, handbell music, music for brass and organ, organ solo, musicals, anthems for small choirs (our Ten Panicked Singers series), descants and harmonizations, evening services, introits, benedictions…the list goes on and on. And NEW pieces being added each and every month. We’ll send you a monthly email alerting you to new offerings as well as suggesting some pieces you may have forgotten about. All instrumental parts included, of course!
Listen to everything. Download whatever you want.
Or download everything! MP3s for making choir CDs, PDFs for printing, ZIP files containing the congregational files you’ll need for your bulletins.
Wow! Want to give it a look?
It’s free… No, we’re not kidding.
Okay, you can’t print anything out, but you can look at and listen to everything in the catalog. Not just a couple of pages…the whole thing! Our recordings are, in many cases, live recordings from church services and performed by church choirs (large and small) across the country. Most are not professional, but they’ll give you a very good idea as to how the anthem sounds.

An Unwitting Collaboration: Props from Video Artist David Montgomery

December 13, 2011

While checking my email this morning, I found a nice note and blogpost from artist David Montgomery. He wrote about a video on which he unknowingly collaborated with me. I took audio from a concert where I played John Cage’s “In A Landscape” and by applying “Cagean” procedures to David’s Dandelion loops, created a music video.

I sent the short film to David. He was very complementary!

Steven Speciale is an inspired music teacher and choir director at Loyola High School in Los Angeles. When I post my work to the Internet Archive I think of it being used for VJing or video remix though I always hold out hope that it could be used in education. Steven Speciale managed to combine all of the above in brilliant fashion. I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that someone from LA, home to LAVA (one of the most established video art coalitions in the US), who is a mainstay at SoundWalk in Long Beach would make the most innovative use of the Dandelion Free Culture video loops to date.

Personally, it is very satisfying and validating to have one’s work acknowledged by colleagues. The reality is that none of this would have happened without the culture of sharing promoted by the open-source movement, and by extension, social media. David Montgomery would appear to live in Florida; I live in California. Our paths only crossed in this virtual realm. Because they did, we both have benefited, and because we benefit, my students benefit.

Fiskabur 2011: A Milestone for Collaboration

December 7, 2011 2 Comments

Fiskabur 2011

With the export of Movement of Jellyfish by Loyola High School student Leopoldo Magana, Fiskabur 2011 has fulfilled my original intent: to create and execute a cross-curricular project where students across disciplines contribute to the final product, and the final product has “legs” as its existence furthers other educational objectives.

Fiskabur Ontogenesis

After a lecture to both the music classes and physics classes on the Physics of Music, the music students constructed piezoelectric microphones while some of the Physics students built musical instruments.

The music students borrowed the newly-made instruments, sampled them with their homebrewed-microphones, and composed loops. A small-group of the music students went to the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach and filmed many exhibits which I put on our YouTube channel.

Drawing inspiration from these videos, the music students composed soundscapes and music with their composed loops. These loops were loaded onto reactive apps of their design through the RJC-1000 software. Along with still pictures of the fish that inspired the compositions, the music was given a layer of sonic augmented reality.

The apps were loaded onto iPhones, iPads, and iPods, taken back to the Aquarium of the Pacific, and “performed” and recorded in front of the fish that inspired the music. A team of student filmmakers accompanied the composers to gather footage of the project and the creatures themselves.

All of the resulting loops, videos, samples, and RJDJ-pieces were posted on the internet with Creative Commons licenses so all of the musicians and filmakers could share resources.

The Movement of Jellyfish video embedded above is the first all-student product to emerge from Fiskabur. It will be hosted on our YouTube channel, a website dedicated to Fiskabur 2011, and offered to the AP Biology classes as a resource for animal locomotion, one of the curricular points for the course.

Special thanks to my Loyola colleagues: Lance Oschner, Fr. John Quinn, & Craig Bouma for their participation and support. Thanks to the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific, and Marilyn Padilla, in particular, for their permission and support of our filming and recording on the premises.

Setting Up My Google Artist Page on Google’s Artist Hub

November 22, 2011

On November 16th, 2011 Google released Google Music from beta. One of the most intriguing functions of Google Music, and the prime differentiator between it and the many competitors, is the introduction of the Artist Hub. Turning an online music retailer into the musical analog to YouTube is a brilliant opportunity for the independent artist.

Google offers a 70/30 revenue sharing to the artist as well as social integration with Google+ and YouTube. In my experience, this is the best deal out there. While one might not have the marketing support of a label, a media-savvy musician has the opportunity to promote and sell music minus the middleman.

I set up an account to see how it all works.

Logging into the Hub with my Google credentials, I paid a one time $25 setup fee. Google led me to pages where I created my profile, uploaded a picture, filled out tax forms and connected my bank account, and uploaded material for sale.

The setup process was familiar, easy to understand, and quick. I am having an issue with my photo appearing upside-down, but this is a minor annoyance. My new hub was delayed for two days or so while Google verified me. After verification, my Artist Page appeared in the Android Marketplace. It was a thrill to see my page in the Android Market!

I uploaded a choral piece I arranged and conducted into a test album. It appears that I can have unlimited albums and tracks for sale. Via dropdown menus, I have control of sharing-previews: from 90-seconds long to tracks in their entirety, and control over how many shared plays someone might enjoy. I set my preferences to unlimited plays.

There are also menus to set prices for the tracks or albums. I selected free. I wish there was a “pay-what-you-want” choice a la Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” or Bandcamp’s model. Perhaps this will be a future feature? After a day delay, my album with one track appeared on my Artist Hub Page. I “bought” a copy. After downloading, I was offered the opportunity to share my purchase via Google+, Twitter, or +1ing it.

