Commission Music

Commission Music
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Sunday, 4 April 2004

My Fabulous weekend

Ok, so around 11:00 Friday, Jess and I hitched a ride to New Haven and took the train into New York. We got off in Harlem and rode the bus to the Coloumbia University area, where Jess' friend Yvette lives in student housing. She gave me lodging. We dropped our bags there and then all went for lunch. J & Y decided it would be faster to get a cab and would cost the same as the subway. Jess hailed a cab by standing in front of it as the light changed from red to green. One thing I thought I learned in Europe was to never step in front of a taxi, but she told me how to tell if the taxis have people in them. If the number is not lit up, then it's full (and if you love life, don't step in front of it), otherwise, you can hold them up at will. So we hopped in the cab and the driver drove like a maniac. I remained calm. If I were in another car, though, I would fear the irratic actions of the taxis. I think they create market for themselves by scaring other people off the streets. When you're in NYC, it's not uncommon to a street full of taxis, maybe one delivery vehicle and no private cars. But why would you need a private car when the subway is so good? Anyway, we were in a taxi headed for lunch when my life did not flash before my eyes. We got out and went to pseudo Japanese fusion food. It was pretty good, but east coast food is pricey. It was next to a chain store selling popcorn. the idea of starting a popcorn chain store is so ludicrous that it makes me think of capitalism as performance art. suddenly, there was a beautiful moment amidst all the turmoil and people could buy overprices bags of popcorn.

After we had food, we went to a coffee house, named the Mozart Cafe, which was covered with Mozart kitsch and only played his stuff and was full of conservatory wanna-bes. It's odd to think an establishment could survive catering soley to dead music snobs, but there you go. I mean, KDFC (Your radio concert hall in the sf bya area) lives, but it has a wide broadcast range and this is just a cafe. We spent too long in both eating places and didn't get to the Kitchen, but the galleries are free and will have their current exhibits up until school gets out, so I can go at a later date. [Me blinking in Times Square] Jess and I went to times Square to see, or hear rather, an installation by Max Neuhaus. (I don't know if I'm spelling his name right). So we walked up towards the bright lights. It's better than Vegas, I think, although the one time I was in Vegas, I barely cruised the strip. what's nice about Times Square is that you can cruise it on foot, whereas Vegas requires a car.

However, like Vegas, times Square is owned by the Disney-idied corps of the world. Disney store. MTV store. Planet Hollywood. chain thing. Chain thing. Chain thing. I got there a few years too late to see any real debauchery. We walked around a bit looking for, or rather listening for, the installation. Jess didn't remember exactly where it was, just that it was unlabeled and under a grating by 42nd Street. We walked around and found the grating where all the tourists get their picture taken. Jess took my picture. My camera's flash is such that it causes blinking more than half the time. We were walking around that pedestrian island, bent over double, trying to hear anything that sounded installation-y coming up from the grating. Such is New York that nobody even noticed us peering intently into the grate or wondered about us in the slightest. I heard later that it's nice to go the installation in the summer, because you can lie right down on the grating and hear it. Again, presumably, with no notice from anyone. We wandered around the wrong grating for a while and then left and bought popcorn from a chain store and then came back and still coudl not hear anything, when Jess had a flash of insight and we crossed the street to the smaller pedestrian island and we stepped on to the grate and suddenly, like crossing into another world, we heard the installation. It's based on the overtones series of bells. It was put in in the 70's, so it's not digital, whatever it is. and it sounded like a bell, so it's not analog oscilators, since they would be way out of tune by now. It had a pipe-y sort of sound to it. Like white noise sent through several long pipes. The frequencies beat against each other like bells do. I could hear different beating patterns by moving around. things fell in and out of phase with each other. It was always the same and always changing. It's a wonderful thing to have there in the midst of everything of Times Square. All the people and the traffic and the Andean Flute Band were all still making noise, but a wonderful new sound was added to it and somehow didn't compete with the other sounds at all. Jess said, "Watch these other tourists. They'll walk over it and not notice." so we people-watched for a long time and nobody noticed. I wonder if I would have noticed if I hadn't known about it. I know that I've been walking along sometimes and hear a resosnance and stop to listen to things, but Times Square is so full of sounds... The installation sounds intentional to me. The tuning is too interesting to be machinery noise, but apparently, that's what people think they're hearing. after a while, we went on. We stepped off the grating and into the street and the sound that had surrounded us faded to nothing within steps.

[funny graffitti]We hopped on the subway for a bit and then walked through Alphabet City, which is a neighborhood with some amusing grafitti, towards a club called Tonic. a band calleed the Jazz Travellers was playing. It was the Village Voice pick. We bought tickets to the 10:00 show and then went in search of food. All the restaurants were prohibitevely priced bobo (recall that bobo is slang for bourgeois bohemian) or sketchy pre-gentrified restaurants which Jess reistsed and which didn't have much in the way of vegetarian fare anyway. We walked for a while, searching for food when we came upon a burrito shop offering a vegan burrito, so we went in. I noticed a tie dyed piece of fabric on the wall which had a picture of a street sign on Haight on it. Hrm. the menu said it was San Francisco Mission District-style mexican food. Be it ever so hunble, there's no place like home. I couldn't stop laughing that I went to a big city far away from home and ended up at a place imitating the big city at home. I think California oozes out of my pores. In true Mission district style, the burritos were good and cheap.

