Right Network

There was a grey malaise on top of the usual dense, smog-filled morning I have learned to enjoy since moving to Los Angeles. Some call it ‘June Gloom,’ but since it is neither June nor do I reside in the vicinity of a marine layer, I had to grind my wheels towards a different conclusion. Could it be the unemployment? The depression-filled days squandered by lack of interesting things upon which to report? Is it because I ran out of coffee yesterday?

No. This undulating, everlasting nothing was the warning shots for what I would discover with my morning cup of PG Tips: the Right Network.

Now, owning a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science adorns you with a certain amount of sensitivity, humor, and stomach for the more absurd things that come out of the political spectrum. After all, mine is a generation that grew up with Dan Quayle and hocked Bill Clinton as its patron saint.

Nevertheless, when viewing the following advertisement for this independently-owned media company, launching this summer, I found I had a visceral reaction to the news:

Maybe it was my liberal upbringing. Maybe it was the way in which Fraiser Kelsey Grammer adopted Tim Gunn’s snarky attitude and used it against a leftist agenda. Or maybe because amongst the things Grammer listed as ‘wrong with the world,’ baby carrots and bailouts for billionaires were fundamentally equated, while cotton-ribbed thermals paired with a suit and tennis shoes were entirely forgotten.

Liberal cheap shots aside, I still found this move towards the clever, flavored, and cool discomforting. While I appreciate the sense of humor and down-to-earth mission behind the video, I can’t help but feel a little distrustful. Is this the right-wing’s way of hipping Sarah Palin into our ballots come 2012? Or is this a way of wooing back the younger, middle-class breed of would-be conservatives by rebranding the right-wing image as one chic, stylish, and hip (enlisting a growing number of bohemians who have a little more money to spend or what California calls ‘fiscal conservatives’).

Take a quintessential right-wing Hollywood ‘smart guy’ (in this case Dennis Miller must have been busy), leave out the typical icons of Americana (Chevy trucks, Budweiser Clydesdales, tractors), add a dash of charisma and suddenly you have the new Republican Party.

Sinking into the self-deprecating abyss that is my faithlessness in humanity and its inability to wade through bullshit, I sought out more information on this Right Network and found this advertisement, geared to, I assume, the  ‘less cynical, slightly-more-right-of-center’ Right-wing class:

I wheezed a belabored sigh of relief (yes, another joke about Central LA). The topsy-turvy of the morning had settled and clouds parted to reveal the same musty sunlight.

All is Right with the world.

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Verbruggin’

Indomitably funny, sprite, and at times extraordinarily bombastic for such a small woman, Marion Verbruggen presented a recorder masterclass that was educational and entertaining for the trained musician and aficionado alike.

Part of the charm of Verbruggen’s tutelage was watching the precision in which she excised her students’ performances—teasing out an ornamental and quite alive reading of what is often drudged and static. Navigating the space wrought from Verbruggen’s encouragement, students were free to be, and performances were transformed like trepidatious cats—stretching and breathing in their new found freedom.

This was not a class for traditionalists. In fact, at times, some of Verbruggen’s more liberal suggestions—her incessant devotion to the French, for example—made for a worthy squirm or two. “I know Bach was a Calvinist, but at the same time he liked partying,” she evinced.

While there is something nice in the application of theory and interpretation relegated to music beyond the Baroque era, something quaint about a deep and expressionistic reading of music whose lofty reputation often distances its listener, there is something to be said for the exactness of a piece of early music when it is pallid and regimented. After all, an artist can still be emotive and concise while upholding the tenants of tone and tempo. Too liberal a reading of early music will  discount its upbringing under the rigid, parental guidance of the church and monarchy in the hopes of making the music accessible again.

“It doesn’t mean you have to behave,” Verbruggen chided a student, ironically, as she stood under the austere precipice of Loper Chapel’s cold, brass cross and stained menagerie like a disobedient child convincing her friend to try cigarettes for the first time. Perhaps this is why Verbruggen’s masterclass was such a delight—don’t we all like misbehaving once in awhile?

The Berkeley Exhibition

A bustling and unending cavalcade of enthusiasts echoed through the assembly rooms of the First Congregational Church—vying to see the exhibition showcase at the two-week long Berkeley Festival and Exhibition. Crowded into this unique venue were early music publishers, instrument builders, service organizations, universities, and other visiting practitioners. Free and open to the public, the exhibition was presented by Early Music America.

