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Saturday, December 01, 2012

Blogging on a phone

On Black Friday weekend, I ordered myself a new distraction: my first non-Blackberry in half a decade (not counting an aborted attempt at owning a slide phone two years ago). I'm with Virgin Mobile, so my choice of phone is somewhat limited, but I'm pretty happy with this Samsung Galaxy S2 thing. Happy enough that I am attempting to blog on it in bed.

This week had been more productive than it felt. Last weekend, we recorded the divine Jess Lennick singing the songs for solo voice and looper I wrote over the summer, June, with text by Lauren Rile Smith.

Mid-week, I got around to cleaning up the mix on a recording of Captain Samuels Speaks to the Sea!, also written and premiered in the last couple of months. (Commissioned by the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival and Two Rivers Festival (England) for Ensemble Epomeo.)

This weekend is a fun one; tonight Up Your Cherry is once again performing as the house band for Puppet Manualfesto at Walking Fish Theater, but if you happen to be unable to attend because you're on the other side of the country, you could head to Walla Walla, Washington, for the premiere of the third piece I composed this summer, Together, for a cappella choir. This was a commission from the Whitman College Chamber Singers, which also performed Omaha Beach a short while ago. Together sets the words of Acts 2:44-46 (from the Douay-Rheims bible). You'll understand better why I chose to set a Bible text for the first time in my life when you read the text itself:
And all they that believed were together and had all things common. Their possessions and goods they sold and divided them to all, according as every one had need. And continuing daily with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house to house, they took their meat with gladness and simplicity of heart.
Super fun to write - one of those creations that just sort of tumble out - and I'm very excited to hear it tonight.

"Hear it?" you say, "tonight?" Why yes, now that we live in the future, I can hear it - and watch it too - thanks to the magical power of the internet and the miracle of live streaming. Check it out, YOU can hear and watch it too, even if you are as averse to leaving your home as I am.

But really, if you are in the area, come out to the puppet show tonight. It's the annual fundraising special, which unlike NPR programs, is often even better than regular slams.

Oh yes, and "Ayn." I've written some. But you can't see it. Yet.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month

It's Remembrance Day, or, as it's called in the country I've adopted, Veterans Day. I ask cynically: do people actually remember what they're supposed to memorialize on this particular day? I wonder. Of course, the date comes from World War I, the Great War that unfortunately didn't teach humankind that world wars are to be avoided, and a war that so few people seem to know anything about anymore, perhaps because there is hardly anyone left alive who truly remembers it. (We lost another one this week. Goodbye, Elliot Carter.)

I'm no World War I expert either, but for some inexplicable reason, I've always been very emotionally affected by tales of combat experience in WWI, even as I have to keep relearning what happened before and after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand because I forget the precise politics of it all. Being Australian probably has something to do with it; thanks to the cruel and/or clueless leadership of British officers, Australian troops were slaughtered in horrific numbers in the First World War. A 65% mortality rate meant that more Australian troops died in WWI than in WWII, even though the latter was a lot closer to home. The Australian equivalent to Memorial Day, ANZAC Day, commemorates the landing at Gallipoli on 25 April, 1915, when thousands and thousands of Australians in miserable trenches were sent in wave after wave over the top to be senselessly mowed down in an instant by Turkish machine guns. ANZAC Day seems to get taken a lot more seriously than an excuse to go bargain shopping at tacky sales events.

Anyway, for no reason that I can fathom, World War I has been on my mind of late. I read this poem again a couple of weeks ago; I first heard it sometime in high school, when it made a deep impression on me, and I spent hours trying to find it before the internet existed. I often choke up or weep when I read it. I can't think of anything more appropriate today. The Latin is from Horace and translates to: "It is sweet and right to die for your country."

Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori

Wilfred Owen
8 October 1917 - March, 1918
I don't think we realize today how terrible an invention trench warfare was. From what I can tell, the shell shock of soldiers returning from the trenches was worse and more widely inflicted than the combat PTSD suffered in WWII or Vietnam. It has to be seen to be believed. What is shown in the video below was not at all uncommon; there are plenty more gut-wrenching videos of shell shock victims available if you search.

I suppose I should mention: in honor of this particular Veterans Day, What do you think I fought for at Omaha Beach? the piece I wrote that set the words of WWII veteran Phillip Spooner is being performed in by the St. Louis Chamber Chorus and, on Wednesday, by the Contemporary Vocal Ensemble at Indiana University.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The October Resolution

I hardly ever make New Year resolutions. I believe that you make a resolution when you are ready to make it, no matter the time of year. And I am ready to make this one.

Currently, I have committed myself to an enormous project of my own conception - the largest, most ambitious, most personally exciting of my career, and one that is hopefully going to earn me a doctorate from an Ivy League university. When I finish writing/composing it, a dauntingly Herculean task that will take a considerable amount of time, energy, and unbroken commitment, I am planning on undertaking a further full-time commitment to the recording, distribution and promotion of that project.

To that end, in quasi-legalese:

I hereby declare that for a period of not less than two (2) years, I, Melissa Dunphy, cannot and will not accept any offer or request to contribute to other projects such that I would be required to answer to the owner of the project creatively. Until the year 2015, with the understanding that the term of this moratorium may be extended, I will not under any circumstances become involved in employment (other than self-employment) the nature of which includes, but is not limited to:
  • composing for theatrical productions
  • sound design
  • musical direction
  • composing for film
  • composing for dance
  • creative consulting
  • recording or other audio production
  • acting or other performance
  • workshopping
  • public speaking
  • educational programs outside of Penn or private teaching
  • web design or other graphic design
  • writing
  • publicity or promotion
  • casting or booking
  • coordination or other administrative tasks.
Commissions of concert music will be considered on a case-by-case basis, and only if the completion of such a commission would not interfere excessively with my own work.
The sole exception to the above is anything involving Up Your Cherry.
If you are asking me to become involved in your project in any of the above capacities, thank you - I am almost certainly very flattered and wish I could help. It is not easy to decline interesting creative opportunities. However, I must regretfully turn you down. I hope you understand. You may try again in 2015, but until that time, I offer no assurances whatsoever that I will commit to your project. Good luck in your own endeavor.

Signed: Melissa Dunphy
Date: October 22, 2012

Friday, October 05, 2012

So much to say! So much to do! AAAARRRGGGHHH look at it all!

It's going to be a very busy few weeks. But gee, Melissa, isn't that what you always say? Yeah. Yeah I suppose I do. I'm working on this in therapy. Seriously, one of the primary practical reasons I am getting my head shrunk is to break my habit of being unable to say no to opportunities. The habit is starting to become a real problem now not only because I'm lucky enough to be getting too many offers, but because I'm getting old and can no longer stay up for 72 hours straight without feeling much, much older.

When I hear people say "Wow, you're so busy!" I no longer take it as a testament to my work ethic and can-do attitude. I just get mad at myself. They might as well have said "Oh look, your nails are bitten down to the quick!" or "Gosh, haven't you been using an impressive amount of heroin recently!"

The first step is to admit you have a problem. But the problem led to some pretty neat things. Here is a brief rundown of the publicly accessible fruits of my labor.

Up Your Cherry
Puppet Manualfesto

On Saturday, our band Up Your Cherry will be playing again at Philly's puppet slam, Puppet Manualfesto at Walking Fish Theater. We've done this a couple of times now, and we embrace the Spinal Tap implications.

