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Thursday, December 08, 2011

From the Vault episode 2: Letter from Colin Dexter, 1994

In my early teens, I had an obsession with detective novels. I still love them, but back then, with puberty raging in my heart and loins, I wanted to be all the female sleuths and/or sleep with all the male sleuths when I grew up. It might have started with Sherlock Holmes - I know I had a dumbed-down kids' version of The Hound of the Baskervilles and soon moved to the real thing, and I also devoured all the Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books early on. At some point, I found a copy of Murder Ink in the school library and pored over its pages, systematically attempting to acquire and read every book it mentioned; I know that's why I discovered and branched out into John le Carré and Dashiell Hammett. (I even dropped into the Murder Ink store in Manhattan for old times' sake on my solo US vacation in 2002.)

By 1993, my obsession had mostly focused upon Inspector Morse. I first encountered Morse through the television series, which in Australia ran on Channel Seven and was enjoyed by my dad. As much as I loved the show, the books were, of course, better, and I read and reread them many times, chasing down all the references to opera and literature and poetry and classics. I also collected them avidly; I think I had at least four different editions of The Way Through the Woods.

I'm not a fan-lettery person, but in 1994, I took stock of how my little fourteen-year-old life had been shaped by my devotion to Morse books, and started drafting a letter to author Colin Dexter, after rather creepily stalking him as best I could by hunting down on VHS all his guest appearances in the series and looking up his address in an authors' directory I found in the State Library of Queensland. (Just think what I would have done with the internet and Google Earth.) I wish I'd kept a copy of my letter to laugh at in posterity; there were at least four pages of gushing, along with detailed descriptions of how the novels had inspired me to join the chess club, take up Latin (through a correspondence course, since my school didn't offer it), research the baffling mysteries of Freemasonry (this interest vanished after I finally learned the handshake when I was 16), and become a fledgling opera buff (I bought an expensive subscription with my allowance and attended all the shows by myself, since nobody else I knew could stand the stuff); in particular, I described my resultant affliction with a profound admiration for the music of Wagner. I blathered on with oblivious teenaged narcissism* about playing the viola in the youth orchestra**. After four or five painstakingly handwritten drafts, the letter was dropped in the mail and forgotten. I honestly never expected a reply; I just wanted to thank the guy and talk about myself.

My mother didn't understand why I wouldn't stop screaming hysterically when this came in the mail. She looked genuinely worried, as though she feared the familial insanity had taken me early.


My dear Melissa,
That's just about the sweetest letter I've ever received. Bless you! If you were here, I'd give you a hug and a kiss (if that were allowed!).
My greetings to you from Oxford and from Chief Inspector Morse. And every best wish to you yourself always!
You write awfully well, you know. And perhaps you're going to be a writer yourself?
Colin Dexter

I'm not going to say that this letter made me who I am. But it certainly kicked all of my Morse-inspired interests into high gear. I took more music courses in grades 11 and 12. When I agreed to go to med school after graduation, it was only because I thought I wanted to be a forensic pathologist. The first drink I ever had was Bell's Scotch. The first $1,000 I ever saved, I spent on buying tickets to the first Australian production of the entire Ring Cycle in Adelaide in 1998. And now, of course, I am a composer, and currently, one of my graduate courses is a seminar led by Carolyn Abbate (squee) focused on Tristan und Isolde.

This blog post brought to you by nostalgia provoked by watching Inspector Lewis on Netflix Instant, followed by Humoresque, which was our Tristan "reading" this week.

*as opposed to self-aware 31-year-old narcissism.

**When his next book came out in 1996, one of the young characters "had a great love of music, and played the viola in the National Youth Orchestra." Naturally, my blood ran cold upon reading that sentence, and I felt certain I was responsible - me, personally, responsible for a small trait of a small character in a Morse book. However, that character had committed suicide, so I couldn't bring myself to think on it too deeply.

Tangent: is it now an accepted thing that all forensic pathologists on TV are women?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Renovation pride

In June of 2006, Matt and I bought a house.

We wanted something low-cost, since it was our first. I was gung ho about fixing it up myself, since I pretty much grew up renovating and I'm handy like that. So we ended up buying the cheapest house in the area. $82,000 for a two-bedroom semi-detached. And ohhh boy was it a fixer upper. When we walked in, the walls were yellow from decades of indoor tobacco use; they were literally coated in nicotine. I knew everything needed to be gutted and redone. But I was keen. And somehow, I managed to convince Matt to go along with it.

Our real estate agent and our housing inspector thought we were completely insane and advised us not to buy every step of the way.

Five years later, after the expected helpings of blood, sweat and tears, the interior is finished, and we're (more than) ready to rent the place out - after we show it off a little online, because GODDAMN we are proud. I've blogged our progress occasionally along the way, but here are some specific before/after shots to give you a small idea of our work.

The basement stairs were rickety and a little worm eaten, so we replaced them with treated wood. The foundation wall itself, being made of mortared field stones and more than 100 years old, was in terrible need of tuck pointing - I'm glad I finally plucked up the courage to tackle that this summer and probably saved us about $8,000. We still have to install a handrail, but it's pretty much complete.

For a period of about ten days, we didn't even have a working toilet. The local McDonald's saw us regularly at all hours. Matt embraced his inner redneck and shaved with a hose in the backyard. Understandably, we tackled this room first. The brand new bathroom cost us a total of about $500 in materials, mostly spent on the glass blocks, as we got some killer deals on the toilet and bathtub. Perhaps the only thing more baffling than the sash windows in the original bathroom is the chair-rail strip of wallpaper depicting the heads of big cats (there is a better shot of this monstrosity in one of the slideshow photos below).

Next we finished the kitchen, which was quite a job. Above you see it as we bought it. All the electrical appliances were connected to a power strip from the 1960's that you can see fastened to the wall below a window that was missing a pane of glass. The sink was from 1947 and leaked. We know the year of manufacture because there were a bunch of 1947 newspapers beneath the "rug" in the main bedroom, and we found an advertisement for the exact sink within.

