A Few Words On Generosity

Sometimes I think composers — or perhaps people in general — don't see the big picture, particularly when it comes to generosity. I can count on one hand the number of times composers have recommended other composers for my ensemble, the American Modern Ensemble. This even includes teachers recommending students and colleagues recommending other colleagues. It does happen occasionally, of course, but mostly by older, more established composers who probably (and rightly) think they have nothing to lose.

Why is this?

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Our Harmonic, Spectral Lives


Whether or not we are aware of it, we all follow different developmental models over long spans of time. Many people gravitate toward certain organizational systems without realizing it—in effect, creating large-scale waves. Some people's lives are more like sine waves, others more saw tooth, and so on. Some people's lives begin one way and end in another, or are a combination of different waves piled on top of each other. An alarm clock going off at the same time every morning is a definite pulse, but the emails piling up in your inbox are probably not very pulsed at all.

Many parts of our lives seem to mimic waves; when heard or viewed or heard together, they could create a harmonic or spectral profile of who we are. We are all different chords, melodies or even a series of rhythmic patterns that could potentially come together to create a musical composition that represents each one of us.

If every major parameter of our lives was recorded, I think we could figure our which instrument we are, or chord, or at least whether we lead a life of dissonance, relative sine wave purity or more like the sonic spectrogram of a crash cymbal. I can think of a few people who, if I analyzed their lives, would definitely fit a crash cymbal's profile, like Sid Vicious from the Sex Pistols.

Here are illustrations of different types of sound waves:


The amount of research it would take to decode major waves for any individual with a long lifespan would seem daunting, but if we can send people to the moon or decode the human genome, it is certainly possible. It would mean tracking certain major, interrelated details about someone for a long enough period to see if there are patterns, or more darkly, controlling someone's environment, Truman Show style, so we could analyze as many patterns as possible.

What could be tracked? How often someone becomes sick (perhaps a micro version of Google's Flu Tracker), sleep patterns, financial profiles, what you eat, your weight, disintegration (this could be represented either as a diminuendo or crescendo, or an accelerando or ritardando, depending on your point of view and whether you favor youth or antiquity), which routes you take to work, or even how often I update this blog. Various waves for different parts of our lives are influenced by our surroundings and seemingly random events, circadian rhythms, and perhaps, in a subtle way, the moon's gravitational pull. Interestingly, this experiment would probably work best with those that are not aware they are being tracked, or for those who have been tracked for so long that they become indifferent. (Note to self: tracking when someone becomes indifferent is part of the pattern, and the tracker tracking is a pattern as well.)

As an aside, I believe that the main reason so much research is flawed is because we don't compile enough details and co-mingle seemingly unrelated patterns with enough people, such as what has been demonstrated with the so-called butterfly effect (i.e., sensitive dependence on initial conditions in chaos theory—thanks Wikipedia). If someone is suffering from a disease, often times the root cause is something that is at first, seemingly unrelated, but when a huge sample of people are analyzed, with as much relative, recorded data as possible, the pattern becomes clear. With enough human patterns translated into waves, rhythmic patterns, articulations, melodies or harmonies, someone's musical "iComposition" becomes evident.

In an Elliot Carter String Quartet No. 2 sort of way, you could represent certain patterns in each instrument in an ensemble, and the evolving composition would literally be a musical representation of those patterns. For example, using rhythmic diminution, a whole movement could be based on the four members of a string quartet dining out in a particular month, or an entire year. Each dining excursion is an eighth note, every other day is an eighth rest. Each type of cuisine could be a different pitch (Thai could be B, Chinese, could be C, and so on). This could be coupled with representations of whether anyone became sick with food poisoning (perhaps octave shifts or arco playing rather than pizzicatos, or scratch tone—best done with an adventurous string quartet that eats exotic foods!). The level of dedication to tracking these details is definitely beyond what most people would be willing to undertake, but with social networking devices like Twitter, this becomes possible.