Some wicked pre-show publicity has led to Up Your Cherry's first mention on today. Hilariously, they've captioned the photo above with my name.

The Voice Electric

Network for New Music and Voice of this Generation (and of the big lips) have joined forces with the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts for a really cool concert of electroacoustic works for voice called The Voice Electric (you can also download program notes from that link, how handy). I have a world premiere on the program: June, which sets a poem by Lauren Rile-Smith. Here, watch this video; it explains it all much better than I could in text:

You can read the entire poem by Lauren Rile-Smith on her blog.

Captain Samuels Speaks to the Sea!
Ensemble Epomeo at the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival

Over the summer, I wrote a 20-minute piece for string trio and narrator called Captain Samuels Speaks to the Sea! for a commission by the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival and the Two Rivers Festival in England for Ensemble Epomeo. As suggested by the title and the picture above, it's about the record-breaking 19th-century clipper ship the Dreadnought and her captain Samuel Samuels, who in 1887 wrote a memoir called From the Forecastle to the Cabin (here, read it for free) that is far, far better than Moby-Dick (aside: I have no idea why Moby-Dick is classified as a Great American Novel. I enjoyed reading it about as much as I enjoyed Atlas Shrugged. I blogged a little of my experience reading M-B here.). The Dreadnought was built in Newburyport and was the fastest sailing ship between America and England before steam power came along.

The narration is based on a poem by poet/librettist and Two Rivers artistic director Peter Davison, who has written an entry describing his process on the Epomeo blog Broken Thirds.

Next week, Captain Samuels Speaks to the Sea! will be given a preview performance at the Amado recital hall at Penn on Thursday night (at which I will be providing the narration), then its official premiere will take place on Saturday at a black tie event at Custom House, Newburyport, Massachusetts, with Peter Davison as narrator. Prior to the performance, Davison will give a reading of the long form of his poem (the text for the trio is abridged), with accompanying sea shanties sung by yours truly.

Punk rock to sea shanties in a week.

If you are keeping score, this means that I have first-time performances on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of next week, and in between Friday's and Saturday's performances, I have to drive six and a half hours. No problem; the roadtrop has me well-trained.

Behind the Eye
Gas and Electric Arts

I am currently putting together an original score for Gas and Electric Arts' upcoming production of Carson Kreitzer's Behind the Eye. The play is about the fascinating photographer/model/muse/etc. Lee Miller, whose life was far more exciting than mine. She worked with Man Ray (it's criminal that she isn't as well known), posed for her good friend Picasso, and was a WWII photographer (Here she is taking a bath in Hitler's bathtub. Crazy.), among about a billion other things that I could only aspire to.

There's more about the play and the production in BroadwayWorld.

ALSO! If you would like to see this show for free by volunteering to usher, let me know and I will put you in touch with Gas and Electric Arts!


OK, this isn't a preview, it's a postview. In the last couple of weeks, my solo violin piece has been getting some play. First at the Clearfield Salon by Caeli Smith (sister of my poet Lauren Rile-Smith; the talent in that family is amazeballs and I haven't even begun to tell you about it):

Then kommós had another airing at a NOW music society concert at West Chester University by violinist Hope Linton, who also played it for a lunchtime recital at WCU last week.

The two performances were very different, which is wonderful! The piece always feels a bit like an acting monologue to me, and seeing two performances was like watching two very different actors take it on. Both violinists are extraordinarily talented and musical, and both did bang-up jobs, but best of all, I could hear their individual voices. So cool.


I'm going to stop. This entry is too long already. There's another premiere coming up of a commission I completed over the summer, but it's not for some weeks, so I'll talk that up later.

And I haven't even mentioned Ayn.

I leave you with this tidbit from Atlas Shrugged, in which John Galt demonstrates that he is no better than that stalky vampire in those vampire books, or vice versa:

Dagny: "How did you know what I look like in ... my office?"
John Galt: "I told you that I've watched you for years."
"How were you able to watch me that thoroughly? From where?"
"I will not answer you now," he said simply, without defiance.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Elegy for a Soprano

As you can probably tell, I've been doing an awful lot of Ayn reading these past few weeks; I realized there are some slippery things about the material and the dialogue and the characters' voices that I need to get a handle on before I can continue with the opera.

One of the books I whipped through was The Ayn Rand Cult, which was a fun read (even if there were a few weird misspellings like "Dagney" and some stretchy conclusions and assumptions):

I can't seem to definitively find Jeff Walker, a Canadian journalist, on an online social medium where I can casually interact with him, which is a surprising and a little disappointing, because if nothing else, I want to thank him for alerting me to the existence of Kay Nolte Smith's novel Elegy for a Soprano, which I cannot believe I didn't know about until now. That will teach me to stick to the non-fiction shelves.

Dinah Mitchell is saddened when she learns her favorite opera star, Vardis Wolf, has been poisoned - especially when she discovers that the woman behind the beautiful voice was her natural mother. Dinah journeys into the dark world of genius, driven to find out the truth about the singer's life ... and death.

Why is this so exciting? I hear you ask.
From the wiki of the author, Kay Nolte Smith:
She was for a time friendly with the philosopher-novelist Ayn Rand, who was her leading literary and philosophical influence... Smith launched her literary career after her separation from the Ayn Rand circle... Her novel Elegy for a Soprano is a roman a clef inspired by Rand, Nathaniel Branden, and the circle around them.


So I bought the book on Amazon, and I hardly dared to hope, but YES YES YES the stand in for Ayn Rand is the eponymous soprano! OMG SO PERFECT! She's like Rand crossed with Callas. As the wiki suggests, other lead characters including a very obviously drawn pseudo-Frank, pseudo-Nathaniel, and pseudo-Barbara, and a possible pseudo-Leonard.

AND HOLY SHIT the novel opens with Vardis/Ayn singing Salome, and of course the whole story is soaked in opera. So freaking perfect. It's also an easy-reading page-turner, especially for someone like me who has a thing for mystery novels, and it takes an unexpectedly moving left turn into the Holocaust at the end.

In case you couldn't tell, my Ayn is also a soprano. I feel quite validated that someone who actually knew her would also portray her as a soprano in pseudo-fiction.

Monday, October 01, 2012

What the hell kind of music does Richard Halley write, anyway?

Last week I read Atlas Shrugged, and I have so, so many things to say (or rather "scream" as EVERYONE IN THE BOOK DOES, CONSTANTLY) about so, so many things, but as a composer, I wanted to point this one out in particular.

There is, remarkably, a composer woven into the narrative named Richard Halley. Although we don't know the exact nature of his music, it is evidently so wonderful and heroic that a mere melody written by him, whistled by a stranger completely without context, transports hero industrialists into ecstasies of delight that cause them to extrapolate an entire orchestration in their imagination. No, really, that happens.

