November 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

Ikea and their ilk, in their practice of keeping the particle board manufacturers in business and the sidewalks blocked with almost once-useful hunks of computer workstation, may have stuck such pursuits out behind the shed, but the pleasures of building-your-own will never fade. Anyone who has ever taken a shop class from an instructor who could thump you in the chest with his shortened index finger for not wearing eye protection will attest to the pride that may be taken in the conversion of a pile of pine into a shiny new shelving unit or a do-it-yourself doghouse. My dad taught me how to do many things and sanding was one of them. Instrumental, however, in my handyman education, were the stacks of Popular Mechanix and other DIY materials that accumulated around the basement.

After 30 years of apartment dwelling it is a relief to be in our new home, hanging pegboard downstairs and installing shelves in the closets with my own two hands (all fingers still intact, as of this writing). Every weekend I look down the stairs wistfully at the basement clutter, mentally mapping the solid teak rec room and the mud room with a view. And the shop: a good, solid workbench with a mounted vise. A table saw. Pegboard everywhere, with hanging tools silhouetted in red. Mini floods dousing the area in pure and clarifying light. And I, in shop glasses, Red Wings, and well-worn Pendleton, humming along with the radio executing one masterpiece of mid-century handcrafted genius after another, as found in the pages of Workbench, 35 cents / March-April / 1968.



Dr. Sax

November 6, 2014 § Leave a comment

Clarinet is my thing, but it is a rare woodwinds fiend who cannot appreciate the bold and brash contributions of Adolphe Sax, especially on his bicentennial.

Antoine-Joseph Sax – image borrowed from History Today

Imagine a world without Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Steve Lacy, Ralph Carney, Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street, Steely Dan’s Deacon Blues (I’ll learn to work the saxophone. I play just what I feel. Drink Scotch whiskey all night long. And die behind the wheel… an Ohrwurm if there ever was).

Just when the saxophonist bumped the trumpeter off the top of the hip heap is up for debate – they both had to endure the reign of the electric guitarist shortly thereafter anyhow.

One thing to note is that the brass player/singer has the advantage of instrument mobility that few other wind instrumentalists share. Hence Louis Armstrong / Louis Prima / Chet Baker. The saxophone hangs around the player’s neck from a strap and relies upon a thin fragile reed to make a big boss sound. One wrong move and it’s back to soaking, please pardon the delay ladies and gentlemen. The saxophonist excels at text-less exhortations.

Blue Morning

November 5, 2014 § Leave a comment

No surprises this morning for a relatively new Tennessee voter. I am pleased to see that our county is an oasis of blue in a desert of red on the election maps, but as a Green Party supporter I am a mere patch of thirsty grass thereupon. The usual disappointing election season practices once again turned what is supposed to be a cultivation of civic responsibility into a forum for dimwitted infomercial tactics.


Image borrowed from Politico

I knew from experience that there would be much to enrage educated citizens if they even glanced at a television screen over the past 90 days, but I will never forget the stupefied expression on the face of a co-worker as he stirred his coffee while thinly-veiled hate speech blared from the break room flat screen (always tuned, inexplicably, to FOX Business Channel). I felt a twinge of embarrassment as he commented in a quiet west African accent that the message seemed a little far fetched. I agreed quickly and said something like “… worst problem in our system is that the rich control the broadcast messages…” and went back to my desk feeling powerless and ridiculous. That is not the way it is supposed to be.

I am proud of my blue county, at least. Many have probably mused over the color choices meant to represent left and right in United States elections – flag colors to be sure, but more, too. Red used to mean “communist” back when society lived in fear of having to share the means of production amongst the people who generated the capital. Now it is reclaimed by the victors in that struggle, taken away from the working class and foisted back upon them as a media generated mirage of conservative religious and so-called traditional values. Red is now the color of bullies.

Blue. According to William Gass:

“Of the colors, blue and green have the greatest emotional range. Sad reds and melancholy yellows are difficult to turn up. Among the ancient elements, blue occurs everywhere: in ice and water, in the flame as purely as in the flower, overhead and inside caves, covering fruit and oozing out of clay. … Blue is therefore most suitable as the color of interior life.” -On Being Blue

According to Miles:

Earworms: Beethoven and the Kinks

November 4, 2014 § 1 Comment

There are three in particular, ongoing, since last week: Beethoven’s 7th Symphony- II Allegretto, Lalo Schifrin- Renaissance (from the Marquis de Sade LP)  and The Kinks- Village Green. There are similarities, in mode and even melody. I can hear the strains of a potential mash-up (that’s an idea straight out of 2003) but more to the point, one psychological instance of music seems to trigger the other so they ping-pong from tune to tune. Of course, it’s not like I’m listening to the entirety of any piece. The experience is a little more like a very limited radio playlist that only has a few songs on constant rotation. They are pleasant companions and can be set aside for external music but when there is nothing else pressing the talkback, the melodies emerge from their little holes in the mulchy recesses and start spinning their tunes. Ohrwürmer.