Of course, just as Messiaen's bird songs only approximate real birdsong, this is merely an abstract approximation of certain events. Truncated and normalized, it might be interesting, or even humorous. A lot of rough edges would be shaved off, and you can't really represent every detail, but that's where the art comes in: selective choosing—finding and combining interesting patterns.

Scarcity Versus Abundance

Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired magazine, wrote an interesting article entitled Tech Is Too Cheap to Meter: It's Time to Manage for Abundance, Not Scarcity. (He also came up with a provocative retailing concept called the Long Tail that I mentioned a while back.) This got me thinking about how this applies to the music industry, and also to being a composer and performing musician. The following quote from his article pretty much sums it up:

"This is the power of waste. When scarce resources become abundant, smart people treat them differently, exploiting them rather than conserving them. It feels wrong, but done right it can change the world."

In the music world, there are many examples of how something that used to be scarce is now abundant. Quite often we are still living by the old model (scarcity) when the new one (abundance) makes more sense. Two examples where everything has changed dramatically in the music world are with recordings and sheet music.


When someone wants to hear a  piece  that is not available commercially (and that I don't have the right to post in full on my website), I either need to email an audio file, give them access to a private page or burn a CD. Ten years ago, I paid ca. $1.00 for a high-quality blank CD-R, but now I pay ca. 20¢. This means the cost of physical media is now negligible. Hard drive space has also become cheaper per gigabyte, and burn speeds, upload and download times are now much faster than they were even five years ago. Burning music to blank CDs is now not only cheap, but faster than ever. Emailing files is even more efficient—and virtually free.

So which is better? CDs or emailing files? As each year passes, the value of my time goes up. Sometimes even the five minutes it takes to burn a CD, email a file, write a note (which is often repeating what I wrote in an email message or on FaceBook) and send a package seems a little time-consuming, or at least shrouded in redundancy.

Bandwidth speeds have increased way beyond even what was available in the 1990s, and since almost everyone in the Western music world has access to a computer and high speed internet, it is more cost effective and time efficient to post audio files online. After all, many people are purchasing digital files rather than CDs, especially younger crowds. The main problem is that with live recordings, I often don't have the right to post these files online openly, so I have to post them on a private page and give permission to each person individually. Of course, this process slows everything own, and flies in the face of what computers are capable of.

One of the reasons people still like to send CDs is that they believe—perhaps rightly—that files on the burned CD will generally not end up being spread all over the internet. In reality, at least with classical music, this almost never happens. I attribute this to both the good nature of most classical listeners, but also to the relative scarcity of classical music and listeners in general, versus the massive listenership of pop music. It's really just statistics: there are simply more pop listeners, therefore more chances for someone to post something on a file sharing site.

Also, receiving a physical CD seems much warmer than just linking to audio files. Most people like holding physical objects, and knowing that someone took the time to make a CD for you seems like they went out of their way for you even more. I am so used to downloading files that I don't think this way anymore, but I know that there are those out there who do. Also, you don't have to wait to play a CD, unlike downloading or streaming an audio file: you just pop it in and play it, and can take it anywhere, including a car or laptop on a plane.

The main point is that whether you use CDs or audio files, both cost virtually nothing, so we should be exploiting this resource even more, rather than treating each CD or download as a precious gem. We often fail to see the big picture: exposure via recordings will often lead to even more opportunities that eclipse the recordings in value.

Sheet music

Are publishers a dying breed? Reproducing sheet music at a copy store or at home is now fairly cheap. It is really just an issue of supply versus demand, the value of a composer's time, their ability to tolerate duplicating their own materials, and so on. But it is also an issue of scarcity versus abundance. Fifty years ago, reproducing sheet music was not only very expensive–especially for large scores, think 11X17—but more time-consuming as well. Also, you couldn't easily reproduce materials at home.

Now, it is almost silly to not sell PDFs online instead of sheet music. Think about it: selling the PDFs is obviously easier, there are no shipping costs, and the purchaser now has you file to print over and over again. So, why don't we do this?