Later, we get to meet Richard Halley, who has withdrawn completely from the world and is hiding out in Galt's Gulch, much to the delight of fangirl Dagny. He furnishes her and us with an explanation for his disappearance (see below for TL;DR, because omg writing):
"I would have forgiven men for my struggle," said Richard Halley. "It was their view of my success that I could not forgive. I had felt no hatred in all the years when they rejected me. If my work was new, I had to give them time to learn, if I took pride in being first to break a trail to a height of my own, I had no right to complain if others were slow to follow. That was what I had told myself through all those years —except on some nights, when I could neither wait nor believe any longer, when I cried 'why?' but found no answer. Then, on the night when they chose to cheer me, I stood before them on the stage of a theater, thinking that this was the moment I had struggled to reach, wishing to feel it, but feeling nothing. I was seeing all the other nights behind me, hearing the 'why?' which still had no answer—and their cheers seemed as empty as their snubs. If they had said, 'Sorry to be so late, thank you for waiting'—I would have asked for nothing else and they could have had anything I had to give them. But what I saw in their faces, and in the way they spoke when they crowded to praise me, was the thing I had heard being preached to artists—only I had never believed that anyone human could mean it. They seemed to say that they owed me nothing, that their deafness had provided me with a moral goal, that it had been my duty to struggle, to suffer, to bear—for their sake—whatever sneers, contempt, injustice, torture they chose to inflict upon me, to bear it in order to teach them to enjoy my work, that this was their rightful due and my proper purpose. And then I understood the nature of the looter-in-spirit, a thing I had never been able to conceive. I saw them reaching into my soul, just as they reach into Mulligan's pocket, reaching to expropriate the value of my person, just as they reach to expropriate his wealth—I saw the impertinent malice of mediocrity boastfully holding up its own emptiness as an abyss to be filled by the bodies of its betters—I saw them seeking, just as they seek to feed on Mulligan's money, to feed on those hours when I wrote my music and on that which made me write it, seeking to gnaw their way to self-esteem by extorting from me the admission that they were the goal of my music, so that precisely by reason of my achievement, it would not be they who'd acknowledge my value, but I who would bow to theirs. . . . It was that night that I took the oath never to let them hear another note of mine.

(TL;DR I suffered for a long time because my music was so innovative that nobody liked it. Then one day, I achieved acclaim with one of my pieces. But while they were cheering, the audience didn't once apologize for not liking my music before! Instead they acted like it was my job to teach them how to enjoy my music! They thought I was writing my music for them! Those looters! I will never let them hear my music again!)

Well! Let's put aside what I might think of this attitude for a moment, because I am clearly an immoral moocher-lover. Given that Ayn was writing this in the 1940's and 1950's, one might assume that she is portraying a composer of modern music, right? It makes sense. I mean, if anyone could be accused of writing music that audiences had to be taught to enjoy, it would be the Second Viennese School (and I think it could be argued that audiences still haven't learned to appreciate them). And "Who Cares If [They] Listen" anyway. So in my head, Halley was a mighty expressionist. Let's hear a hearty cheer from the atonalists out there! Ayn Rand, for all her faults, is championing your music and your struggle!

You can guess where this is going.

What's this? From the book What Art Is: The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand (good lord):
A brief word about so-called modern music: no further research or scientific discoveries are required to know with full, objective certainty that it is not music. The proof lies in the fact that music is the product of periodic vibrations -- and therefore, the introduction of nonperiodic variations (such as the sounds of street traffic or of machine gears or of coughs and sneezes), i.e., of noise, into an allegedly musical composition eliminates it automatically from the realm of art and of consideration. But a word of warning in regard to the vocabulary of the perpetrators of such "innovation" is in order: they spout a great deal about the necessity of "conditioning" your ear to an appreciation of their "music." Their notion of conditioning is unlimited by reality and by the law of identity; man, in their view, is infinitely conditionable. But, in fact, you can condition a human ear to different types of music (it is not the ear, but the mind that you have to condition in such cases); you cannot condition it to hear noise as if it were music; it is not personal training or social conventions that make it impossible, but physiological nature, the identity, of the human ear and brain.


I find this deeply hilarious.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Paying musicians: a modified Facebook rant.

New York Times : Rockers Playing for Beer: Fair Play?

I've been behind Amanda Palmer on a lot of things, but I don't agree with her here.

I'm not saying this as a sad-sack loser musician whining for more money or someone pathetically jealous of her success. Performing for others hasn't been a big part of my musical existence for years. I was (am) fully behind her amazing Kickstarter and everything that she has done to advance the post-label model of music business.

No, I'm saying this as someone who hires musicians to perform my music.
I'm saying this as, if you like, a "job creator."
I may not be Amanda Palmer's equal, career-wise, but I'm in something of the same role as her in this situation.

I always try to make a point of paying musicians whom I ask to play my music. If I can't afford it, I don't ask. I do this despite the fact that I'm not high profile, and I'm certainly not wealthy.

I've done some recordings. I've put on a couple shows. I may not pay my musicians a helluva lot, but I consider it a moral choice for me to pay them whatever I can, and I've done that right from the beginning. I will pay them out of my credit card and personal savings if I have to, hoping that I'll at least make my money back (and thankfully, so far, I have been able to do that). I paid myself way, way less than minimum wage out of the Gonzales Cantata takings - even though I was composer, director, producer, promoter, and conductor - so I could cut all thirty of my performing musicians three-figure checks for singing in three shows. As some of them have attested, many of them wouldn't have cared if I didn't pay them, accepting the catered lunches we provided and the spot on Rachel Maddow as compensation enough (and, hopefully, the fun of playing my music). They would have played for free. But I won't let them. That's a moral choice for me.

"Isn't it the choice of the musician whether they want to play for beer or not?"

Actually, no: it is the choice of the person hiring the musician whether they want to pay them or not, and I think it's pretty clear that this is the moral choice to which I am referring.

Here's what I saw when I lived in Sydney (I moved to the USA in 2003). When electronic music became a big thing in the 90's, lots of clubs and bars discovered that it was cheaper to pay a DJ for the night than to pay a live band or three. So many clubs became DJ-only that there were only a few venues left willing to host live bands. Gradually, they began paying the bands less and less to play. Then most of them said, fuck it, there are so many bands that will play for free now, we won't pay any bands. The bands should feel grateful that they get to play at all, right? If a band demanded payment, the venue would shrug and instead hire a band that would play for free. Some venues started charging bands to play. You had to fucking pay to play. This was the status quo, and there were no real alternatives.

The end result of this? A lot of bands and musicians couldn't afford to be active any more. And the only people who were active were the people who could afford to play for free. In other words, you could afford to be in a working band if and only if you were already socioeconomically privileged.

Music is already an expensive enterprise. You have to buy expensive equipment. If you want to be able to actually play your instrument, you need expensive training. You need to have ample spare time to practice, alone or with other people. It's a far more rigorous and expensive discipline than acting, for example, and I say this as someone who has done a lot of theater. There's already enough of a barrier to people with no money getting into music. As someone who is in a position to hire musicians, I will not be party to the kind of exploitation that perpetuates this situation. I will not say to a worker: well, it was your choice to accept this shitty pay job, and you'd better like it, or you can fuck off, because otherwise I'll just find some wealthier musician out there that can afford to earn peanuts. And by peanuts, I mean nothing. And by nothing, I mean you're actually making a loss because you paid for gas.