First we took down the kitchen wall. At the time, I was napping upstairs when I was awoken by the most horrendous noise; it sounded like a war had broken out. I ran into the kitchen to find Matt, Jordan (pictured above) and four or five neighborhood boys I didn't know blithely laying into the wall with hammers. As I recall, I was extremely freaked out. Especially when I saw that there was about three cubic feet of wasp nest insulating the outer wall (we had not yet discovered this in the above photo). Luckily the wasps were not resident.

Not satisfied with the walls, we also set to demolishing the floor, which had been rotted out by the leaking 1947 sink. The rot had spread to the joists, so we sistered those to treated wood beams and replaced the subfloor completely before tiling.

I should also mention here that I learned during the process of building the kitchen that staining cabinets is my absolute least favorite job of all time. I think I hate it even more than sanding ceiling drywall. I built the plate rack you can see above the sink with some dowel and scrap wood after I saw one in a cabinetry display with a repulsively high price tag - it seriously looks exactly the same as the one in that showroom.

The main living area (look at that beautiful wallpaper) was almost a breeze compared to the cramped rooms with all the complicated plumbing and rot problems. I impulsively decided to take down the stupid arch wall, and I'm so glad we did. Combined dining/living rooms are where it's at, especially in a house this small.

Progress on the exposed brick wall was documented here.

Here's the view from the arch (or where it used to be) to the front door. New door, new window, new walls, new ceiling, new lighting fixture, new molding, new floor ... it's all new.
Except that HVAC grate. It was a non-standard size, so we had to keep the old one and refinish it.

This is probably my favorite feature of the living room. The original rooms had these exposed pipes and ductwork running floor to ceiling. When I say "exposed," what I mean is that they were actually covered in wallpaper and then painted. Yeah. We decided to box them in, and because I hate wasted space, I recessed some built-in shelving into the covering wall. The column you see was necessary because the ceiling beam above the arch was poorly supported at that end.

Stairs: original, in progress, and complete. The door you see in the first photo was dismantled and the wall to its right taken down so the basement entrance is now right at the top of the basement stairs.

This is the view from the top of the stairs, in progress and complete.

And finally, the bedrooms. The master bedroom was the only room in the house where the plaster was in decent enough shape to patch and keep. I'm very happy with the closets we built in both rooms. They're better than the closets in two of the bedrooms of our Philly house.

Here are some occasionally hilariously horrifying shots of the renovation in progress. Looking back at them, I can't believe we lived like that for so long. But I'm laughing, so I guess it was worth it.

And here is a pretty slideshow of higher-res photos Matt took today. I present our masterpiece of home improvement:

So. Who wants to rent a nice new house in Downingtown?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Karlheinz Stockhausen and David Icke, sitting in a tree ...

A few moments ago, I was mining a 1977 interview with Stockhausen for quotes and insights to include in a horrible paper I'm writing on Mantra that is already late because I am allergic to writing it. Anyway, I tweeted:
Hahaha, right? then, OH HOLY SHIT, this on the last page of the interview:
The spirit of [my latest work Sirius] is that it is music from Sirius, which is transposed on this planet and [reveals] the possibilities of this planet, because I think that the culture of this planet has been mainly formed by visitors from Sirius, especially in the time between 9000 and 6000 B.C., [as have] most of our modern concepts of cultural achievements, as far as these are still available, because, as you know, an enormous amount has been burned in the library of Alexandria, where all the secret knowledge of architecture, of mathematics, of astronomy and of the arts, and of the magnetism of the earth, of ecology, etc., has been destroyed voluntarily by the Christian orthodox administration. But I think that our main sources of present-day culture, as decadent as it may be in most parts of the planet, stem from visitors from Sirius whose main representatives (leaders) were Isis and Osiris. Through a series of revelations which were at first quite nebulous, but have become more clear during the past few years, I know (as little as I know about details) that I have come from Sirius, myself. And I know that the highest kind of language that can exist for this highly developed culture is music. As long as we're inclinated toward the bodies and possibilities of the body of this planet Earth, then everything from Sirius appears as music. It is structured in a direct harmony with the forming principles of the universe, of the rotations, of the seasons, of different aspects of youth, man, woman, the friend, of the elements earth, fire, water, air, of states of growth, etc. All of these characteristics stem basically, and have been made conscious, from this culture, and there are many other planets which have been influenced by these universal principles, which are communicated best through sound in music that is the best and most universal way.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Personal thoughts on Spotify, etc.

A few days ago, cellist and Twitter superstar Zoe Keating spoke out against Spotify. She has some good points. I do think that Spotify should pay equally to each record label and/or artist. But who's fault is it that they don't? The record labels have always flipped out over subscription services. They've systematically killed every one in the past: Rhapsody, Napster, Zune, etc. I'm sure Spotify didn't deliberately draw up different contracts with labels because they felt like it. The labels demanded it, and labels are still far bigger and more powerful than a young company that has yet to actually turn a profit (though it's on the brink), even if the industry is burning to the ground.

Spotify has the potential to save the ailing music industry. People stop pirating when they use it. Perhaps some artists are railing against Spotify because the music industry is (was) a vampiric business model that has demanded blood from artists for decades, and it doesn't deserve to survive. Eh. No, most artists have misdirected their rage at Spotify because they don't feel they're being paid enough yet. Railing against Spotify, however, isn't going to help us. Telling people to stop using Spotify in 2011 is like telling consumers to stop collecting mp3s in 1999. We have to find a way to work within the new system. (Which! I would like to say I predicted years ago, and I wish I had blogged about it then because I would be hailed as a prophetess! Or something. Never mind, being a prophet-with-a-blog probably pays about as much as being a fledgling composer.)