View Slideshow Here

Fibre-optic Flowers: The Music of Delia Derbyshire

Winter: a sea of grey waits outside my window like an overlooked friend in for the weekend- familiar and comforting. As I stare into its bleak abyss, I hear life hustling floors below: screeching brakes, police sirens, the crashing wave of moving tires, moving feet, and moving minds. Then, ringing. A high pitched, tinkling, electronic toy noise from a device that adulthood justifies owning. Yes, I can hear you now- and so can others. For it is this pocket sized apparatus that is swift becoming the world’s most popular musical instrument. In New Zealand, for example, Jol Muholland and the staff at Vodafone orchestrated a song and light show to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture through text alert sounds in 1000 cell phones. American composers Jim Stephenson (Cell Phone Concerto) and Golan Levin (Dialtones Telesymphony) have both composed large-scale concert performances spotlighting the range and depth of the cell phone as an instrument of art. In Michigan, Professor Georg Essel gathers an ensemble of iPhone users to “make weird, interesting, new, and unusual things” through loops and manipulations of sound. Hell, even T-Pain has an application for the everyman auto-tune fanatic. But electronic art is not new and sounds manipulated by machine certainly not at the forefront of innovation. If countless runs of Jimmy Stewart bumbling down Bedford Falls have taught me anything, it’s that this is the time of year for reflection. In a cataclysm of old and new, for the electro-audiophile, one name rises as the ghost of Christmas past, present, and yet to come: Delia Derbyshire.

Born in Coventry, Delia Derbyshire was an English composer best known for her contributions to the BBC. A gifted student, she attended Cambridge to study mathematics, but changed her degree for study in music. After college she had applied to work at Decca Records, but was inevitably turned down because the label did not employ women. She worked a stint for music publishers Boosey & Hawkes, before joining the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. The Workshop was “born out of the desire to create new sounds” with high production value for programs with small budgets. Composers, sound engineers, and technicians took natural sounds and treated them electronically through a handful of devices in the studio. This included 12 oscillators, a stripped out piano, floor standing tape recorders, and machines created by Radiophonic’s own Dave Young; most notable of which was the Wobbulator (made piecemeal from found objects like a Dictaphone, tins, and a Perspex box.) It was here that Delia cut her teeth writing incidental and theme music for BBC radio and television. She used “anything she could get her hands on – a colander, a set of house keys, broken guitar strings, even her own voice – [anything] could become an instrument in one of [her] soundscapes. One of her favorite objects to use was an old, green, metal lampshade, which she loved because of the clear, ringing sound it made when hit.”

Delia was a meticulous composer and found getting her ideas out problematic. “She worked very hard to achieve the effect that she wanted,” explains former partner Clive Blackburn, “she was a perfectionist and it was very hard to get her to stop work on a piece when she thought that it could still be improved, even though it sounded absolutely fine to other people.” Brian Hodgson, a frequent collaborator, said that he “often had to copy tapes or hide them before Delia attempted to wipe them and start over again.” Once she had worked through her precision, Delia “used the analyses to build [her pieces] from the ground up.” They were a knit quilt of spacey, comic orchestration and radical new ideas- beautifully innocent yet stark and terrifying at the same time. It is this quality of Delia’s composition that lends her work its sense of timelessness and longevity.

The piece in which Delia is most commonly associated is her theme to the longest running sci-fi show in television history, Doctor Who. The original theme was composed by Ron Grainer in 1963, but it was Delia’s developments that brought it to fruition. In this theme, Delia employs reverse tape effects, oscillators, and filters to create an unearthly and eerie sound for space travel- one of the first themes to be produced entirely by electronic means. The theme was “constructed by recording individual notes [of a piano string] from electronic sources one by one onto magnetic tape, cutting the tape with a razor blade to get individual notes on little pieces of tape a few centimeters long, and sticking all the pieces back together one by one to make the melody. This was a laborious process which took weeks.” After all, this piece was composed in the days before the Moog synthesizer and sampling. Her theme to Doctor Who has remained a hallmark of the show through the years and a national treasure. Its driving rhythm and simple melody are standouts in the art of electronic collage.

