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Friday, 10 April 2015

Faux- French Food: Quorn Bourguignon


  • olive oil
  • small knob of butter
  • 1 medium onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 medium-large carrots
  • flour
  • 3 portabella mushrooms
  • 3 shallots
  • 1 bag of qourn fake chicken pieces
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp herbes de provence (if they don't include lavender, add some)
  • 2 tsp thyme
  • 2 tsp bullion powder
  • 1 tsp marmite (or less - to taste)
  • 0.5 bottle french red wine - if you're outside of france, get the cheapest you can. If you're inside france, get something you might consider drinking
  • ground pepper


  • knife
  • cutting board
  • pan
  • measuring spoon
  • stirring spoon


Chop up the onion and cook it over low heat with butter and some olive oil. After the onion goes translucent, add chopped garlic. After the garlic has cooked a bit, add the chopped carrots. After they seems to be somewhat cooked, add a light flour coating and the chopped shallots. After the shallots are a bit cooked, add the chopped mushrooms, hebred de provence and thyme. When the shallots are looking a bit cooked, add the mushrooms. Then, when they seem to have soaked up the oil, add an extra Tbsp of olive oil and wine so it's an inch or two deep in the pan. Add in the bay leaf, bullion and marmite. Simmer over low heat, topping up with wine when it gets low. When the carrots are soft, add the quorn and cook for 20-25 more minutes.

Keep adding wine, such that there should be a bit of liquid left around at the end of cooking. You should be stirring intermittently throughout. All cooking should be done without a lid on the pan.

This is all based loosely on Delia’s recipe.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Publishing Live Notation

My piece Immrama is a live notation piece. A python script generates image files, as the performance is happening, which are put on a web page. Performers connect via any wifi device with a web browser to see the notation. It uses really simple technologies, so nearly any device should work. A Newton won't (I made enquires) but an old Blackberry will.

Setting it up requires python and a web server and a lot of faff. It could be packaged into a mac app, but I'm working on linux and it seems like more and more people in the arts are turning to windows, as Apple increasingly ignores their former core audience of artists and designers. It runs fine on my laptop, of course, but I don't want to have to provide that to anybody who wants to do the piece. Nor do I want to force ensembles to have IT people on hand. Fortunately, I think I've stumbled on how to package this for the masses.

I'm working right now to get it all running on a Raspberry Pi. This is a tiny, cheap computer. Instead of having a hard drive, it uses SD cards. This means that I can set everything up to run my piece, put it all on an SD card, and then anybody can put that SD card into their Raspberry Pi and the piece will be ready to go! ...In principle, at least.

This piece needs wifi, which does not come with the Pi. Pi owners who want wireless networking get their wifi dongles separately. I got mine off a friend who didn't need it any more. And while setting up the networking bit, I found at least three different sets of instructions depending on what dongle people have. I could try to detect what dongle they have and then auto-install needed software to match, but, yikes, there are many things I would rather do with my life. I think instead, if you order an SD card, by default, it should come with a dongle - the buyer can opt out, but not without understanding they may need to install different libraries and do some reconfiguring.

Or, I dunno, if you want to run the piece and don't want to buy a dongle, send me yours and I'll get it working and send it back with an SD card?

My last software job was doing something called being a release engineer - I took people's stuff that worked on their own machine and packaged it so the rest of the world could use it. I wanted to be a developer, but that was the job I could get. It seems like I'm still release engineering, even as a composer.

Anyway, this is all very techy, but the point here is to prevent end users from having to do all this. When I'm done, I'll make an image of the card and use that to make new cards, which I can post to people, saving them my woe. Or, even better, some publishing company will send them to people, so I don't need to do my own order fulfilment, because queuing at the post office, keeping cards and dongles on hand, etc gets very much like running a small business, which is not actually the point.

Tech Notes so far

Later, I'm going to forget how I got this working, so this is what I did:

  1. Get Raspian wheezy, put it on a card.
  2. Boot the Pi off the card
    1. Put the card in the Pi
    2. Plug in the HDMI cable to the monitor and the Pi
    3. Connect the Pi to a powered USB hub
    4. Put the dongle on the powered hub.
    5. Plug in a mouse and keyboard
    6. Connect your Piu to the internet via an ethernet cable
    7. Turn on the HDMI monitor and the hub
    8. Plug in the Pi's power cable (and send electricity to the Pi). Make sure you do this last.
  3. On the setup screen, set it to boot to the desktop and set the locale. then reboot
  4. Open a terminal and run:
    sudo apt-get update
    sudo apt-get install aptitude
    sudo aptitude safe-upgrade
    sudo apt-get autoremove
    sudo apt-get clean
    sudo aptitude install rfkill hostapd hostap-utils iw dnsmasq lighttpd
  5. Using your regular computer (not the Pi), Find the wifi channel with the least traffic and least overlap
    sudo iwlist wlan0 scan | grep Frequency | sort | uniq -c | sort -n
  6. Try to find out what dongle I have
    1. run: iw list
    2. That returns 'nl80211 not found'
    3. run: lsusb
    4. That says I have a RTL8188CUS 802.11n adaptor
  7. Use this script for a rtl8188CUS dongle
    1. For future, it would be nice to get the location from the system locale
    2. Autoset the SSID to he name of the piece
    3. Autoset a default password
    4. Indeed, remove all interactivity from the script
  8. Reboot

It might not seem like much, but that was all day yesterday. The first step alone took bloody ages.