We went back to Tonic and heard the fantastic band. they played stuff that was either standards or standards-y, but then in the solo sections, they got pretty free-jazzy. the music was really good and really fun. And then, after a few songs, the band leader asked for a singer to come up from the audience. a woman pushed past me, saying "excuse me." and got up on stage. It was Debbie Harry from Blondie. she sang for the rest of the set. Yes, she's still hot. She was wearing an untecked tuxedo shirt, black thigh-length pants and leppoard-print boots. she is a fantastic singer and sung a bunch of jazz tunes with the band. The band had a xylephone player, a drummer, a standup bassist, a sax player, a trobonists and a violinist. At one point, the sax player was playing a tenor and soprano sax at the same time. He had both of them in this mouth and was playing the keys of one with one hand and the keys of the other with the other hand. And it sounded good. Good tone. Totally amazing. They played a bunch of jazz tunes and then did an encore of a Blondie tune and all marched out and then back in like they were the Archestra or something. It was awesome.

[Meow Mix]Then we went to one of NYC's two lesbian bars, the Meow Mix. It was relatively empty. I had a beer and Jess had some girly mixed drink. She was tired, so we didn't stay very long. It's a tiny tiny club, with a stage. A band was packing up to leave. I imagine it emptied when the band finished, but I don't know. We caught a cab back to Yvette's place. Tried to sleep in strange bed. Woke up very early and then had sleeping-in like disturbing dreams. Got out of bed when Jess was hitting the buzzer to get back into the building in the morning. Our plan was to have brunch and then head back to New Haven, where we could get a ride no later than 3:00. Best laid plans of mice and men.... [Jess and Yvette]J & Y & I walked towards the brunch place, dawdled at burnch, and walked back. New York looks very European in parts, but it is self-consciously so. We went to Coloumbia to get computer access to check train schedules. The train we needed was leaving in 15 minutes, so we took a much later train and took the bus back to Middletown. Since there was nothing to be done, we went to visit John McGuire, the Coloumbia professor who addressed Alvin's class last week. Jess knows him from her Ivy League days. He's a really cool guy. We talked in his office for a while, where he was working on Saturday and then walked to a tremedously pretentious coffee shop.[A Real Artist], where we met a real artist, whose name I don't remember. He's a woodchooper, a manly man, like Hemmingway, he explained. I went to the bathroom and people had scrawled poltically appropriate Shakespeare quotes. Jess was trying to explain how the coffee shop was emblematic of the neighborhood. I said "yeah. We've got nothing like this in Berkeley." The coffee, though, was dismally bad. the place was packed. It would never have survived in Berkeley. after more dawdling, which was delightful, despite the coffee, we walked around to a Radio Shack, where I bought a bigger memory stick for my camera and then went to the cathedral of St John the Divine, which is the largest cathedral in the Americas. It took me a while to figure out that it wasn't catholic. It was Episcopal. they're a lot like catholics, but without the desire to return to the 14th century. But no prayers to Mary. I would miss rosaries and Haily Marys if I were going to catholic-like church. The church wants to look centuries old, but it's not even finished yet. Part of it burned down a year or two ago. More attempt to self-consciously ape Europe. Catherdrals, in my opnion, should be timesless but also timely. Like the Gaudi Cathedral in Spain. It's not trying to look like it was build in 1509. Nevertheless, St. John was very nice. I love the resonances of huge cathedrals, and this had it in abundance. Also, a lovely looking pipe organ. I want to hear it played. It's huge. Pipes around the choir area but also trumpet-like pipes in the very back of the church. Pipe organs were invented by Ancient Romans, by the way. It's surprising how old some ideas are.

Jess and I then headed to Grand Central station. It's large and impressive. We got on our train to New Haven, and sat next to a nifty geek named Jen, who goes to 2600 parties in the city. I showed her supercollider stuff. I want to check out these parties. I miss being surrounded by geeks. They're my people. Jen was talking about an Electric Kool Aid Acid Test-like novel for our generation and how it might be tied to blogging. She's on to something. For long time, I've been day dreaming about writing a novel made up on instant messenger conversations. This is actually part of the reason that spies on my Moos keep logs: so I can analyze the conversation to see how to mimic them, either for AI applications or for art. Maybe we're all writing the great American work of our generation right now as a blogging work in progress.

Jess finally gave me the CD with me singing on it. It was just the "is this thing on" part of recording something else. but Jess spent all day friday singing my own songs back to me. Apparently, she's been playing it to other folks. I think this is silly.

Got back to Middletown at 8:20. Ran to tim's senior thesis concert and caught the last 20 minutes of it. Nice, droney, angsty music. angsty music touches a deep and resonant chord within me. But the fun jazz band did too, so maybe just good music touches a deep and resonant chord. Most happy music is banal and stupid, alas, so that might create an illusion of favoring angsty music. anyway, Tim's thesis touched a deep and resonan tchord within me. It was nice. Went to the after party at tim's house and drank Pabst blue ribbons. I am no longer a beer snob. Got kind of buzzed and then went to see an undergrad blues band play at a bar in town. I was surrounded by very drunk undergrads, a huge number of which were music students. fortunatately, despite drinking 2.5 beers, I sobered up enough by the time the bar closed to stay out of trouble. Undergrads: oh so cute and oh so young.

The grad stipend just got increased by 4% (woot), but music grads are paid half what science grads are. And the music stipend is below the federal poverty line. Some music students are having a lot of trouble because of this. So there has been much traffic on the grad email list about this. Talk of unionization has come up. but some math student was complaining, saying that he might get more money, but he had to lie and say he was a music student to impress women. Grad students complainign about lack of money and lack of sex. How classic is that? If you try going to a woman from connecticut and explain that you study experimental music, she goes looking for a math student. But with undergrads, he is so right. I tell undergrad chicks that I'm a music grad student and they look really impressed. they flirt with me, but then they run away. Which is good. I gave up drama for Lent. I'm thinking of giving it up forever.

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