Composers and publishers are sometimes afraid that performers will just send their files around willy nilly, and won't pay for future performances of their piece. I counter with this: I think that at this point in time, it is less about the physical sheet music and more about the license. Each piece of music should be licensed. When you purchase a  piece of music for, say $30, that could give you the rights to print as many copies as you need for yourself (for page turns, in case  our music was lost or ruined in a rainstorm), but for each subsequent performance, you would have to pay an additional fee. Or, you could purchase a number of performances outright, say five, if you knew you were going to play the piece five times. This process seems to make more sense, but there are catches.

Print size is currently limited to standard sizes (8.5X11. 11X17 and 8X5X14) and 9X12 and 11x14 cut down from 11X17. 10X13 parts and scores larger than 11X17 are still relatively difficult to reproduce, and only major publishers or people patient enough to do the printing themselves are able to accomplish this. Copy stores are still not able to do this well.

Good publishers also often have better paper and binding machines. But do musicians really care? What is more important: receiving the music quickly and having a backup copy, or a beautifully-bound copy on nice paper? It is not that paper and beauty do not matter, but it is an issue of what is more valuable. Most musicians I work with are so used to awful paper and bad binding that they don't seem to care. But they really care if the music arrives too close to a performance, or if they lose it and need another copy, and will receive it too late.

Conventional wisdom dictates that really good publishers publish really good composers—they mostly weed out the riff-raff. Do I really believe this? Not really, but some performers will gravitate toward composers who are published by publishers such as Boosey & Hawkes and Schirmer, simply because you assume that in order for publishers to spend time promoting their roster of composers, they must have determined ahead of time that those composers are marketable, or at least good, whether now or in the future, and therefore, publishers save you time when looking for an engaging, performable piece of music. In practice, this seems to only be true some of the time. All musicians have played awful pieces published by well-respected publishers, and excellent pieces by un-published composers. Either way, many performers place trust in publishers, and publishers have staff to promote their composers, or at least that's what they are supposed to be doing.

Purchasing from publishers also saves time. When you purchase something online or from a brick and mortar music store (a dying breed, I am afraid), you don't have to worry about paper, binding, going to the copy store, etc. However, since most performers own printers at home, if the parts are on letter-size paper, printing parts is extremely easy. Of course, letter-size is definitely not an optimal size for sheet music, but many composers now use this as their default paper size anyway.

The problem is that technology has moved faster than our old business model. In most cases, the internet negates the need for hard copies of sheet music. This has, of course, led to performing from a computer monitor. As flat screen monitors catch on, printed music will be even less necessary. Monitors make a lot of sense: your markings are easily altered and saved for future performances, you won't lose your music, no need for physical storage, licensing becomes a lot easier, music will not degrade, etc. However, my prediction is that monitors will merely be an additional alternative and not a replacement, well into the future, at least for a long time to come. There is just too much old music that is still performed that will not be transferred anytime soon, and it will take a few generations before performers are comfortable reading music off a screen with any regularity.


Ultimately, if the music world learns how to embrace technology even more, it will lead to greater freedom and more opportunities. Those that jump on fastest will benefit the most. The key to all this, as with the newspaper industry, is to figure out how to maneuver this new business model and still be able to make a living. Ironically, this may center around old ways of thinking that predate recordings and published music, such as focusing energy on live performances, or on ideas we have yet to imagine.

What I Will Remember

Sometimes I think about what I will remember most—or care about—when I am old. I am pretty certain I won't remember much about FaceBook. I know I won't think about email or text messages, or as much as I love gadgets, my mobile phone.

I won't care what operating system my computer is running, if we even use computers at that point, but I might care if I backed it up, although it probably will not matter unless I print everything. I know I certainly won't want to be holding a Kindle, or a laptop or have a Bluetooth headset on my ear.

I am also certain that I won't think about all the frozen dinners I have eaten, organic or not,  that Sienfeld re-run where they cut up candy bars with a knife and fork—although that was pretty funny—or that great deal I wrangled on a flat screen TV.