One advantage of the Spotify model is fairness - a different kind of fairness to the one discussed by Zoe Keating. This is old hat, but I'm going to say it anyway. Once upon a time, we bought a CD without knowing whether or not it was worth listening to, played it once, and if it was terrible, we were stuck with a useless object that took up a little over a quarter of an inch in our CD racks. I still have CD's kicking around that I know I will never play again; I can't sell them, and I can't bring myself to throw them away, because I paid $10+ each for them. My mp3 collection is the same way, though at least it takes up less space and doesn't smell like my basement. In the subscription system, the artists that I love and play over and over and over again can potentially get more money than the artists I play once. Good god, if the music industry had been savvy enough to implement some kind of music subscription service in 1999, Trent Reznor, Robert Smith and Kraftwerk could probably buy themselves a new yacht and call it Melissa.

But, of course, the recording industry hasn't been savvy. Everyone saw this coming but them - even I, a tiny little cog that isn't even properly connected to the machine. If they had bothered to think about the future rather than masturbating over the piles of cash they were raking in, they might have invested that money in development, launched a subscription service similar to Spotify shortly after the mp3 was invented, and maintained their own value in consumer culture. Instead, they fought tooth and nail against digital distribution, wasted money on DRM, and tried as hard as they could to turn people away from digital media altogether. Analogy: the tide is slowly coming in. You live close to the water's edge. Do you (a) dig a canal that directs the water around your home and perhaps find a way to make the ocean work for you, or (b) stand on the beach with a bucket, pumping your fists and yelling, "Go away!"?

Alternatively, they were the moronic and shortsighted grasshopper in the fable by Aesop, and now they want us to feel sorry for them. I find record labels only slightly less stupid than book publishers who are now teetering on the brink of failure (HOW CAN YOU BE THAT DUMB. The internet began as a TEXT-BASED MEDIUM. Delivery of electronic text files has been available since the beginning. Why did you not think about creating subscription services for books earlier? You sat watching the cracks in the music and film industries grow, and you did nothing. Nothing. And now you're crying over Google Books, and hoping that charging fifteen fucking dollars for an e-book will save the market for physical books? Burn, baby, burn.)

If the industry had thought about this earlier, Spotify or something like it would be ubiquitous today, and the revenue raised from advertising (for the company) and streaming (for the artists/labels) would sustain the industry and hopefully artists. Now we are stuck with a service in its embryonic stages and millions of people with vast mp3 collections that they probably got for free. Perhaps Spotify will grow into something that can support artists. Apparently it's already starting to do that in Sweden, where the service first began and has existed for much longer (translated article). But I have no pity for you, music industry. I have pity for the artists who will suffer in the meantime because of your shortsightedness and incompetence.

Oh, and I have pity for all all the artists you have ripped off over the years. Pass the marshmallows.

*sigh* This was a really impulsive blog entry, and I'll probably get flamed, but I'm just going to hit PUBLISH POST because I need to run to Sam Ash. Up Your Cherry is playing tomorrow night and I need a power supply.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Did you miss Tesla's Pigeon at the VOTG concert?

If you weren't able to attend the Voice of this Generation concerts the other weekend ... I'm very sorry. Because they were awesome.

But you don't have to spend all day every day crying about it any more, because the recording with Jessica Lennick and Tim Ribchester from just a few weeks earlier is now for sale!

You can buy it electronically (in your choice of MP3 320, FLAC, or just about any other format you could possibly desire) for $7 from Bandcamp.

Or you can pick up one of the gorgeous digipak CD's at the Tesla's Pigeon minisite.

AND AND AND I still have a few of those handmade silkscreen prints left, so you should definitely consider picking up one of those. They're even better in person than they are in the photographs below -- a lot of people fell in love with them at the concert merch table and couldn't leave without one.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fringe binge - documentary evidence of success

Another year of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival is over. Thank god. I mean, I love doing Fringe things, but HOLY CRAP do I have a lot of catching up to do in every other aspect of my life.

With that in mind, I must keep this short. First: eternal gratitude once again to Kendall Whitehouse (Can you give eternal gratitude twice? Isn't that like adding infinity to infinity?) for coming to the Voice of this Generation concert this Sunday and taking these marvelous pictures.

He also made it to our tech rehearsal Saturday morning with camera in tow. Rad.

Matt uploaded some grainy video of Up Your Cherry at The Undead to YouTube.

Speaking of, Up Your Cherry got a nice mention in City Paper! Our first press!

Also, the Philly Weekly blog Make Major Moves interviewed me over the phone, in the course of which call I managed to talk about Voice of this Generation and Up Your Cherry, and then spiral into one of my usual caffeine-fueled rants about new music:
I think that’s very reflective, because when I do go see orchestra concerts, and no disrespect to old people, it's just a sea of white and grey heads. It's a very conservative audience and performance style that hasn't changed in 100 or so years, and when even the smallest change happens, there's an uproar. There are all these people who've been around it for so long and they don’t want it to change, and they’re the ones with money, so the orchestra wants to cater to their demands. Sure enough, there’s stagnation. And this is one of the causes of the symptoms of the Philly Orchestra filing for bankruptcy, and a problem with other orchestras around the country... [More]

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What Up Your Cherry looks like (updated) and Borribles

In my last blog post, I threw together some pictures showing you the kinds of things that Matt and I are doing in Up Your Cherry. But now, thanks to the marvelous Kendall Whitehouse, we have proper photographic evidence from our show on Saturday at The Undead.

I am particularly cracked up by the one where I look like a Borrible. Ever since I read the Borribles books as a kid, and re-read them a couple of years ago, I've wanted to set all the Borrible song lyrics to noisy music.
Drink it and sink it and clink it again,
Swill it and kill it and fill it again,
Booze it and lose it and choose it again.
The world is a bad house,
A prison a madhouse,
To hell with all sober respectable men.

Here we go beer we go blear we go down,
Wine we go fine we go blind we go down,
Flesh we go meths we go death we go down.
This life is a face
Of the gods and the arse
Of the universe wearing the face of a clown.