And before anyone goes talking to me about supply and demand and what the free market can bear: no, fuck you. Just because it was possible during the Industrial Revolution to pay children practically nothing to work in awful environments that frequently led to their deaths, it isn't right. Just because supply and demand make it possible to have thousands of sweatshop workers in Asia living as indentured servants who will never be able to make a better life for themselves in order that Americans can buy cheap clothes and electronics, it isn't right. Just because colleges can get away with increasingly only hiring instructors part time so they can never give them any kind of benefits or job security, it isn't right. Oh, but all those people wanted to work! They were so much better off than they would be without the job! In the case of adjunct professors, they may even love their job because they have a calling to education! No. It's still. Not. Right. This is a moral choice for me. This is a philosophical choice. And I don't agree with the moral/philosophical choice Amanda has made here, perhaps unwittingly. She paid all the visual artists, even though I'm sure many of them would have done the work for free. That's admirable. Why shouldn't professional musicians get the same treatment?

Here's the saddest part of it for me: saying that everything is above board when you don't properly compensate musicians because they LOVE to play and LOVE their boss and LOVE the exposure and CHOSE their own path ... I have heard these exact, I mean these *EXACT* words directly from representatives of the predatory record labels that Amanda excoriates, justifying their treatment of musicians they've signed. I understand that this was not some evil malicious plan on Amanda Palmer's part. The problem is systemic, and for all the amazing things that she has done, I understand that it's hard to completely leave behind an entrenched system, with all its entrenched exploitative problems.

But, at least in my view, we have a moral obligation to make things better if we can. And if I can, I'm pretty sure she can too.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Not recommended reading for the squeamish. Nope.

Somewhere on Reddit yesterday, I stumbled over a conversation about fetishes (go figure), and someone questioned whether fetishes had become more disturbing in recent times, especially with the advent of the internet. Another member replied: no, go take a look at the Marquis de Sade classic 120 Days of Sodom.

My curiosity was piqued. Sure, I'd heard of 120 Days of Sodom, but I'd never thought to read it. I knew there was a terrible Italian film adaptation from the 1970's that was explicit enough to be scandalous and censored everywhere, but that's so de rigueur for the 70's. I guess I figured the book couldn't be all that bad if someone had made a movie of it. If you read the synopsis in the wiki entry about the movie it seems kinda rough, but I've been on the internet for over 15 years (long enough that 2 Girls 1 Cup wasn't particularly shocking), so it didn't seem like anything new. The original Marquis de Sade book is from 1785. How bad can it be? I mean, I read Needful Things when I was ten. Clive Barker? Whatever. American Psycho? Sure. I got through Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door with only a slight gritting of teeth toward the end.

...Ah, no. No. If you're good at translating text to pictures in your head, it's bad. WOW. It's ... wwwwwow.

Basically 120 Days contains every horrible sexually depraved thing I've ever read or seen, and then goes further. It opens with incest and child molestation and then heads south at a jaunty pace whistling Dixie. No serial killer in the world has bested this list of obscenities, and I know this because, like every silly goth in the 1990's, I devoured information about serial killers. At one point, de Sade all but describes the exact cannibalistic modus operandi of Jack the Ripper -- more than a century before he first ripped! The plotline of the godawful Saw movies is pretty much laid out. Miike's Audition. Hannibal Lecter. The misadventures of Kenneth Pinyan in Enumclaw. Tortures that would make Jeffrey Dahmer cringe. The stuff on the internet that gets people arrested when it's found on their computers. It's all there, only with 3000% more coprophagia.

The book is divided into four parts (The four months from November through February), in which four aging prostitutes tell tales of their most horrifying exploits to inspire acts of sexual violence by four protagonists on dozens of virgin children. They tell a total of 600 tales, I think. Each part is steadily more depraved*. Only November's narration and activities are written out in full -- de Sade never got to finish the rest (to "flesh it out," as it were), so the remainder is in note form, which is actually a bit more stomach-turning to read, because there are no linking sentences to cushion the list of increasingly over-the-top fetishes. It's kind of ridiculous and comedic for a while, and then you feel sort of repulsed, but by the time you're at the end it almost veers back into laughable territory because you've been repulsed for so long. Almost. I had to start skimming during the second part at the point when it turned into all feces, all the time, and it pretty much stayed that way until the end. Here's a disgusting sadistic murderous sexual act! Wait for it ... and then a poop on top!

Marquis de Sade. Sir. You were born a year before Bach wrote the Goldberg Variations, you have been dead for nearly two centuries, and that was so, so awful, even for a reader who has been on the internet for a long time. I didn't know the extent of it! I am impressed. That is some very literal fucked-up shit.

(I admit I did not see the plot of The Human Centipede in there, but it would not surprise me in the least to discover it was buried in those final lists that I only flicked through.)

Of course, it's well out of copyright, so you can find a pdf of an English translation online on the first page of a Google search if you want to see for yourself. I'm not linking to it.

I've not read Fifty Shades of Grey, and I have no desire to do so, but just the thought of it makes me laugh now.

* There is a moment of respite for the modern reader when he enumerates in the third part a bunch of fetishes that are blasphemous in nature. Back in the day, sex in a church was apparently more shocking than eating vast amounts of excrement. The more you know.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Everything I needed to know about capitalism, I learned playing Monopoly

Unless you had a sadly deprived childhood, you have probably played Monopoly. In Australia in the 1980's, everyone had a set that looked like the one above with street names from London, but with prices listed in $ instead of £. So strange. Even the McDonald's Monopoly promotion in Australia used the UK version's property names. I thought the game was actually from the UK and that those names were original until I moved to America and was laughed at by my husband.

Monopoly is phenomenally successful for good reason. It demonstrates to players how fun capitalism can be, and how much power money wields. It's especially gratifying for children, who have zero financial autonomy, because for a little while they can feel like they imagine their parents do, collecting money and refusing to give it out unless required.

But wait. Funny thing: even though the game is called Monopoly and the simplest objective for players is to obtain a monopoly, the original point of the game is to teach us the negative effects of monopolization.

I have to assume that a lot of Americans (to pick on one group) didn't have the patience to play the game through to the end, otherwise they would probably understand that point. Not so in my family. We didn't play Monopoly all that often, because my mother and I were so stubborn, it would take hours to complete. How does a Monopoly game end? First, there have to be only two players left, because everyone else has gone bankrupt and had to retire. At this point, the game becomes an extremely boring and joyless death match. Everyone who bowed out has left the room to do something else. The two remaining players pay money to each other, back and forth, until eventually one of them, through dumb luck, ends up owing more to the other player than they own.

The last player, having achieved a true monopoly, is the winner, and the game ends.

The game ends. Nobody can play anymore. The bank closes, and the properties go to waste because nobody can pay rent. The winner is left with a pile of fake money, and because everyone else has already gone home, they have to pack up the board and wallow in their own miserable loneliness.

If you don't have the attention span to play the game through to the end, capitalism is about getting as much money as you can and fucking over as many other people as possible, because this is rather fun.

If you do play the game through to the end, you realize that once you've won, the entire system falls to pieces because nobody else can play, and having a monopoly and too much money is ridiculous and sad, because once you win, everything you've won is worthless.

At some point, if you play Monopoly enough, you discover that the only way to keep the game fun is to make sure other players stay in the game by trying not to exploit them too much. Sometimes we would bend the rules in my family. We would make alliances and loan or give money to each other to keep each other from going bankrupt. We would forgive rent, or pay more than a property was worth to help players that were struggling. This also usually prevents other players from all hating the winner, should the game be played through to the end.

That is the lesson of Monopoly. And apparently a lot of people in this country didn't have the mental discipline to learn it.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

This is probably a bad idea, but I have to say something.