The Radiophonic Workshop wasn’t always supportive of Delia’s creations, however. Her work was often rejected; and once cast off for being “too lascivious” to youngsters. The advent of the Moog only harkened her frustrations- Delia preferring the nuances of recorded natural sounds to those emulated in synth. She wanted to make soundscapes not tunes. Disillusioned, Delia set up a number of studios in the late 60s; including Unit Delta Plus, an organization with fellow composers Brian Hodgson and Peter Zinovieff. Unit Delta Plus created electronic work for film, theatre, and advertising. There, Delia produced a score for Peter Hall’s Royal Shakespeare Company production of Macbeth. She also worked with rock stars Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Yoko Ono, and Pink Floyd. It was during this period that Delia orchestrated sonic happenings- pairings of music and electronic art performances. Here, she describes one such festival:

“We had an evening of electronic music and light effects. The music was indoors, in a theatre setting, with a screen on which were projected light shows done by lecturers from the Hornsey College of Art. It was billed as the first concert of British electronic music; that was a bit presumptuous! John Betjeman was there… he sat in the front row and went to sleep… it was quite a social occasion.”

For all her effort in venturing into uncharted musical terrain, the work she produced was never exalted. She built worlds as a tinkering technician, but was thought anachronistic in an era scheming for the six million dollar man. Delia left the Radiophonic Workshop in 1973 and took a series of bizarre jobs soon after- including one as a radio operator laying a national gas main.

Delia never cared much for the synthesized iterations of her famed Doctor Who theme. Towards the end of her life, however, synthesizers had made progress to the point “at which she thought that she might be able to do some work with them.” Says Delia, “working with people like Sonic Boom [Peter Kember] has reinvigorated me…now without the constraints of doing ‘applied music,’ my mind can fly free and pick-up where I left off.” Unfortunately, Delia died in 2001 at the age of 64 from renal failure while recovering from breast cancer. Still, her vision continues. Delia’s unique use of sound layering, rhythmic loops, and chaotic melody inspired bands like Portishead, Aphex Twin, Orbital, and the Chemical Brothers. Her part in establishing the BBC Radiophonic Workshop has led to a rich history of electroacoustic music in England and abroad- especially her work in its performance. Aside from influencing popular artists, Derbyshire has influenced breakthrough methods of electronic arts production. The Birmingham Electro Acoustic Sound Theatre (BEAST) is “one of the leading international systems for the presentation of electroacoustic music. Relatively unique as a large-scale touring loudspeaker orchestra, BEAST is now capable of mounting systems within excess of 100 discrete channels,” and serves as a leading system in its field for over 25 years. This past September, Coventry hosted A Thing About Machines, an arts festival dedicated to Delia which showcases work that uses, reinterprets, reviews, or renews technology of the past 100 years. Sharing its name with the popular Twilight Zone episode, the event featured turntablists, composers, visual artists, and filmmakers. In 2008, 267 tapes of Delia’s recordings were discovered in her attic. Her website has recently announced that it is offering eight mp3s of this rare and unreleased material for free.

“Nothing becomes as old as quickly as a new sound” says BBC Radiophonic composer Milton Babbitt. True; the new sounds of today’s fast moving age are quaint, but old fashioned- after all, BBC sound engineer Dick Mills composed his Adagio with phone ringing years before this hoopla of cell phone orchestration began. Much like Doctor Whos’ TARDIS flying through time and space, Delia’s work spans the ages, in part due to what Peter Kember calls, “her ultimate resource- a limitless imagination.” With the wealth of tech applications that allow the everyday phone owner to compose electronic music, paint, or film, the sky’s the limit for those with artistic temperaments and daring to be Derbyshire. There is limitless potential in the winter of one year and promise in the next. With the reinvigoration of BBC’s Doctor Who in 2010, starring Matt Smith as its eleventh iteration of the doctor, the memory of Delia Derbyshire is not lost. She leaves behind a grand artistic legacy that has inspired us to be tolerant and understanding of our otherness. Much is promised in the wake of Delia’s noise as it echoes through the darkness.

Pax Reagana

With the amount of 80s synth pop creeping back into daily downloads and popular television programming, I get the impression that while the world was moving onto grunge rock and hip hop in the late 80s and early 90s, Europe was halted abruptly by its fall. Finding new steam in return to a Pax Reagana, neon spandex and fight against socialism included, I wonder if what we’re listening to now are throwbacks and reinventions or old tunes in new, shoulder padded dressing.

“This is It,” hit from the late Michael Jackson, gained much media attention before the release of his movie of the same name. Unveiled to fans as a new track, what we found was a song repurposed from 1983. But the hit helped the soundtrack album reach #1 here and abroad; a good marketing ploy for Sony Epic and a handy environmental tip for the lot of us- don’t throw out your trash just yet; recycle, reduce, reuse.