Steal the stuff feel the stuff deal the stuff more,
Quaff the stuff laugh the stuff splash the stuff more,
Curse the stuff worse the stuff nurse the stuff more.
There's no good in thinking,
Oblivion's in drinking,
So pickle your brains till you drop to the floor.
If you don't know the Borribles, you should pick up the trilogy. Deliciously subversive, anti-authoritarian, dark (the deepest, blackest shade of dark) "children's" literature. They kill Wombles. Larrabeiti doesn't name them as Wombles, but it's hilariously obvious. I really love those books. I guess I'd have to look into all kinds of rights issues if I wanted to set the songs though. BORING.

We have more Undead shows through Saturday, and one show at Plays and Players on Wednesday - see our shows page for a complete list. Video evidence is being planned. Stay tuned.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Introducing Up Your Cherry at The Undead and Girl on Gurl

As of two days ago, Matt and I have been married for eight years. [Want a trip down memory lane? Here's our wedding mini-site from 2003 and photos from our fifth anniversary vow renewal. Don't know what we're doing for our tenth yet!]

We've come through all kinds of weird crap, and done a bunch of growing together, and at the risk of sounding like I'm gloating and/or boasting, I can happily report that the state of the union is even better than when we started. Ridiculously good. We're pretty freaking lucky people. If you'd asked me 15 years ago whether I'd ever get this lucky in love, I would have cast a rolled teenage eye at my parents and said, "Are you fucking kidding?" And yet, here I am, madly in love with my husband. It's like we won a lottery and somehow avoided ending up miserable, drug addicted and broke because of it.

For most of our marriage, we haven't played music together, which seems very weird because we were both in actively performing bands when we met. It wasn't a conscious effort of avoidance; for my part, I think I was just scared at some level. Performing music has always scared me. I'm never nervous as an actor, but my stage fright as a musician is sometimes debilitating to the point of requiring medication (metoprolol has saved me many times).

Sometime last year, the two of us started bitching excessively about the current state of popular music, and suddenly we realized the only thing to do was to make our own. Composer/pianist Danny Lawson unwittingly came up with our band name when he misheard me saying "a piacere" in a Tesla's Pigeon rehearsal in November. It took a few months, but this summer we decided it had to happen.

When my friend, director/playwright Wally Zialcita, approached me and asked me if I would be interested in provided some pop music for his Fringe show The Undead, I saw my chance. Aaaactually, Wally: Matt and I are in a band now. We will be glad to play your music LIVE. You can't say no! And he didn't.

GIGS! We had gigs before we even had songs. Awesome.

What does this band look like? It looks like this:

Plus this:

And this:

And this:

Last night we had our First! Ever! Gig! as the house band for The Undead. Great success! We're playing a lot of undead-related covers as well as a couple of originals. We've also become the house band for one night of another Fringe show, Girl on Gurl.

If you want to see our shows (YOU DO), there is a complete list of dates and venues on our website (which is kind of a placeholder as of 7PM 9/9/11, so excuse design/functionality). Yeah, that is a crazy schedule for a brand new band. Trial by fire! And we're starting to line up more shows past the Fringe Festival.

You could also go to the relevant pages on the Philly Fringe website:

Zacherle Presents...

The Undead

Rep Theatre Presents...

Girl on Gurl

Thursday, September 08, 2011


I did something dumb and involved myself in four Fringe shows. Four.

This has led to me being so busy that I have had scant time to actually promote said productions. In fact, one is already open and is only running a couple more days. You should see it. I provided the original music and sound design for:

InVersion Theatre Presents...
A play by Amiri Baraka

Directed by William Steinberger

Performing in the Parish Room of First Unitarian Church
2125 Chestnut Street
Five Performances Only!

Performance Schedule:

Fri, 9/2 at 8 pm
Sat, 9/3 at 8 pm
Sun, 9/4 at 2 pm
Fri, 9/9 at 8 pm
Sun, 9/11 at 4 pm
(Please note that there is no Saturday, 9/10 performance.)

InVersion Theatre presents Dutchman, Amiri Baraka's (née LeRoi Jones) Obie-winning 1960s portrait of a brutal interaction between a young Black man and a mysterious White woman on a New York City subway car. Directed by William Steinberger, the production stars Richard Bradford and Caroline Crocker. For more information, visit Inversion Theater on Facebook.

Trailer from Ben Grinberg on Vimeo. (Note: this music is not mine! You'll have to see the show if you want to hear my score.)


What's the music like? I started with an unsettling bed of train percussion and beats, but you really want to pay the admission fee to hear the melody played on my mandocaster -- run through a Boss OC-3 so it sounds like a bass.

I freaking love my mandocaster. More about that very soon.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Number One: The Larynx. The Larynx.

Whenever I drive without the radio on, one of two things happens: (1) I roll repeatedly and endlessly through snatches of earworms until I start composing something myself (or become excruciatingly stuck at the earworm stage), or (2) I think about strange things.

For instance, today while driving home from Penn, I thought about larynxes. Sorry, I mean larynges. The plural form of the word is pretty strange, but stranger too is the actual body part. It suddenly hit me: the larynx is kind of amazing. It makes sound. (No, I swear I'm not on any psychoactive drugs besides Wellbutrin.)

Can you imagine how awesome it must have been for the animals who first started being able to make sounds with their larynges? Woah. I no longer have to go over and bite that dude to get his attention. I can stand over here and use my larynx to piss him off wirelessly. With invisible waves. Just by repurposing this sphincter thing that keeps crap out of my lungs. That must have been about as exciting as the development of the Internet. It's a pity evolution happens so slowly that most likely no one ever stopped to marvel at how awesome it is. Suck it, lizards! I have a multifunctional larynx! Booyah.

This is probably why I prefer driving with the radio on.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

From the Vault episode 1

I keep finding things in my filing cabinet that I feel are worth posting for their sentimental value. Today I present:

In 1994, as you can see from this meticulously designed poster, legendary jazz musician Don Burrows participated in a residency at my high school. Of course, the school went completely nuts over it. Don Burrows this, Don Burrows that, you must all learn to behave like angels because Don Burrows is coming, Don Burrows deserves the utmost reverence so be prepared to genuflect at all times -- and there were these "DON BURROWS: THE MAN AND HIS MUSIC" posters all over the school.