Here is what I am pretty sure I will think about.

I will think about my family, both immediate and extended, first and foremost, and wondering how they are, wherever they are, and I will want to be with them as much as possible.

I will think about Victoria and Dylan, and how much I love them, and how much of a gift it is to have them in my life. To see another human being that is genetically half you and half your wife look into your eyes and say I love you is truly euphoric.

I will remember that time my father threw me in the air when I was three to the music of Shostakovich, and I will think about my mother painting on the third floor of the house I grew up in, while I stood by her side finger painting. I will remember molding clay side my side with my father in his studio while he was making his sculptures. I will think about the rice crispy treats with little cinnamon candies my grandmother made me and my brother and sent in care packages while we were growing up.

I will also think about my work and how much I accomplished, the experiences I have had as a composer and performer—both good and bad—and what I am leaving behind. I will certainly hope that my music doesn't die with me. I want to think that by the end of my life, I will have contributed to the world in a positive way.

I will think about the walks I took in Central Park, the mountains I climbed in the Adarondacks and Colorado, homemade chocolate chip cookies and those times I stayed up all night with Dan, one of my best friends while growing up. I will think about friends, present and past. I will think about a few exquisite meals I had in a few fancy vegan restaurants, and my favorite pieces of music and visual art.

I will think about everything in my life that was intensely personal and full of love. I will also regret all that I wanted to do, but didn't.

It is interesting how some of what we do now will not matter that much when we look back, and how important it is to live each day as fully as possible, take chances, and be with the people we care about, in the flesh.

Dylan and the Snowman: Why Children are the Best New Music Audience

Dylan Building a Snowman with Victoria and Dennis

On Planet New Music (a strange planet perhaps, but the one I live on nevertheless), everyone usually focuses on entertaining adults. Playing music for children, or writing music that appeals to children, is usually considered a good deed at best, a chore at worst. It is certainly not what most "serious" musicians go to school for, unless they are planning on a career teaching children. This is unfortunate, because I think kids really are one of the best audiences for new music because they usually have the fewest preconceptions. I wrote and essay back in 2002 entitled Who is Our Most Important Audience?, in which I elaborate on this issue, but I want to tell a story about my three year old son Dylan that illustrates my point.

During the winter of 2007-08, I completed a work entitled Winter Songs, a twenty-minute, six-movement work for bass-baritone and chamber sextet. I wrote a lot of it in Vermont—the perfect place to write a piece about winter, I should add. While I was writing the fourth movement, a setting of Richard Wilbur's poem Boy at the Window, I looked out the window where I was composing, and unbelievably, without knowing what I was writing that day, Victoria and her father decided to take Dylan outside to build a snowman! You could not ask for better inspiration for setting a poem about a boy and a snowman than to look out the window and see your own son building one. Of course, the movement is dedicated to Dylan, but I meant to dedicate it to him all along.

At age 3, Dylan is beginning to understand what I do, that I write music for musicians to play. The other day he said he wanted to listen to my music. Of course, there is nothing more flattering than to have your three year old—or any family member—ask to listen to your music, so I decided to play him Boy at the Window. I described what I think it is about: a boy watching his snowman with fear in his eyes, scared that it would melt and die, and that in the second stanza, you see it from the snowman's perspective, looking inside at the boy. I told him that we should really be more afraid for the boy, and that all adults know children will eventually experience pain, and that the snowman sheds tears of rain. Dylan developed this whole, elaborate story: the singer, David Neal (who also commissioned the work), is the snowman, and he (Dylan) is the boy in the story. He then proceeded to ask me to play it fourteen times in a row. As a composer, how do you say no to that? Every night since then, he asks for "the snowman song", and has me play it at least once, usually twice, while he tells the story to me, and is now even beginning to sing along with the vocal line.

What is my point? Dylan does not know that this is "modern music" and that many people have pre-conceived notions that all new music is bad until proven otherwise. He just enjoys it as a piece of music. To my mind, this is how all people should approach new music: with an open mind, and with the innocence of a child.