A terrible thing happened in Aurora, Colorado. A gut-twisting, mind-shattering, terrible thing. Innocent people were massacred by a 24-year-old man.

It was horrifying to hear the news. I read the circumstances and felt real goosebumps of fear, imagining myself in a dark theater being terrorized by a masked gunman. I was confused and angry about how and why this had taken place.

Then I started reading some of the reactions to this terrible thing, and they made me feel even worse. These were reactions from people I look up to or consider friends.

It's hard for me not to take this a bit personally. A few times on this blog, I've spoken about my mother, who has bipolar disorder, and has had countless psychotic breaks since 1987 (I gave up counting how many times she has been committed to psychiatric institutions for extended stays after the number hit 15 sometime in my teens). I try not to be utterly defined by the fact that I grew up with a mentally ill parent, but there's no doubt that it has done its part in shaping who I am and how I react to certain tragedies. A few years ago, I came to the decision that I was sick and tired of feeling uncomfortable talking about it, and I started opening my eyes to the way the stigma and silence and ignorance surrounding mental illness make the whole situation significantly worse for my mother, my family, and everyone else in the world who is touched by mental illness in some way. I want to do what little I can to change that, so I try and talk about mental illness frankly and openly and often publicly. It might be a futile endeavor, because the more you realize how easy it is for most people to dehumanize the mentally ill, the more overwhelmed you become by the enormity of the problem.

We don't really know anything about the perpetrator of this horrific deed. For all I know, this was the act of a (somehow) sane person with a (somehow) sane but awful rationalization. Or he could be experiencing the onset of schizophrenia. But the way online spectators have instantly tried to dehumanize this person, without knowing anything for certain, makes me think about the mentally ill people I know, including my mother. When she has psychotic breaks, she sometimes does really terrible things, things that, despite my best efforts, I am still uncomfortable talking about publicly, things that make my throat close up and my eyes burn just remembering them. If my mother had done these things while she were sane, they would be unforgivable. I guess it never occurred to me before now that, when she did those things in public (which happened occasionally), a lot of bystanders probably instantly thought of her as an attention-hungry monster or animal.

Believe me, I know how easy it is to think about a mentally ill person as less than human. It's far, far too easy. Despite my contact with the mentally ill, I've struggled with it myself; like most people, I find it difficult to even acknowledge the presence of a homeless person in the grips of an obvious delusion. I've seen the way some psychiatrists who have been practicing for a long time look at their patients with thinly veiled contempt, and treat them the way they might treat a vicious dog with rabies.

Maybe I sound like a soft-brained bleeding-heart idiot when I criticize people who start using words like these to discuss the shooter. But thinking of someone as human does not mean I condone or forgive the deed. It just means that I'm trying not to forget that there is a person under that label, a person for whom something went terribly wrong at some point - and we don't know what that something is yet. If there's one thing my upbringing taught me, it's that the complex human brain is sometimes so unpredictable, each of us should never take sanity for granted. Utterly normal, strong, good people lose their grip on reality every day, and when it happens, they have no idea because what they're experiencing feels completely real. It could happen to you. It could happen to someone you love.

It's also extremely easy to throw around the word "evil." "Evil" is probably the most dehumanizing word in the English language. As a result, it has been used throughout history to justify everything from discrimination, theft, torture, rape, and murder, to terrorism, war, and full-on genocide. When you start thinking of someone as "evil," you give yourself permission to stop meaningfully thinking about them. It reminds me of when particularly closed-minded or intellectually lazy people see something they don't understand, and instead of trying to understand it, they dismiss it as supernatural or something God did that shouldn't be questioned.

So when I see people calling the shooter evil, or talking about taking away his name and giving him a number, I am reminded of other terrible deeds that began exactly that way.

Like I said, maybe he's not mentally ill. My first suspicion will be that he is because my outlook is colored by my experiences. But even if he is not, even if he did this terrible thing of his own free will, in perfect knowledge of the trauma and heartbreak it would cause, it does nobody any favors to dehumanize him. Because if he's sane, he was able to kill those people by doing exactly the same thing to them.

I got preachy. Sorry. Well, no, not actually sorry, because I think this needed to be said, for my own sake if not for anyone else's.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Summer funk

I'm in the dark stage of the break where I realize that I've taken on way too many projects, and I feel very overwhelmed and pessimistic about everything. Small setbacks automatically translate into THE WHOLE WORLD IS SHIT AND I AM GOING TO FAIL. I stay indoors and try not to interact with anybody because I'm afraid I'll be one of those scuttling black holes of negativity that leeches light and energy and time from everyone who comes near. You know the type. Anyway, you're in danger just reading this blog entry.

School starts in about six weeks, and I'm not ready. And it's getting worse every day.

I hate everything.

Everything except the new Up Your Cherry website, which is the one thing I have completed this week (collaboratively with Matt):

It is pretty spiffy, I think, for something that was created PDQ.

Meantime, I dream of a time when I have less to do.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Up Your Cherry - we made a song

Finally, when someone asks me what Up Your Cherry sounds like, and whether we have any recordings, I can point them toward something. We just finished mixing and uploading our first song, "This One."

Yes, it's in 7/4 mostly. Of course.

We have at least one more song to record this week, and we're also hoping to revamp the website. I've also been tossing around video ideas with a friend of ours Chris Braak, who will hopefully also be joining us live at some point in the not-too-distant future on bass.

In the meantime, this coming Saturday July 21, we have a gig to play, the first we've had time to book in ages. We're the house band for a puppet slam at Walking Fish Theater for the second time. It's hella fun, and you should go. Here's a flyer:

Monday, July 09, 2012


craigs·list-beau·ti·ful    adj.    \ˈkrāgzlistˈbyü-ti-fəl\

1 : not beautiful
   a : marked by lack of style : ugly
   b : overhyped : not as beautiful as one has been led to believe

Arising from contexts such as in which the word "beautiful" is used so often to describe objects that are not beautiful that the word has lost its meaning.

  • Is the rug really attractive, or is it craigslist-beautiful?
  • Their marketing is so excessive, I suspect their products are craigslist-beautiful.
  • The craigslist-beautiful girls danced at the gentlemen's club.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

NATS 52nd National Conference -- a weekend in Orlando -- also, SeaWorld and DINOSAURS

As previously reported, this past weekend, Matt and I went to Orlando for the NATS National Conference, where Tesla's Pigeon, which won the Art Song Award Competition, was performed on Saturday. We had a terrific time, and I hope I manage to stay in touch with the many wonderful people we met. I couldn't possibly list all of them, but of special note are Carol Mikkelson, the NATS Art Song Coordinator, who is quite possibly one of the sweetest people I think I've ever met, with one of those gentle southern accents I could listen to all day, and Colleen Gray (soprano) and Nanette Kaplan Solomon (pianist), who together performed Tesla's Pigeon. In addition to being lots of fun, they are both quite extraordinary and dramatic musicians who learned the work in record time despite being busy with so many other things. They sold the hell out of my songs in the concert!

Carol feeds me a cookie.

Introducing Tesla's Pigeon at the NATS Convention

On Saturday morning, I was browsing the booths in the exhibit hall, when I spotted an Australian flag out of the corner of my eye. What's that about? As I drew in closer, I saw a table was stacked with all manner of tourism information for Brisbane. Brisbane!? The city in which I was born and bred? Eh? I was so absorbed in trying to figure out why my hometown had its own booth at NATS, I completely missed the basket of lollies to one side. "Mel," asked Matt, "is this Australian candy--?"