To Do

  • Install needed fonts, etc.
  • Try to ensure that the internet remains available over ethernet, but if this isn't possible, You can still chekc out a github repo to a USB stick and move data that way...
  • Find out what wifi dongle would be best for this application - ideally it has a low power draw, decent range, cheap and commonly owned among people with Pis
  • Set it to hijack all web traffic and serve pages but not with apache! Use the highttpd installed earlier

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Best Nutloaf

  • 1 Onion
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • 2-3 slices / 100g stale bread OR 100g matzoh
  • 225 g nuts
  • 300 ml vegetable stock
  • 2 tsp marmite
  • 1 tsp herbs de Provence (or mixed herbs)
  1. Preheat oven to 180 C / 350 F / Gas mark 4
  2. Peel and dice the onion. Cook it in a pan on the stove with the oil
  3. Toast bread until slightly crispy. Process or mill it (or the matzoh, if you're using that). Grind the nuts
  4. Heat the stock with the marmite. Bring to a boil and then remove from heat.
  5. Mix everything in a mixing bowl and transfer to a greased deep baking tray. Bake for 30 minutes or until dry on top, but not burnt. (You can cover it with foil for the first 20 minutes if you are prone to burning things.)

From Another Dinner is Possible, which is the best vegan cookbook I know of. You should get a copy.

Americans: 300 ml = 1.25 Cups. Apparently, according to this, if you use almonds, you'll want 1.125 Cups. However, I think you might just need to get a scale for this one, which is a good investment anyway. They're very useful for beer brewing.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Meet the new phase of Capitalism

It's a lot like old phases of Capitalism (like, pre-1930), but with more technology. Indeed, it's becoming increasingly apparent that the US has decided to become an oligarchy coupled with a security state apparatus necessary to maintain extreme inequality. This is not new news, but the rapid emergency of the technology and systems needed to maintain this state of affairs does seem new to people living under it, especially to people who were previously part of privileged classes.

An article in The Nation is looking at bits and pieces of what is emerging. This is, in effect, the neoliberal state. When everything is privatised, everything is organised towards the benefit of the people who own the private systems. Since the private sector is taking over state functions - big functions - the emerging privatisation is big companies. Which means that the owning class is the really very very rich. And the functions they want to take over are sometimes surprising, unless this is viewed as a bid for total political and cultural control. Take, for example, Starbucks.

A few days ago, Starbucks decided that it was time for (white) people in America to have a large conversation about race. Ok, obviously, white people in America really do need to talk about race. We need to listen to things black people are saying, talk amongst ourselves, and work to dismantle white supremacy. Starbucks is not wrong about needing a conversation. What is perplexing is why a chain of coffee shops would take this task on board.

One might be tempted to explain this historically. Coffee shops used to be places where people did gather to talk about politics, especially a few centuries ago. More recently, Starbucks has been forced into culture wars, specifically, the gun debate as they finally decided people carrying large assault rifles were not welcome to terrify their staff. The brand itself has a political resonance, on the side of Apple computers, gay rights, urban 'creative classes' and 1990's Bill Clinton. All of that is specifically proto-neoliberal baggage. And this is a neoliberal project. Let's look at how it was promoted to baristas on twitter:

(The images on the tweet are from a screen shot of this page. Note the tweet does not contain a link to the post and thus is completely inaccessible to people who rely on screen readers. Seriously, people, if your post is worth sharing, it's worth making it accessible to blind people.)

The promotional text starts it's second paragraph with, 'Change won’t come from the government. It has to come from everyday people like us.' This fits in very well with the disenfranchisement described in the article in the Nation. Despite being a democracy, this asserts that we cannot depend on the government to have anything to do with our needs or desires. The government does not serve 'everyday people'. Therefore, the business of social change cannot come from the sort of action one normally undertakes to change government. Not from voting, certainly, but not from marches either. The days of MLK giving speeches in Washington are over, because this not Washington DC's problem. It's Seattle, Washington's problem. To emphasis this, the coupled picture shows a hashtagged coffee cup in front of the Washington Monument, where MLK's speech happened. Starbucks wants to privatise social movements.

They've already made efforts to insert themselves into culture, above and beyond serving coffee. They have previously sold CDs in their shops and want to shape, control and profit from culture more generally. And also this is also a way of wading into a disagreement among billionaires as to what extent white supremacy continues to have utility. On the one hand, voter suppression laws are quite openly removing the right to vote from black people. On the other hand, racial unrest is disturbing the market. Under a deligitmised government, this is how democracy is meant to take place: by people with money coming into a private forum to have a conversation about what number of rights to extend to others. (Starbucks does not tend to build coffee shops in black areas and the imagery they've chose to promote this effort is specifically designed to make white people feel comfortable ('the only race is human'), so this is very much a conversation about others, which is not surprising in a conversation that seeks only to decide on the acceptable amount of white supremacy, but I digress.)