2009 Ultimate iPhone Wish List


A while back I wrote a post called the Ultimate iPhone Wish List. Fortunately, many features I was hoping for are included in the iPhone 3G, the iPhone I finally purchased, but a few are still missing. Here is a breakdown of what I would most like to see added to future generations of the iPhone and iPhone OS.

To Do List and Notes Apple's To Do List and Notes synchronization is the pits. The best workaround I found—which works perfectly for me, by the way—is to use Appigo's Sync service for my To Do lists in iCal, coupled with Toodledo's Notebook for notes. This allows me to edit my notes from any computer, since Toodledo's website is accessible anywhere. I haven't yet figured how out how to sync To Do's with Toodledo, but since I usually view my To Do's in iCal, I have not found the need to sync To Do's with Toodledo, but it is possible.

So what is my wish here? I wish that Apple would get their act together and make all of this seamless, so I do not have to always resort to Third Party apps to fill in the gaps. I am happy to support the wonderful people who make them, but it is interesting how Apple will embark down a path in a half-baked way (with Notes in Apple Mail, for example) and not do a really good job. These ill-fated moves almost undermine the care that goes into creating devices like the iPhone in the first place.

Sharing Music: Update It is now possible to share music on your iPhone using SimplifyMedia. This is not a feature that I will use often, but there are times when I will want someone to have temporary access to some of my music. This is particulary important to me as a composer, but I know a lot of other people will find this useful.

Auto Feature Shut-Off I really want to be able to turn off all services—3G, WiFi, Bluetooth, etc.—with one simple click at the top of the screen, without using a hack such as BossPrefs. Sometimes I am using my iPhone and don't need connectivity, like when I am walking outside listening to music and don't want to take calls. It is really annoying that Apple doesn't make this easier.

Better Mail Handling As MacWorld wrote back in 2008:

There’s also still no way to mark multiple messages as read, force HTML messages to display as plain text, or adjust how much of a message is quoted in a reply. And Mail’s handling of pictures, both sending and receiving, remains limited: You still can’t move photos from Mail to the Photos app, or e-mail multiple pictures at once. Those of us with multiple e-mail accounts still bemoan the lack of a unified inbox that would allow us to skim messages in all of our accounts at once.

I agree, and I think the biggest problem here is integration between programs, particularly Apple's, but ranking right up there is the ability to delete en-masse and a unified inbox.

Personalized Ringtones Right on the iPhone As far as I know, it is still not possible to make customized ringtones right on the iPhone; you still must do it in iTunes or on your computer, using a program like Fission. If a ringtone is available through the iTunes store, you can download it, but that's it.  If someone knows something I don't, please give me a heads-up.

Replaceable, Swappable Battery: Update This still isn't possible, perhaps for good reason (the built-in battery probably saves a lot of space), but it would be very cool to be able to swap batteries. In the meantime, I'll vote for the Solio Solar Charger, a nifty device that takes your iPhone off the grid.

iPhone as Credit Card This still does not exist, as far as I know, so I will mention it again...

Imagine swiping your phone to pay for a purchase, instead of carrying around a whole wallet full of credit cards. Don’t laugh: this is already possible in Japan via RFID tags. Some normal plastic credit cards in the US even incorporate RFID tags so cards can be waved rather than swiped. However, I think biometrics will eventually replace cards altogether, but this is still a great idea.

iChat: Update Although I don't use this, the best option I found is BeeJive's software, which allows you to use any currently existing service you like.

Rotating Lens (or Lens on Both Sides) I mentioned this before, but it would be really useful if there was a camera lens on both sides of the iPhone. It would then turn the iPhone into a great video iChat device, which is the wave of the future, or at least one of the waves. According to AppleInsider, the next generation of iPhone will have a video camera, so this will hopefully be included.