There is a curiously Australian quirk: for every hype, there is an equal and opposite anti-hype. It's at least partly related to tall poppy syndrome. Anyway, because I was sick of the hype, as a bit of a lark, I took one of the posters and did the above to it, photocopied it (I only had a purple pen), and posted it back on the noticeboard from whence it came.

Silly me. Somehow the administration found out it was me, and I got in enormous trouble. Called to the principal's office and made to repent. I think I had to give some kind of formal apology.

I still think it was funny.

Don Burrows, incidentally, turned out to be a really awesome dude, hilariously irreverent, good-natured, and of course, a musical god.

Monday, August 01, 2011

The Pines of Rome

One of the dirty little secret side effects of studying full-time for a Ph.D. in music is that, gradually, you listen to less and less music in your leisure-time until you listen to virtually none at all. Talking radio or television is fine. Silence is fine. Music while I read books or clean the house or catch up on e-mails? Drives me nuts. Hell, I can barely stomach listening to music when I drive. I was embarrassed when I first noticed the trend, but as it continued, and the hard drive that contains all of my recorded music lay ever more dormant, I began to quietly discuss the symptom with other full-time music scholars to determine if I were somehow defective. To my relief, the vast majority of them seem to have experienced the same thing to some degree; I may be defective, but not abnormally so. If I live as long as Peter Maxwell-Davies, I may find that the condition becomes even more acute.

Matt and I have been making steady progress on the final renovations in our Downingtown house this summer. We usually work until about 10PM Sunday night, which means that we always listen to SymphonyCast on the drive back to Philadelphia. Thus, not only have I been forced to listen to music, but to old chestnuts that I wouldn't normally have thrown on even when I did leave background music playing willingly. Old chestnuts being the bread and butter of most orchestras, more often than not, I've performed the pieces myself.

A few weeks ago, it was Beethoven's Fifth. I can't even remember the last time I sat and listened to a recording of the Fifth beginning-to-end. I groaned when it was announced. And yet ... damned if by the repeat of the exposition, I wasn't singing along. By the Andante, I was playing air viola. Last night, the mystery encore was Respighi's The Pines of Rome. God, that piece is great. I mean, sure, it's the Pines of freaking Rome, but -- I just -- the build in the Appian Way is -- IT'S SO FUCKING GREAT. SCREW EVERYONE WHO DOESN'T LOVE THIS PIECE. I CAN'T STOP YELLING, IT'S SO GOOD. I guess a lot of my love for it is tied up with my performance experience of it. One of the first pieces I played after switching from violin to viola, The Pines of Rome was performed in 1994 by a massive multi-school festival orchestra I was lucky to be a part of. There must have been at least 120 string players and something like 14 desks of violas (if I remember correctly, we also played Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, which was similarly inspiring). I still remember the blast of the brass section in my ears and hair, the laughs the first time the bird whistle sounded in rehearsal and even the jokes John Curro cracked (my first encounter with one of my favorite conductors).

Hearing all these pieces again has done something unthinkable to me. I sent an e-mail to the conductor of the Penn Orchestra and inquired about auditions. I picked up my viola. I played scales. Scales. On Friday I broke out the Bach suites and got so wrapped up in them, I didn't notice that my shoulder and neck were starting to get really, really pissed at me, so on Saturday and Sunday, I had to fix the plumbing* in Downingtown with an achy trapezius.

Let's see where this leads. Maybe it's just a phase.

* Cut all the copper out of the basement and replaced it with PVC. Helluva job. Satisfying, though.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Baffling diagram

While I'm scanning things to put on the Internet, I bring this to your attention, which was just handed to me by a lady who knocked on my door.

I can't stop pulling my WTF face at the diagram on the left there. I include the text so you can see that there is no elucidation within.

So ... is that guy supposed to be someone, or is he just an anthropomorphic manifestation of Western civilization? Are the different body parts supposed to represent the kingdoms arbitrarily assigned to them? What could the labeling of this statue? idol? with chronological civilizations possibly hope to illustrate? And why are we questioning the toe civilization?

I haven't even mentioned the amazing curve-ball meteor ... coming out of a volcano. There is so much crazy in this picture. Imagine: someone, somewhere, sat down and drew this in seriousness.

Dear religions: you might want to not put stuff like this on your tracts if you want to avoid the crackpot label. Of course, maybe you like the crackpot label. Who am I to judge.

Code code code code code code code code LOVELY CODE! WONDERFUL CODE!

My brain is a clunky old gearbox. There are certain things it can do well, and it runs pretty smoothly when it's doing them, but switching gears is something to be done reluctantly, with much grinding and swearing.

Last week it was the publicity gear. This week it was the website gear, which despite being right next to the publicity gear, is one of the most annoying switches, because I invariably have forgotten how CSS and HTML work and have to sit there for a while, staring vacantly at the source code of pages I myself created, wondering how the hell I got them to work. Usually now, when I'm trying to find this gear, I get Matt to start a page for me with the basic containers and divs set up and then hand it over, because it takes him about five minutes, whereas I'll spend hours being all "Derrrrp, how do I use the style attribute again? Why did I float that left? Why does that float left work completely differently on this page as opposed to that page? WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN!!?!>?> *mash keyboard*"

Sometimes, when I'm good, before I start working on the code, I'll make a nice mock-up in Photoshop. I'm bad, though. When I'm designing my own websites, I tend to start changing all kinds of things on the fly, so Photoshop mock-ups feel like a waste of time. I had a really basic idea for the Voice of this Generation website consisting of floating squares, and had Matt set that up for me, but wasn't sure what to do with them until I woke up last weekend with an idea. I had just designed a postcard for the show featuring a big pair of stock photo lips. Wait! That's it! Big lips! The site needed big lips. I grabbed at the nearest suitable paper product to sketch it out. While cleaning yesterday, I found the initial product of this brainwave under the bed and thought others might appreciate:

In case you can't tell, there are two drawings in order to demonstrate scalability.