Sharing purchases on Google+

I shared my purchase on Google+. The album art and title appear in a neat package. I do wish it had the flash of Soundcloud with the embedded player and waveform. I also have not yet determined how I might share music as the creator without “buying” it first.

So far, I am impressed with the capabilities of the service. I wish the ability to upload and share were a little faster and more frictionless. When I post to Soundcloud, I can share within seconds. Nevertheless, I am hopeful that this platform will accelerate the ability for artists to become more self-sufficient thus promoting a more secure place for creators in our society.

Jehan Alain: A Centennary Tribute

November 15, 2011

PD: "Copyright : domaine public."

For the feast of All Saints, and in collaboration with the St. Andrew’s Choir and organist Duane Steadman, we presented music by the composer Jehan Alain.

A composer and performer of immense and precocious talent, Alain’s life was cut short in the line of duty during the Second World War. His sister, the eminent organist Marie-Claire Alain has tirelessly kept her brother’s music alive through her own performances and editing and publishing his music. I am proud to have helped, in our own small way, to introduce the music of Jehan Alain to a wider audience.

Le Jardin Suspendu composed in 1934, creates an exotic soundworld within the ancient chaconne form. The chant theme of Lucis Creator appears in the pedal, while the manuals sound grand chords. Finally, the theme is presented fugally, building to a climax with that theme triumphantly stated in the pedals.
One can clearly hear the impressionistic influence of composers
Fantasie for choir with closed-like Debussy and Messaien in this mouths.

Kyrie from Alain’s Messe de Requiem was composed in 1938 for a November service in the church of Saint-Nicholas de Maisons-Lafitte, where he was the church organist. Alain set to music only three of the Requiem texts – the Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei.
The music is serene and suffused with the rhythmic and melodic essence of Gregorian chant.

Variations on Sacris Solemnis. Written for SSATB choir and organ, this motet is an ingenious set of variations on the Gregorian Hymn “Sacris Solemnis”. Each variation uses a different mensural note value while the basic tempo remains constant.

The Agnus Dei from Alain’s Messe de Requiem is the third section of the
Ordinary set to music by Alain. Alain eschews the tradtional setting of the sequence or even the models by
Brahms or Faure. This movement contains the only reference to the mass of the dead with its “Dona eis requiem” “Grant them peace”.

Alain’s Fantasia for humming choir is an evocative and introspective work. I chose it for a post-communion meditation because of one of Alain’s quotes:

“How deeply I wish that, in my music, each and every person found his or her own thoughts, and not mine.” During a time when we celebrate the communion of saints and remember all who have gone before us, I find that the humanity of choral music minus the semantics of text to be appropriate.

For Alain, prayer was “a blast of wind that sweeps all before it”. Three weeks after writing the organ piece Litanies, his sister Marie-Odile died in a climbing accident. Alain added the dedication: “When Christian souls run out of words to implore the mercy of God, fired by faith, they repeat over and over the same invocation”.

Fiskabur Samples released into the wild via Creative Commons

October 27, 2011

After my annual “Physics of Music” lecture/demonstration I give each Fall to our science students, some of the kids create musical instruments based on these acoustic principles.

This year, my music students borrowed some of those instruments and recorded improvisations with contact mics they built from piezo discs.


These loops, some distorted, some not, were loaded onto my Soundcloud account with a Creative Commons license that allows for derivative works on the condition that subsequent works are similarly licensed.

My students are writing music inspired by the creatures living at the Aquarium of the Pacific using these loops as source material.

A Preview of All Saints’ Day and the Centennary of Jehan Alain (1911-1940)

October 17, 2011

Jehan Alain 1938

    All Saints’ Day is coming soon. We will celebrate it on the first Sunday of November with the music of Jehan Alain (1911-1940). Our marvellous organist, Duane Steadman, will play a prelude and postlude by Alain, and the choir will sing the Requiem, a set of choral variations on the Gregorian chant Sacris Solemnis, and a wordless choral piece as a post-communion meditation. This also happens to be the centennial year of Alain’s birth.

A Biographical sketch of Jehan Alain, (1911-1940) edited from Wikipedia.

Alain was born in Saint-Germain-en-Laye in the western suburbs of Paris, into a family of musicians. His father, Albert Alain was an enthusiastic organist, composer and organ-builder who had studied with Alexandre Guilmant and Louis Vierne.
His younger brother was the composer, organist and pianist Olivier Alain (1918–1994), his youngest sister the organist Marie-Claire Alain (b. 1926).

Jehan received his initial training in the piano from Augustin Pierson, the organist of Saint-Louis at Versailles, and in the organ from his father, who had built a four-manual instrument in the family sitting room.

By the age of 11, Jehan was substituting at St. Germain-en-Laye.
Between 1927 and 1939, he attended the Paris Conservatoire and achieved First Prize in Harmony and First Prize in Fugue.
He studied the organ with Marcel Dupré, under whose direction he took first prize for Organ and Improvisation in 1939.

His short career as a composer began in 1929, when Alain was 18, and lasted 10 years. His output was influenced by Claude Debussy, Olivier Messiaen, and an interest in the music, dance and philosophies of the far east.
Alain is best known for his organ music.
Interested in mechanics, Alain was a skilled motorcyclist and became a dispatch rider in the Eighth Motorised Armour Division of the French Army.
On 20 June 1940, he was assigned to reconnoitre the German advance on the eastern side of Saumur, and encountered a group of German soldiers. Coming around a curve, he dropped his motorcycle and engaged the enemy troops with his carbine, killing 16 of them before being killed himself.

He was posthumously awarded the Croix de Guerre for his bravery, and according to Nicolas Slonimsky, was buried, by the Germans, with full military honors.

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