Remote Control for TV and Kitchen Appliances You can use your iPhone to control iTunes and your Apple TV, if you have one, but what if you don't have an Apple TV? Alternatively, it would be great to be able to control my RCN Cable box remotely, or at least be able to program a recording with an iPhone app. Apple will supposedly include this capability in the 4G iPhone.

Someday, in my Wired kitchen, it would be great to interact with my kitchen via my iPhone, or even just a computer, to adjust my thermostat, lights and access the contents of my modern refrigerator via bar code scanning. It would be efficient and time saving to automatically find out if certain items in your refrigerator have gone bad based on expiration dates, and if you're missing a key ingredient for that risotto you want to make tonight.

There are other nifty details that will improve with the upcoming iPhone OS update, like cut and paste and hopefully un-hacked Flash support, faster speed, and so on, but I have a feeling many items on my wish list  won't make the cut.

What's on your wish list? Vote below for what you really want in the upcoming OS release, or in the next generation of iPhones.

[polldaddy poll=1467918]

Comments on Amazon's Kindle for iPhone and DRM

Amazon Kindle for iPhone Icon There is an informative article on CNET Comparing the Kindle 2 to the New Kindle for iPhone application, so I will not go into detail about the pros and cons of either, but I want to comment on Digital Rights Management (DRM) and how this may apply to the future of e-books and music.

The same way I think reading on a phone will never replace reading a larger format e-book or regular books, I think listening to recorded music will never completely replace the experience of a live performance. As an aside, I think we have a long way to go to repair the disconnect between ensembles and classical audiences, but I think we are all moving in the right direction, as exemplified in the new Alice Tully Hall and with venues like Le Poisson Rouge. For me, it is all about the experience. I like reading a book comfortably, which means larger, nicely formatted pages. I also like listening to music in social settings with others. However, there no discounting the ease of convenience of only carrying one device that does it all, and I am willing to trade large page size and attending a concert with friends for convenience. I would rather listen to music this way than not at all, and since my evenings are often spent with my son Dylan, convenience trumps experience.

Back to DRM, those of you who have read my past posts know that I am not a fan of proprietary formats. My prediction is that Amazon's Kindle format will eventually be opened up, the same way MP3s are now available DRM free on both Amazon and iTunes.

Many people dislike DRM because it is inconvenient, and it gets in the way of the experience. I do believe that we should have the freedom to use different devices to play music or read e-books that we purchase. I also think we should be able to share music and e-books, but in a limited way.

By limited, I mean that I think you should be able to trade music with friends and family, but I do not think you should be able to distribute content over the Internet in a way that would undermine content sales.  There is a great site called DigitalConsumer.org that goes into detail about this. 

Here is a simply way to think about it: you should be able to trade content with those in your immediate social or familial circles—people you know. It is just common sense. Do you like what you are reading or listening to? If you do, you need to make sure the people who created what you enjoy can continue to do so. Sure, authors can get speaking fees, and musicians can get fees for ticket sales from concerts, but you should want to support your favorite authors or artists, and every bit counts, especially for Indie writers and musicians.

Just because you can build a bomb, doesn't mean you should deploy it. Just because you could get away from stealing something from a grocery store or the company you work for, doesn't mean you should. Just because you can get away with speeding at 85 MPH when the speed limit is 65, doesn't mean you should. The ease of trading information does not give us the right to dismiss having to pay for something of value. The burden should be on the consumer, not the provider.

Many proponents of the "information must be free" ideology are not content creators. Creating great content requires time and resources. It is simply not possible to hold down a regular non-creative day job and have enough time to regularly create great content. You will not learn about what is happening in Afghanistan unless the New York Times or some other media company can send someone there to see what is happening. It is that simple. If we lived in a world where everyone was completely honest, people would automatically compensate each other when they acquired great content, a great experience, or bought something of value. Although many people are honest, others are not. For every person that sees the value in paying for a ticket for a classical new music concert, or sees the value in paying for an MP3 of a piece of music by an Indie artist, others that can afford tickets will still try to get comps. This also applies to content.