The final result (click to go to the Voice of this Generation webpage):

Other website things accomplished this week:

The Tesla's Pigeon microsite! This one I did all by myself, having re-cut my teeth on VOTG and accessed my buried CSS knowledge. Please note that you can (and should) now buy the screenprints that I mentioned in the last blog entry. They look really spiffy framed, and make awesome gifts.

Did a quick reconfigure of the Zacherle website for their upcoming Fringe show The Undead. Contracted out the JavaScript lightning bolt to Matt. Incidentally, Matt and I will be performing music together for the first time at this show, so you should probably come and see it. (That's my next gear - writing songs for us to perform together.)

Updated my Composition page on so that it uses the same database and layout as Mormolyke Press. Much spiffier than the old version. This involved a lot of faking my way through mySQL and PHP, with a little (OK, a lot) of instruction from Matt. Also finally updated my bio, which was hella out of date.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tesla's Pigeon, Silk Screening, and No Poo

I haven't plugged Tesla's Pigeon on this blog enough (or much at all, really). Last December, soprano Jessica Lennick and pianist Danny Lawson premiered the piece I wrote during the fall semester, a 20-minute song cycle. From the program notes:

In the 1920's to 40's, Serbian-American scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla lived out his twilight years having metaphorically wrecked himself on Manhattan Island, bankrupted and broken by a public relations war with Thomas Edison. A staunch believer in the connection between his genius and sexual abstinence, Tesla shunned women, choosing instead to feed and care for street pigeons in his hotel room at the New Yorker. His closest friend was a white dove that visited him every day at his hotel room window. In moments of delirium, Tesla believed this pigeon to have mystical knowledge and the ability to communicate with him, and declared to friends that he was in love with her. One night, the bird flew into Tesla's room close to death, and according to Tesla, a light came from her eyes more intense than that of the most powerful lamps in his laboratory before she died in his arms. Tesla said that at that same moment, he knew his life's work was finished. Tesla's Pigeon is sung from the dove's perspective in these final moments, and explores parallels between the relationship between Tesla and his pigeon, and Prospero and Ariel in Shakespeare's The Tempest, with text adapted from Ariel's songs, Goethe's Faust, the poetry of George Sylvester Viereck, Serbian traditional song and poetry, and personal letters to Tesla.

When my friends and Penn colleagues Tony Solitro and Scott Ordway approached me this spring with a plan to present a couple of concerts in this September's Philadelphia Fringe Festival, I was pretty delighted to have Tesla's Pigeon on the program. I've booked Jess again and Tim Ribchester on piano, and (joy!) I'm organizing a studio recording (my first, can you believe it?) to take place around the same time.

A studio recording needs album art! So I ran a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a commission from Robinson Smith, Executive Creative Director of Design at Pavone (his bio on their site says "I am Batman."), who has designed Harrisburg Shakespeare Festival's gorgeous and striking show posters for years.

The similarly gorgeous and striking Tesla's Pigeon art thus created is below, followed by pictures of Matt and I in our first home silk screening venture, printing the posters I promised as premiums to the most generous Kickstarter donors.

Screen-printing has a bit of a learning curve, especially with regard to photo emulsion development times, but I got there. And I think I did a pretty decent job translating Rob's design into three screens and a sea sponge. I ended up doing a run of 25 (destroyed a few screens in the process, so won't be making more in a hurry), and will probably sell the extras, so watch this space if you want one (Warning: they won't be cheap. Silk screening at home is an expensive and time consuming business.)

City Wide Composers Collective presents
Voice of this Generation: Love Lost

The Fringe concerts are scheduled for September 17 at 7PM, and September 18 at 2:30PM and 7PM at the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia. N.B. If you click the Fringe link above in the next couple of days, it will have the wrong information! We had to change venue at the last moment because of BYOB concerns at our first choice, which means we also had to switch around dates. Yes, you will be able to drink alcoholic beverages of your choice while you listen to crazy and beautiful vocal music from seven young local composers. No tuxes! No pretension! Well, only a little. We're still composers, even while we're drinking.

And now for something completely different. You might notice in the silk screening photos that my hair is kind of wet. That's an anomaly. I have something to report that may well revolt you, but eh screw it, I'm feeling the need to proselytize.

A couple of years ago, I made an amazing discovery. I have had problems with canker sores all my life. Nothing seemed to help. In fact, it seemed like the cleaner I kept my mouth, the worse the sores got. One day, I got so sick of the situation, I finally did some Googling to figure out what the hell. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that there is an ingredient in the vast majority of toothpastes, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (or SLS), which actually causes or significantly worsens canker sores. I switched toothpaste to one of the SLS-free varieties (Rembrandt has one, and Tom's) and HOLY CRAP. Canker sores DISAPPEARED. Even when I do stupid things like bite one spot on the inside of my cheek 27 times in one day until it is a raw bleeding mess of ground flesh, I won't necessarily get one (or if I do, it goes away in a day). WHAT. All these years, I brushed my teeth thinking the sores would get better. I'd been LIED TO.

So as a result, I've turned into a raging hippie who is planning to solve all her problems by experimenting with eliminating certain chemicals from her life. What other deceitful concoctions contain this devil compound, SLS? Shampoo. Hrmm. A little history: when I was a little girl, I used to wash my long hair once a week. As a teenager, I cut my hair short and started washing it once a day. And suddenly, my hair was oily. I'm talking dumped-a-bottle-of-olive-oil-on-my-head oily, every morning. Also, I started getting some pretty serious dandruff/psoriasis. I put the change down to hormones and hoped it would go away. Of course, it didn't. It got worse and worse, and at age 31, I still had a Deepwater Horizon explosion on my head if I skipped a single day of washing.