MINTIES!!! I got very excited about these at the ICVT table #nats52

I'm not sure I've ever been so excited about Minties in my life. I hadn't even thought about them in nearly a decade. For confused Americans: Minties are functionally equivalent to Tootsie Rolls, but white and mint-flavored (and Australian, obviously).

It turns out that beloved BrizVegas is the host city for the 2013 International Congress of Voice Teachers next July, and in attendance at NATS were representatives from the Australian Voice Association. I didn't get to properly sit down with them all, but I met the president Jane Mott and had the chance to speak with VP Adele Nisbet, and caught a good case of homesickness talking about mutual friends and haunts. They left me with a bunch of Minties (eating the last one now) and a packet of Aussie flag cocktail toothpicks (expect those to show up at future house parties).

The conference was held at the Renaissance Hotel at SeaWorld, so it seemed natural Matt and I should hang out at SeaWorld on Sunday, especially with discounted tickets. I enjoyed myself more than anticipated, and didn't even mind the Florida heat (Philadelphia was simultaneously in the grips of a heatwave that brought worse temperatures anyway). I sort of forgot that SeaWorld is more circus than zoo or amusement park -- and the animals actually do seem to enjoy performing, although I'm sure PETA would disagree or something. They even have one of those troupes of rescued pets that seem to be all the rage at the moment, which of course turned Matt and I into insufferable cat idiots squeeing at all the performing kitties.

The biggest squee of Sunday, however, was reserved for a blog comment notification that buzzed my phone in the middle of the seal and sea otter pirate show. One of the highlights of our recent roadtrop was a dinosaur dig we did in Wyoming, and our guide dropped into the roadtrop blog to give us some exciting news about a bone I found at the dig -- see the latest roadtrop entry for details!

Now we're back in Philly. I have parts to create for a new arrangement of Jack and the Beanstalk for the Kennett Symphony, and a crapload of laundry to fold. Sigh.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

in a composition hole don't try to talk to me

I'm trying to wrest myself away from an arrangement I'm doing of one of my pieces. The reason I'm always putting off composing is that when I start, it takes up everything. All my physical space, all my mental space, all my energy ... I forget to eat and sleep, I don't want to talk to anyone, and even when I'm forced to pull back (as I'm forcing myself to now, for my own health), all I can really think about is how I need to get this composition finished.

You know what? I don't care how bad MIDI instruments sound (and WOW have they come a long way since I ditched writing music on paper 16 years ago), I freaking love playback. No amount of sneering from composers who think we young 'uns rely too much on it will counteract the inherent coolness of being able to say, "Hey, slave robot orchestra inside my computer, now play this! Wait, now try THIS!"

Yeah, I guess I could still compose without playback, but I'm really bad at remembering to put in accidentals, probably because I grew up singing fixed do. And besides, the less pressure I put on my underslept malnourished brain, the longer I can go without sleeping or eating. Win-win.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Ink completed!

Following on from my previous blog entries Avian Inkling and Ink commenced!, the day after I returned from the Roadtrop, I walked down to No Ka Oi and plunked down the money to finish the tattoo I had started before we left.

And it's done!

Finished noisy miners

I don't care if it makes me sound like a baby to say it: Good GOD, that hurt. It seemed much worse than the first session; at one point, the artist asked if I was cold because I was shivering, but it turned out I was just shaking from the prolonged pain. I drooled all over my hoodie because I had unconsciously stuffed it into my mouth. But I was so elated when it was over! And I love the artist who did the work, Cindy. She's great.

So long, tattoo needles. See you in another ten years or so.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Tesla's Pigeon takes flight

Wait, maybe that headline isn't cheesy enough.

Judges coo over Tesla's Pigeon
Audiences flock to hear Tesla's Pigeon
Composer a-flutter at song cycle's success
Tesla's Pigeon not just a load of guano

Visit the Tesla's Pigeon microsite
for further information, artwork,
merchandise and more.

I'm excited to report that Tesla's Pigeon has won the National Association of Teachers of Singing 2012 Art Song Composition Award. This week, they're flying me down to Orlando's Renaissance Hotel at Sea World for the NATS 52nd National Conference to collect the prize and see a live performance of the song cycle at a recital on Saturday, June 30, at 3:30PM. Matt's coming too -- I picked up a South West Airlines credit card a couple of months ago, preloaded with enough points to seat him next to me for free. I'm so happy that this piece is getting some recognition; I believed in it enough to hire the marvelous, gorgeous, adorable soprano Jessica Lennick and the dashingly talented and accomplished pianist Tim Ribchester -- both of whom are always my first choice for anything involving voice and keyboard -- to record it last year (available on bandcamp, as well as Amazon and iTunes), and aside from the glory of winning, it's a relief to finally be able to break even on that enterprise.

Aside: This isn't the first decent prize I have won in a competition that levies an entrance fee. I sort of feel obliged to put that out there because I have read more than one opinion article from composers jaded by the competition circuit who categorically denounce entrance fees and advise other composers to never pay to enter competitions because they themselves have invested small fortunes over the course of their careers with no payoff. Indeed, most competition listings provided by services such as the American Composers Forum or the American Music Center clearly demarcate or separate contests with fees to facilitate composers with this attitude. Community discussion about entry fees reached fever pitch back in 2010 when Eighth Blackbird (whom I adore) launched its first competition; they decided to remove the imposed $50 entry fee after a storm of criticism. I was right on the fence about that one. I think if they had originally charged $20 or $30, there wouldn't have been an outcry, but -- I think because of the existence of the $50 bill, an annoying denomination that businesses often refuse to accept -- psychologically, $50 feels even more exorbitant than it is. And make no mistake, it is exorbitant. But I'm not anti-fee in general. I think it takes a lot of time and effort to run a competition, and a lot of the small private organizations that run them wouldn't be able to offer any prize money without fees. At least for me, the presence of fees causes me to filter my entries. Is this composition really worth the $100 I might spend sending it out to a few contests? Does it have a chance, or is it one of those pieces that probably nobody in the world is going to like as much as I do*? Plus, of course, I can't speak out against fees with any verisimilitude because I've made quite the return on my investment. Is it worth entering composition contests with fees? Well, yeah, sure it is, if you win.

Tesla's Pigeon will hopefully get some attention the following weekend as well: July 7 through 9, I have been invited to take part in the Tesla birthday celebrations and conference organized by the Nikola Tesla Club here in Philadelphia, so I'll be selling CD's, scores, and the remaining silkscreen prints in addition to my speaking and hosting duties. If you're interested in checking out the event (and you should be), I highly recommend the Divine Hand Ensemble concert on the evening of July 7. Divine Hand are a Theremin + strings ensemble I befriended two Tesla's birthdays ago; I interviewed each member of the group on camera last year for a documentary about their inception called 21st Century Classical Music, which I believe is scheduled for broadcast later this year (more details when I have them). Here's an excerpt about their annual Halloween concert, featuring music from the Ghostbusters score by Elmer Bernstein:

So come hear some Theremin arrangements and originals, and say hello and maybe pick up a Tesla's Pigeon CD (even though CD's are practically artifacts at this point) or silkscreen print from me after the show (or, you know, get one now online by clicking on those links):

Awards Ceremony & Concert
Featuring: The Divine Hand Ensemble

R.U.B.A. Hall
414 Green Street, Philadelphia
Tickets $12

*I love those pieces. I send them out sometimes, but nobody or hardly anybody is interested in playing them, so they mostly just sit in a drawer. I get them out every now and then and say to them, "I love you. Don't let rejection get you down. I wrote you because you are cool and you'll always be cool to me." I am a great mother.