It's extremely obvious why an oligarchy would want to control the means to the conversation about race. People in the street are alarming. People purchasing things is good. Which is exactly why any effort like this is ultimately disempowering for everyone involved, aside from the owners. The emerging security state is distressing, but it is not insurmountable. It is still possible to resist. Not by heading to our local multinational outlet to demand extra emotional labour from the staff, but by being in the streets. They want people to politely consume and that is what absolutely will not destabilise concentrated power. People do still have power in the US, from mass movements and street protests. Privatisation has zero long term plans about anything, certainly not about managing us. We can still make a better world.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Liberationist Agendas and Notation

Graphic notation, the story goes, is meant to be liberating. But for whom?

Not all graphic notation is actually open. Some of it, like the pieces written for David Tudor by Cage and others, were not open at all. Tudor used a ruler to take very precise measurements and worked out a performance score from the score that he received. These scores were graphic, but also very highly specified. When discussing notation in 1976, David Berhman wrote, 'Learning a new piece can be like learning a new game or a new grammar, and first rehearsals are often taken up by discussions about the rules – about "how" to play rather than "how well" (which must be put off until later).' (p 74). Indeed, this mining for exactness and rules meant that players needed specificity to approach a new piece. In the same book, but in a different article about the performer's perspective, Leonard Stein wrote, 'Little wonder, then, that when first faced with a new score of great apparent ambiguity the performer's reactions to the music may be seriously inhibited, and he may be discouraged from playing it at all.' (p 41)

In the era of serialism, every aspect of the piece (from notes, to dynamics, to timbres to articulations) would be carefully mapped out according to rules. Although he's framed in opposition to this movement, Cage did also often map everything out, but used 'chance operations' to do so. That is, he cast the I-Ching, which is all a roundabout way of saying he used different algorithms to write very precisely closed music.

When everything is specified, the performer is at risk of falling into very rote renditions of things. He or she may play very mechanically, as if they are on a grid, or just repeating practices they learned in school, trying to get everything right. Musicality is at risk from hyper-specification. Therefore, according to Berhman, when Morton Feldman's Projection scores have little high boxes in them, specifying a range of possible pitches, but not precise notes, this is meant to nudge the performer into greater engagement with the piece and the genre. 'As a part of his interpretation, the player must ask himself what sort of pitches are appropriate – in effect, what sort of music he is playing.' (p 79) The performer is liberated from their rote practice and forced to engage. But this liberation is not the performer's liberation - it is the composers. The composer, broken free from the shackles of European Art Music and Serialism can use any method they want to get something very exact from a performer. Cage draws squiggles and Tudor takes very fine measurements of them. Performers: meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Meanwhile, European Art Music was also weighing down in people in Europe. But obviously, the political valences of this were completely different. Cage, tired of Americans being compared negatively to dead white European males joked that the US needed 'music with less sauerkraut in it'. (Problematic!!) But Europeans who wanted more freedom had much less to prove. Nobody thought British people were somehow culturally incapable of writing large scale symphonic works worth listening to. They had Elgar! Which is not to say they didn't also long for freedom, but they did so with much less nationalism.

American experimentalist composers had a project of proving their worth as composers. They rejected the strict, imported methods that came form Europe, but reacting to that by relinquishing control would be risky. Firstly, there is the danger of association with Jazz. White supremacy may have pushed some white composers away from engaging any of the openness suggested by jazz practice. Improvisation would be a step too far. And, indeed, composers trying to prove their worth as masters of their art may assume that retaining control would make a stronger case for their own work.

Those not embarking on nationalist projects, who have much less to prove, did turn out to be more open. Cornelius Cardew played in the AMM, a small group that improvised, influenced by jazz, but tryied to play outside of jazz's generic boundaries. Cagean composers shunned improv, but Cardew embraced it and developed his own squiggly notation. Unlike Feldman, he did not seek exactness or a greater freedom to realise the composer's vision more precisely. Cardew wrote, 'A square musician (like myself) might use Treatise as a path to the ocean of spontaneity.' (1971 p i) What Cardew gives, Feldman takes away. (Of course, when generalising about entire cultures, exceptions abound. Earle Brown argued for performer freedom.)

There is a tendency in musical writing, especially in the popular press, to see graphic notations as a high point of music's historic embrace of left-wing libertarianism. While certainly Cage did come to embrace anarchism (and his writings on that deserve a fresh look), it would be an error to see most American notational experimentation of the period up to the 70's as embracing any kind of class-conscious liberation. Sure it was liberationist for composers, but performers had to look abroad if they wanted freedom for themselves.

Works Cited

Behrman, David. 'What Indertiminate Notation Determines' (1976) Perspectives on Notation and Performance ed Benjamin Bortez and Edward T Cone. New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc. [ book]

Cardew, Cornelius. “Treatise Handbook” (1971) London: Edition Peters. [Book]

Stein, Leonard. 'The Performer's Point of View' (1976) Perspectives on Notation and Performance ed Benjamin Bortez and Edward T Cone. New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc. [ book]