God, how stupid am I? It was the freaking shampoo. I did a little research. There is a whole movement around the idea that shampoo is basically a giant scam. It's called "No Poo." Yeah, I wish I were joking, but that's what it's called. Well, what the hell. Over a period of about two months this summer, with the help of a lot of Batiste (Best. Product. Ever.), I weaned my sebum-crazy scalp off its daily suds. It's taken a while, but I was determined to give the experiment a decent run, and it's paid off. For the first time in nearly two decades, my hair is not oily. The psoriasis is under control. Apparently this lifestyle choice, if you can call it that, will also eventually translate into healthier hair, as the natural oils, no longer being washed away before they get very far, will be able to spread down the shaft and prevent drying and split ends.

You are being LIED TO. Throw away your shampoo bottle. Sue the damn shampoo companies. It's garbage. Of course, you will have to suffer through shampoo withdrawal for about two months, so don't plan any hot dates or red carpet appearances during the weaning process, but I feel so goddamn liberated now.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Children are little insane people

I am uncomfortable around small children who are still tripping.

You know how small children trip, right? I have a very vivid memory of the end of my own tripping phase. Around age three or four, I was watching Sesame Street while my mother was outside watering the garden, when this segment came on the air:

As Grover was rocked back and forth by the suddenly living mountain, I was seized by the idea that an evil Chinese empress was about to kill him, then come out of the television and kill me. I have no idea how I got this idea - I was, as I said, a small tripping child. I ran outside yelling for Mum and breathlessly tried to explain the trouble.

"Mum mum help Grover is in trouble he's on a hill and there's an empress and she's coming out of there to get me and it's scary and you have to come in and help because she's coming from China and --"

"What on earth are you talking about?"

And suddenly, I stopped, confused. What the hell was I talking about? Chinese empress? Coming out of the television? What?

In my late teens, through, ahem, various sources, I came to realize how closely this stage of brain development mimics the effects of hallucinatory drug usage.

Anyway, tripping children make me uncomfortable. As Matt and I shopped for LED rope lighting for our basement at Walmart last night, surrounded by screaming (and I mean screaming) tripping children, I felt wave after wave of anxiety. God, make them stop, I said to myself. Why isn't anyone making them stop?

And it dawned on me that I don't like tripping children because they are essentially little insane people. I have about twenty years of experience with insane people, and possibly a low-grade case of PTSD as a result. For about a decade of my life, when someone started screaming uncontrollably for little or no reason, it was my job to try to shut them up and calm them down, fast. It was kind of terrifying.

This also completely explains my lack of desire to have my own children. I used to reason that I didn't want kids because I have such terrible mental health genes coming down both sides of my family, but it's much more selfish than that. I have already spent enough time looking after insane people. It wasn't a fun time. I have no intention of subjecting myself to that again in the near future. I don't think it's cute when little kids make no sense; it pushes all kinds of OHJESUSGODEMERGENCY buttons for me.

I really like little children once they stop tripping. This usually coincides with the onset of comprehension of sarcasm. Once they're brattily giving their parents and friends sarcastic lip, they're awesome in my book.

This post brought to you by Intensive Weekly Free Therapy at Penn's CAPS, Summer Edition.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Me, as comic book badass

The lovely Jake Stetler got in touch with me some weeks ago with the following illustration by Courtland Ellis, which is cool enough that I am forced to swallow my boundless modesty and post it here.

No Santuary - Tanner

If you're curious as to why on earth someone would draw a picture of me in edgy clothes looking like I'm about to kick someone in the face: back when I lived in Central PA, I played a role in this indy action flick No Sanctuary, which was a terrifically fun experience. Director Jake tells me: "At picture lock. Final assemble & sound left!"

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The O'Neill National Puppetry Conference Day 3

I hit the ground running. In the last 24 hours or so, I have half-constructed a pair of articulated white pigeon wings with a total span of about 12 feet. The feathers are made of white duct tape and cable ties. It's taking shape nicely, but it's a long way from finished. Perhaps this was a little too ambitious a project for what is effectively my first puppet show. But it's not like I'm here to play it safe.

In good news, my soprano, the lovely musician/puppeteer Alissa Hunnicutt, thrilled me to bits by having the featured two movements of Tesla's Pigeon down pat at our first rehearsal, despite being horrendously busy herself. Everyone needs to hire her, like, immediately.

Last night I had about four hours' sleep after an exhausting day, and I thought I was doing so well coping with that deprivation until a presentation by Jane Henson, during which we had to sit in a darkened theater. Lights down, BOOM, sleep came roaring out of the jungle, chased me down, and began to eat me in front of everyone. I was mentally slapping myself and rocking back and forth trying to keep it at bay, because it's pretty damn cool to hear firsthand how Jim and Jane Henson got started. I only rested my eyes for a moment. A few times. It was rough.

Nothing a coffee afterwards couldn't fix, though.

A few moments ago, I took Paul McGinnis's Vegeminity, which is to say, I gave him his first taste of Vegemite, spread sparingly on a toasted bagel with a lot of butter, and he liked it. If more Americans had gentle first encounters with Vegemite, it probably wouldn't have such a bad rap here. Speaking of, there are no fewer than three Australians at the conference this year. One of them, Lana Schwarz, is fresh off the plane from Melbourne, and I'm collaborating with her, composing music for her (hilarious) project. Consequently, I can feel my full-strength accent returning. She pronounces the L in soldering! She says Texta! In the context of listening to me bitch about American vacation time, she uttered the sentence, "Don't they get long service leave?" I hadn't even heard the term "long service leave" in over eight years, and I'd completely forgotten about it. Suddenly I'm even more pissed off about American vacation time.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


It has been so long since I last blogged, because of course, I've been busy, and rather than spending tedious minutes explaining all the things I've been doing since the beginning of last semester, I'm just going to start with what I'm doing now.