Back from our epic roadtrop!

And finally finished blogging about the whole thing. Only took me two weeks back in Philly to get around to writing the last few entries. Read all about it at

I will blog more soon. I have much to say involving Tesla and tattoos. BTW, Mr. Matt still has blog entries to write and photos to upload, so if you've read everything, don't give up on yet.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Ink commenced! And also, ROADTROP

I'm a woman of my word. I took that noisy miner picture to No Ka Oi, and I got myself a tattoo. Well, two hours of tattoo.



The rest of it will be completed when we return from our 5-week roadtrip around America, which begins tomorrow! If you want to hear about our adventures, I suggest you bookmark or subscribe to our updates.

Aside: I am now officially All But Dissertation. Mind boggling.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Avian Inkling

I have been thinking of getting another tattoo literally since I got the first one, twelve or so years ago.

Yes, it's a Dragon's Fang from the Wheel of Time books by Robert Jordan. Yes, I am that nerdy. Yes, I still love it.

Potential subjects for my second tattoo have usually swung between birds and snakes. Birds are starting to pull ahead, however. I've always had kind of a thing for birds (even beyond writing songs for Nikola Tesla's pigeon) - when I was a baby, before I learned English, I would apparently try to speak to the unkindness of Australian ravens that lived in Moorooka. My mother remembered this tidbit while I was going through my all-black-clothing-all-the-time phase, which she connected with my early interspecies communication attempts. But I could never really find a raven tattoo I liked, or a picture of a raven that I thought would work as a tattoo. Other birds were a possibility too, but nothing felt like a really solid idea.

Last night, I found myself looking through Gould's The Birds of Australia: in 7 volumes, which the National Library of Australia has very kindly digitized and made available. And I think some of these would work very well. There are some that are just beautiful:


But I don't feel any particular connection to the species depicted. The raven is unfortunately a bit dopey looking:

But I do rather like the noisy miner (both bird and illustration):

Noisy miners are plucky little bastards. When I was a kid, I remember reading in some junior ornithological book (for some reason, we had quite a few books about birds in our house, which I usually left next to the toilet) that noisy miners were threatened by the invasive Indian myna, so I was always sure to root for them when I saw them around and scowl at the foreign interlopers. Now, it seems, they have bounced back with a vengeance and enjoy extreme and even problematic population density in many areas. This is mainly because they are aggressively fearless little dinosaurs. From the wiki:
Noisy Miner attacks are not limited to chasing the intruder, and aggressive incidents often result in the death of the trespasser. Reports include those of two Noisy Miners repeatedly pecking a House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) at the base of its skull and killing it in six minutes; one Noisy Miner grasping a Striated Pardalote (Pardalotus striatus) by the wing while another pecked it on the head until it died; and a Sacred Kingfisher(Todiramphus sanctus) being chased and harassed for over five hours and then found dead with a fractured skull.
See, horrible murderous little shits! I don't know why, but I actually kind of love them for it. It's probably an Australian thing. We have a cultural softspot for violent underdogs.

Anyway, I also quite like that illustration because they're in a flowering gum tree, and I do miss my eucalypts on this side of the world.

It's a thought. I guess it would go on the back of my shoulder. I'll have to think about it for a while. I love that it would be an actual Gould illustration, rather than just any old generic tattoo. (If you didn't know, John Gould was kind of a badass with some really cool friends.)

Yes, yes, of course, I am looking at bird books because I have a bunch of end-of-semester deadlines looming, and I have to write two essays and complete a project, and none of them interest me in the least. All I really want to do all day is daydream about our roadtrop.

ADDENDUM: I futzed with the colors to counteract some of the aging.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

You always want what you can't have

I just spent an hour or two playing the mandolin, playing scales and arpeggios and picking out the chords in songs like "I Still Call Australia Home" and "Home on the Range" and "Everybody Hurts." The thought crossed my mind: I wish my life were like this. Why can't being a musician mean I just sit around playing an instrument all day. Then I remembered that the reason I am a composer is that I suck at practicing and I hate it. Oh yeah. That's right.

I put my mandolin back on its wall hook and went thrift shopping.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Ayn Rand saw aliens

From Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne C. Heller:
One Saturday afternoon, Rand greeted the Hills by beckoning Ruth upstairs, unto the immense master bedroom, where tall glass windows lined a wall to the left of the bed. "Do you see those junipers?" she asked, pointing to a row of twelve-foot bushes about half an acre from the house. "A UFO came by there last night." Stunned, Hill asked for details. "It was hovering just above the junipers and then flying in slow motion," she said. It was round and its outer edges were lighted, she continued, and it made no sound. By the time she woke Frank and led him to the window, it had moved out of sight. "Did you really see this?" Hill asked. "I saw it," said Rand. The story seems to demonstrate her confidence in the ability of her mind to interpret the evidence of her senses. As the years went by, this particular confidence would not always serve her well.
Maybe ... maybe Ayn saw Stockhausen arriving from Sirius?

Oh, more stuff:
On the long drive in Frank's new Cadillac convertible, they stopped for a day or two in Ouray, Colorado, an old gold-mining town a few miles east of Telluride, whose surroundings contributed to the topography of Galt's Gulch. As they continued east, they may have passed the former site of Nikola Tesla's scientific laboratory, which had stood on a mountaintop near Colorado Springs in the early 1900's; the experiments the eccentric genius had made in harnessing electricity from the atmosphere and transmitting it wirelessly through earth and air may have provided a model for the revolutionary new motor invented by Galt. (Tesla also invented a fantastical but possibly workable "death ray" that Rand may have borrowed, in part, for Dr. Stadler's terrifying weapon, Project X.) Along with Edison, Tesla became one of Rand's models for her hero.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Smelissa (a deodorant recipe)

Update on my ongoing hippyfication (see also my continuing experiment with no poo):

Here's a life development I can't quite believe is happening to me because mentally I still think I'm 19: people get smellier as they get older. I've been noticing this trend for a few years now, and after my success with no poo last year, I decided to examine this body odor business. As a result, I have a bee in my bonnet (pun intended - see below) about chemicals in commercial deodorant that cause your body to produce increasingly viler smells, perpetuating the need for more and more deodorant in a lovely vicious spiral.

I don't believe in not using deodorant. I don't particularly like the bacteriashit that produces the natural smell of human (which is why I am not a fan of the uber-human smells that have ambushed me in my fourth decade). But maybe there was something I could do that would work more effectively than rubbing my armpits with aluminum chlorohydrate. I tried a "natural" deodorant by Arm and Hammer, and it did not work for me at all. I smelled like an ape by lunchtime. I tried cornstarch and baking soda, but they didn't seem very long lasting either, left powder all over my clothes, and required messy reapplication.