This isn’t a new phenomenon to the music industry- what with the Beatles Anthologies and Past Master Volumes burning a hole into my wallet- but it certainly prompts the question: In an era of instant, global communication, where a person can be a child of any era, regardless of chronology or geographical accommodation, is a rise and fall in trends luxury or laziness?

Here’s a happy tune from Wolf Gang:

with remix here.

The Cursor of an Addict

It started with restlessness- a gnawingly empty, itching idleness in being without- but overall, I thought I could survive its absence. Then panic and confusion set in: I am lost at sea; all around me seems to be the same, unending dark. It is an eternal, incessant, mind numbing ticking of a clock. Drops of my life squandered through a leaking faucet. I am not whole. A week passes. Parched for knowledge, betrayed by delusions of LAN, I am afflicted with cabin fever. Then, when I can stand it no longer, home: Time Warner sends someone to repair my broken cable and internet.

I never thought I was one to be tempted by the sirens of technology- always priding myself as the gen x’er who toys with the machinery of the past (33, 45, 78- oh my!) Yet here I was, maddened by a week of communication’s cold turkey. Or, in keeping with the poultry theme, wishing for the sweet twittering of a soggy, Siren grave. What enchanting tune dragged me from the lofty heights of obstinacy and righteousness to the watery depths of full blown internet addiction? Where is sanity in the age of the internet?

I’m not the only one ravaged by internet addiction. The associated press recently reported the opening of ReSTART, a $14,000 center in Washington that offers a 45-day program to help people wean themselves off detrimental computer use. Though internet addiction is not recognized as an official disease by the American Psychiatric Association, those afflicted with it can suffer from loss of hygiene, loss of career, even loss of life. As such, similar centers are popping up in China, South Korea, and Taiwan. It seems our generation of techies has created its own Achilles’ heel.

Day 6 at sea: wallowing in self-pity, feeling lost for an embattled generation of forgotten addicts, yet to the outside world wearing a mask of “indignant and thoroughly annoyed,” I wile away time at what turns out to be a comedy of errors performance of Rinde Eckert’s And God Created Whales. The play explores one man’s battle for immortality via magnum opus and in the face of fading mind, memory, and wit. Nathan, the artist, is his own white whale- chasing a work that constantly eludes him, never seeming to find the resolution his cognitive side so desperately seeks. The play is a masterpiece, technological goofs included, and Mr. Eckert’s humor and zen-like cool amidst his technical foul ups only punctuate the message behind the medium: we are always looking for a home, though it is never what we think we will find. In my precarious situation, I couldn’t help but ask: when it comes to technology, is the white whale of internet addiction a reflection of our own white whale selves? If so, what happens when we finally quash the beast- do we find home? In Eckert’s Whales, Nathan is given a fitting, respectful ending: we never see his final fade through dementia; never see the maddening end of a man choked by his own fever; Eckert’s Time Warner cable employee drops by, too, to save the day. One can only hope that in our time of webbed communication and global media, our generation figures out how to navigate the seas of our own destructive vices, towards home, before we are wholly consumed by ourselves:

“Once he hears to his heart’s content, sails on, a wiser man.
We know all the pains that the Greeks and Trojans once endured
on the spreading plain of Troy when the gods willed it so–
all that comes to pass on the fertile earth, we know it all!”

Gyres

Turning and turning in the widening gyre. The falcon cannot hear the falconer. – Yeats I write this on the eve of yet another birthday and, never one to view things linearly, or rather, being of the mindset that a cyclical worldview maintains youth in light of another year flipping page in a “you’re too old to act and think this way” book- my mind goes to cycles and their particular prevalence as of late. Touting myself, again, in student shoes, I find I am faced daily with the oscillations of another time. Beyond relearning the art of the study space, the study buddy, the study time, the studying- I seem to find the new repackaged; old ordeals masquerading around in new forms. Turning and turning. I see hometown friends whizzing past on bicycles. I hear catty gossip behind backs. New friends are old friends with new faces. I chart out new terrain, Los Angeles, and who I am within it. And life is breathed back into the hollowed memories of things I thought had come and gone; now mutated versions of the quaintly, quietly familiar. Dumbfounded by the second and third retelling of an “age-old” story, I have to assume there’s meaning behind the actions of a cosmic force that deigns revisitation (read: pains in the ass) necessary. And though by now I have suffered from the preeminent stages of vertigo, if life is a terrible journey that ends with us battled and bruised, ye-hawing “what a helluva ride“- then I guess I’m in for another year bootstrapped to the misfortune of déjà vu. To everything turn, turn, turn; there is a season. And for this turning, I am eternally thankful.