In my new job, which shall remain nameless, I listen to clandestine radio broadcasts on a telephonic earpiece meant for monitoring the frustrations of faraway colleagues. Low fidelity, but considering that only a couple of decades ago I would stay up all night with a shortwave Grundig just to get a quick sample of BBC World Service (what a way to be introduced to Apache Indian!) the experience is comforting more akin to strapping a transistor radio to my head. Except I can listen to BBC Radio 3 on this transistor. I won’t advertise the streaming platform service here, especially because I find their own campaign incredibly obnoxious. But in a long ago place, such magic was only dreamt of. Then again, so was the notion of speaking to faraway colleagues real-time kvetching.

With my radio headset (I imagine myself in a trench on the Maginot line, wading through the detritus of war, listening for a friendly word from Tokyo Rose, or the latest from Creedence, or anything to get me through another night of shelling) I allow the worms some time off, which they repay in the early morning hours by surviving and growing stronger, inviting more critters to join them in this cozy head. And not just music, but ideas and impulses.

My Stamp Fixation

December 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

My Stamp Fixation

Nice old stamps.

Family Day

August 17, 2013 § Leave a comment

Now that JR is in daycare twice a week, her mother and I can afford to alter our conflicting work schedules to spend one out of seven days together at home with kid and dog, and if not at home at least out in the world of culture and beauty. We have some grand plans- museums, daytrips, tide pools, church, zoos, etc. After a couple of slow starts (house cleaning and Ikea Sundays) we are finally out the door today to Gold Country for a friends’ wedding. We have a dog sitter lined up and a nice new pink sun hat for JR.

I work from home sometimes devising crafty archival software implementations and other DP efforts. Although it has more to do with making myself available to take care of JR, I find it to be productive time- especially late at night. Only the whirring of drives and the occasional dog snore can be heard as I pore over my directories and xml schema. Once in a while I hear something from the bedroom- if JR needs more milk I pop up and grab it and get back to my desk. No other interruptions. These are the benefits of working from home (or elsewhere entirely- I recently arranged a collection of digital data sitting out on my in-laws’ back porch in rural Florida watching the cardinals flit back and forth across the garden.)

I am lucky in that my spouse (a librarian) understands my enthusiasm for my work, and that she also knows a rabbit hole when she sees one. If I need to talk out a description problem, she is there to provide a professional opinion.  Also, she alone can shake me out of work mode and make me get into some walking shoes when I have stared at the screen for too long. She is my inspiration in many ways.

JR can’t read or write code yet, but she likes to sort watercolor markers and put them into her yogurt bucket. She is a good dancer and likes to sing, so we play music together whenever we can, she on atonal autoharp, I on banjo. I look forward to our future conversations and adventures, including today’s.  


Still Bill

December 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

Recently at work I came across a handwritten note dated 1986 from Verna Arvey, the widow of William Grant Still (1895-1978), suggesting that the San Francisco Symphony undertake the world premiere performance of her husband’s last work, The Path of Glory (1962). For whatever reason, the Orchestra declined, and so did everyone else evidently, until 1990 when the Grand Forks Symphony finally took it on. The work turned 50 this year, and seems to remain unrecorded despite its promising subject matter- “the glory and fall of the Aztec empire,” (according to the Google Books snippet of William Grant Still: A Bio-Biography) and a quick 15 minute performance time. The libretto, for baritone and narrator, was written by Arvey herself.

A quick WorldCat search for the score to Path of Glory reveals library holdings at University of Arkansas, University of Ilinois, University of Florida and, of course, NY Public. all great places to start the process of resurrecting this final, nearly unknown work.

The above-linked WGS site has much information on the composer and his legacy. It’s hard not to be interested in an American twentieth century composer who worked with Eubie Blake and studied with Edgard Varèse. Here is the Centennial Celebration Orchestra, conducted by John McLaughlin Williams, performing William Grant Still’s Archaic Ritual which premiered in 1949 at the Hollywood Bowl.