One day, I saw this product - Cureceuticals Fresh Me Up Deodorant Manuka Honey Daily Hygiene Spray - on Amazon, and bought it on a whim without much in the way of expectations. Mostly I think I got it because it was all about honey, and "Melissa" means honeybee in Greek. Yes, this is the strange superstitious way I shop. Imagine my surprise when the damn thing worked. Either that, or it made me completely unable to smell my own body odor. Then again, Matt hasn't complained, so I'll assume it's the former.

[Aside] I kind of love the directions on the bottle: "SHAKE WELL. Apply CureCeuticals Fresh Me Up over entire body (underarms, legs, feet, and between the toes) daily, as often as needed. Spread evenly with clean hands (safe for broken skin). Use a cotton ball, soft pad or fingers when applying to face." Is it just me, or does "entire body" and "between the toes" sound like a euphemism for crotch? Maybe they should have used ellipses, as in "between the ... toes." This is also suggested to me by the list of relevant body parts at the base of the label: "UNDERARMS • LEGS • FEET • TOES • BODY • WOMEN • MEN" Surely the last three words actually mean crotch.

So, great, it works. Ten bucks for a bottle seems a little steep, however, so I got even more hippy, and decided to make my own. Thus! a recipe!

Smelissa's Manuka Honey Deodorant Spray

1. 1 cup of water
2. A teaspoon of 16+ manuka honey
3. A teaspoon of Dead Sea salt
4. A teaspoon of baking soda
5. A teaspoon of Epsom salt
6. 1/2 oz of isopropyl alcohol

Mix dead sea salt, honey and baking soda well in a bottle. The mixture will fizz. Let stand for 24 hours with the cap on only loosely to allow air to escape. You should end up with a clear golden liquid and a bunch of sediment. Decant the liquid into a spray bottle and throw out the sediment (or add it to bathwater, or whatever you like). Add Epsom salt and shake until dissolved. Add alcohol.

This has been working for me for a couple of weeks now, and since I bought most of the ingredients in bulk, I pretty much have enough for the rest of my life, so let's hope it keeps working. I guess you could leave out the alcohol -- it's in there as a preservative which I added after my first batch started smelling verrrry faintly funky after a week -- but the concentration of it is so low that it doesn't bother me. You could potentially add fragrance to the mix as well, but I really like the smell of honey, bzzzzzzbzzbzz.

Hopefully this helps someone. I couldn't find any other manuka honey deodorant recipes on the web.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Free: The Future of a Radical Price

A couple of weeks ago while idly browsing the interwebs, I stumbled over this article about diamonds, written just in time for Valentine's Day. Being a huge fan of confirmation bias, I read it to once again gleefully affirm my distaste for the jewelry industry and my decade-old conviction that anyone who buys rare gems is a sucker and a half. To summarize: once upon a time, diamonds were very rare. Upon the discovery of huge mines in Africa and elsewhere in the late nineteenth century, diamonds were suddenly not so rare, but since mining companies (in particular, De Beers *shudder*) were able to control the supply (and, though brilliant marketing, the demand), they artificially inflated prices in an astoundingly evil way. (Seriously, I can't believe people fall for it.)

Last week I had to read Chris Anderson's Free for my "Digital Battlegrounds" class (see below). I waited a couple of days to start talking about it here because I admit I found myself getting noticeably happy-excited while turning the pages, and after putting it down, I wondered if I had just gulped down some Kool-Aid without looking.

But no, having allowed it to digest without incident, I really do think that anyone who is involved in the creative arts needs to read this book. It didn't tell me a whole lot that I didn't already know, at least instinctively, but I think it helped to strip away the clingy tattered remnants of sentimentality for the idea of selling digital works and to shed the last of my fears about giving stuff away (where stuff = mp3's, for example, which stream for free on my Bandcamp site).

As I see it, in many ways, the media commodities that were so heavily monetized in the twentieth century are going the way of diamonds, but instead of the supply flood originating in a few mines in remote locations, it's streaming out of every computer, everywhere. Entities like the RIAA and MPAA desperately want to be De Beers. But how can they be against such a tide? If they had been a little smarter, like De Beers, they would have jumped on the situation before it became a problem and won the culture war, but as I've ranted before, they were all too busy swimming in their Scrooge McDuck money pools and eating crayons.

There is no point in trying to monetize something that is no longer a commodity. It a futile exercise in idiocy to try to dig one's claws into a clearly outdated model of industry. What we need to realize (those of us who want to survive when the levees break) is that we need to figure out ways of monetizing properties that haven't been rendered worthless by digital technology - by using the amazing cheap/free resources of digital technology that are available to us as both consumers and artists.

It sounds terrifying, even to someone like me who is practically a copyright extremist next to colleagues in my field. Anyway, reading this book helped with that.

I am full of optimism! And hopefully not Kool-Aid.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


After a frustrating series of setbacks, I finally have my course schedule for this semester settled, and I am rather excited. I managed to get out of the music department for the first time in three years, and I'm taking:
Copyright, Creativity, and New Media
Peter Decherney
T 5:30-8:10
This course examines the impact of copyright law on artists and creative industries. Looking at publishing, music, film, and software, we will ask how the law drove the adoption of new media, and we will consider how regulation influences artistic decisions. The course will cover both the history of copyright law and current debates, legislation, and cases. We will also follow major copyright stories in the news. Readings cover such diverse topics as the player piano, Disney films, YouTube, video game consuls, hip hop, the Grateful Dead, file sharing, The Catcher in the Rye, and many more. In addition to active participation, students will write papers on fair use, do in-class presentations, and write a research paper.

Digital Battlegrounds
Joseph Turow
R 3:00-5:00pm
Students will read books and articles that address several key areas of social concern and confrontation around the web and mobile devices as well as the “over-the-horizon” topic of augmented reality. We will consider each topic for about two class sessions, reading extended works on the subjects and as well as related articles. Topics and authors we will cover include: The collaborative “nature” of the web (Clay Shirkey, Yochai Benkler); Social profiling, reputation and the media (Dan Solove, Joseph Turow); Privacy (Helen Nissenbaum); The right to forget (Viktor Mayer-Schonberger); The meaning and implications of “free” the in digital world (Chris Anderson); Threats to traditional journalism (McChesney and Nichols); Social implications of augmented-reality technologies (various academic and trade writings). Students will write a semester paper as well as weekly critical analyses of the reading.
Do these sound fabulous or what!? Copyright and new media geek out!

First class for the former was today. I spent two hours grinning from ear to ear. I felt maybe a little embarrassed that I was wearing my Pirate Bay t-shirt under my sweater, but the temperature in the classroom was low enough that I could leave my outer layer on and trick everyone into thinking I don't try too hard.

I am equally psyched about the second class, whose professor comes highly recommended by pretty much everyone.

*happy grad student dance* I'm going to dance that dance now, because I'm sure I will be doing the sad grad student wallow in just a few weeks when the workload hits.

Anyway, this is all very timely, because SOPA. I have a script up that will (hopefully) put this website and on strike for 12 hours starting at 8AM EST, coinciding with the Reddit strike. You know, so all 4 people who accidentally click on the site during that time will get a message about SOPA. But hey, it's the little things that make me feel like I'm at least doing something. I moved all of my GoDaddy domains (there were more than I realized, damn) to NameCheap last month and felt very pleased with myself. If only my EFF stickers were vinyl, I would put one on my car RIGHT NOW.