Today was the first day of the O'Neill National Puppetry Conference, here in sunny Connecticut. Oh, wait, it's not sunny, it's COLD AND WET AND HORRIBLE. But the conference itself is awesome and filled with awesome people. It was awesome last year, and it's even better this year because instead of suffering through that vaguely awkward new kid phase, I can look people in the eye because they know who I am. This year, I'm back as a staff member (music tech assistant) but I'll also be composing for myriad puppetry shows again.

I packed the station wagon and drove it up here on Friday. For those not aware, Matt and I own a Dodge Magnum now, for the purpose of going on the the Great American Roadtrip ™ next year:

Five weeks is still kind of a short amount of time for this journey, but with American vacation time being as paltry as it is, it's the best we're going to do before we retire (or before I start raking in so much cash as a composer that Matt won't have to work at all HA HA HA). We're tricking out the car to sleep in most nights. It's probably the largest vehicle I've ever owned, but I realized after we bought it that when I was growing up in Brisbane, my father had a big blue station wagon (dirty as hell and packed full of fun-to-explore, probably tetanus-infected hardware), and when I lived in Sydney, I owned a big blue station wagon (dirty as hell and packed full of band gear) which, incidentally, was condemned during a random police road check while I was hanging out with Matt in the USA for the first time. So, as much as I love teeny little cars, the big blue station wagon is kind of like a familiar home-cooked meal that was easy to digest (and remember how to park).

Here's a shot of the Magnum before I left Philly:

Contained within:

  • cello
  • electric cello
  • mandolin
  • mandocaster
  • violin
  • djembe
  • toy accordion
  • recorder
  • Assorted percussion: toy glockenspiel, maracas, chimes, thumb piano, egg shaker, tambourine, toy tambourine
  • Junkyard drumkit, put together Thursday night
  • Assorted electronic equipment: Stylophone, Kaoss pad, laptop loading with crap, soundcard, Tivoli radio, PA speaker, guitar amp, 6 microphones, mic stands, Alesis wedge reverb, Boss GigaDelay pedal
  • cables galore
  • assorted building materials
  • Clothes and bedding

  • I'm workshopping adding puppetry to a selection from Tesla's Pigeon. It's going to be RAD.

    Tonight I played my junk kit at Blue Gene's Pub on campus. I had one beer and got very drunk. Ahh, Wellbutrin, you reduce my tolerance chemically *and* by making me lose stupid amounts of weight.

    Anyway, as you can probably tell from this explosion of Babel, I am still a little tipsy, and I should probably get to bed, since I'll be up at 7:30AM tomorrow.

    Wifi is spotty here and cellphone reception is basically non existent. I am sorry if I appear to disappear. Do not get mad at me for not replying to your e-mails! I really, really hate when people do that. You know how you get too busy to reply to someone, and the next thing you know, they're leaving you passive-aggressive e-mails/voicemails/facebook messages complaining about how you don't pay enough attention to them (essentially)? I do not understand why people do that, because generally it makes me NEVER WANT TO TALK TO THEM EVER AGAIN. God.

    Enough! Good night.

    Friday, January 28, 2011

    Time and Music

    "If I only had the time, what I would write for your delight ..."
    -- Gordon, "Heart and Music," A New Brain

    Plays & Players' production of William Finn's A New Brain has almost closed, though my job as musical director really ended on opening night. For the first time in at least three years, I'm facing a college semester with zero theater commitments on the side.

    This is a very, very good thing.

    About a week and a half before A New Brain went up, I realized that the main character, Gordon, is essentially ... me. A gay male version of me who has an arteriovenous malformation in his brain. He begins the show as a neurotic, insecure, highly strung, ambitious composer who never has enough time to pursue his real passions and frets about achieving his artistic goals before dying or losing his talent. His lover Roger is Gordon's complement, a calming presence who unequivocally loves and understands Gordon (even when Gordon is stressed, bitchy and/or selfish), and adores his frenetic energy while remaining wonderfully outside of it.

    I can't believe it took me so long to notice. (I suppose it was because I was so busy.)

    Of course, after Gordon's near-death experience, he re-evaluates his priorities and finds a new appreciation for taking the time to experience life. The show's hit number, "Heart and Music" becomes "Time and Music" before the final curtain. A New Brain itself was my brain aneurysm; by the end of the rehearsal process, I was resolutely committed to quitting all of the distractions that take up too much of my time -- time better spent with my husband, composing, reflecting, relaxing(!) -- and focus on what's important. Thus, when a plethora of near irresistible side-project opportunities were spread across my path this past month, I learned to say NO. NO NO NO. Even when asked twice. Or three times. Even when the offer flattered me. Even when it was excruciating to refuse.

    I know, lame, right? Complaining about having to turn down opportunities. But now ... I have time to complain. And to blog about complaining.

    That's not to say that I'm sitting around meditating all day or something. The American Opera Theater's production of the Gonzales Cantata opens next week in Baltimore (Get your tickets!). The Simon Carrington Chamber Singers are releasing a CD containing "What do you think I fought for at Omaha Beach?" on February 8 (check iTunes/Amazon etc. for mp3's after that date). On February 13, the Immaculata Symphony Orchestra is premiering Overdrive, an orchestra piece I wrote over the winter break (I zoned out and spent 38 hours straight doing nothing but finishing it a couple of weekends ago). Anti-Social Music is performing Handshake (a piece I really like, but which I've never previously been able to have performed outside of West Chester University) at the Zora Art Space in Brooklyn (my first NYC performance!) on March 4. The West Chester University Mastersingers are singing "What do you think I fought for at Omaha Beach?" on March 20. I need to write a solo violin piece and maybe a string quartet. I need to start looking at my upcoming giant opera project. I'm planning on developing a non-classical act with Matt this spring. I still teach. Oh, and I still go to classes.

    But no theater. You have no idea how much more time that gives me. Time for music. Time and music. And with Wellbutrin and a great therapist pulling me out of the slump I was in last year, I am brimming with optimism about the next six months.