Ultimately, the problem is that the cart came before the horse. Technology moved too fast, and now there is no going back. There needs to be a more effective Digital Content Bill of Rights tied to Copyright and Trademark laws. Perhaps DigitalConsumer.org is setting the tone on this issue. If writers, musicians and other artists cannot justify creating content because they cannot afford to pay their bills, they won't create, and that will be sad. Personally, I would rather not have to rely on part-time writers who are not that good—or interesting—for crucial information, or musical hobbyists who excel at Garage Band. I have no problem paying a reasonable fee for something of high quality.

Should I Start a Podcast?


I founded and run a group called the American Modern Ensemble in New York City. Although I have a lot on my plate, I have been considering starting a podcast that focuses on modern music. This could incorporate elements of AME, such as interviews from our concerts, excerpts from composer's works, and so on. Since AME is a modern group, it deserves a modern outpost in cyberspace, which would help us attract a larger audience. This podcast would be a step in the right direction.

Just as I think that as the Kindle and similar devices will ultimately subvert printed books, I predict that podcasts will—and already are—the death of many radio shows. Not all, since I really believe that talented hosts are few and far between (just listen to the myriad of bad podcasts out there to see what I mean, the ones with low rating on iTunes, for example), but certainly most.

Back to AME, we have mini-interviews at our concerts with the composers, and although this has been a great way for audience members to connect with the composers and see that they live and breathe, it is really just a tease and certainly does not allow us to go into great depth.

Furthermore, there are far too few Podcasts and radio programs that focus on living composers, and the few that exist are either located on college campuses or in out-of-the-way towns, or of a somewhat limited scope. This podcast would be more candid and open than most pseudo-scripted radio shows. Also, as long as you work out the kinks ahead of time—and for those who know me, I have become somewhat tech-savvy over the last few years—it would hopefully not be that time-consuming, but would also reach a broader audience. 

There is just too much inefficiency built into the modern music world. All concerts should be good enough to record, and digital files should be automatically available. The problem is that live concerts are often never perfect enough to release to the public, since careful scrutiny will reveal subtle flaws, whether technical or performer-based. Usually, audiences do not readily notice these small mistakes, but great performers are perfectionists, and they like to really get a piece of music right before it is listened to over and over again.

A podcast would allow us to expand upon a resource at our disposal, the wonderful guest composers who show up to our concerts, and would also allow us to hear more from the performers. It would also allow me to talk about issues outside of our concerts but related to the modern music world. I am not that into writing about modern music, particularly because there are many people who already do it so much better than I ever could, such as Alex Ross and Bruce Hodges. But I really like the idea of being able to listen to what composers have to say while listening to clips of their works. After all, it's music, and the best way to describe music while talking about it is by playing it.

Finally, one requirement is that I would never do this podcast alone. I find that the most interesting podcasts always include others, whether as guests or with two or more hosts. I will try to interest my wife Victoria, since she provides such a good foil, but if she's not into it, I'll look around, or just use different guests, or rotating guests.

I am most interested in quality rather than quantity. I would probably attempt one podcast a month, and if I can somehow generate income (although it is nearly as impossible to generate income from a podcast as it is from a blog), I could probably up it to two per month.

I am still not sure whether this webcast would focus exclusively on American composers, although I am pretty sure it would, or if it will be an offshoot of AME. I think I will just have it be my own personal podcast focusing on American Music so I could branch out and do other projects. After all, AME's current season is only three programs, although that will hopefully change).

I am not sure what to call it, but here are some ideas: Modern Music Today, Living Breathing Composers, ComposerCast, Living Composers. These are all pretty dry and a little boring, so if you have a better idea, let me know.

Also, perhaps importantly, if I mess up, I want the onus to fall on me, not AME. If I ask a crazy question or go off on a rant, AME should be a secondary player on the whole process, mostly just providing access to composers, performers and great music.

If I do go through with this, it will probably roll out in fall, 2009.

So what I need to know is if this will interest anyone. I might go ahead and do it anyway, but I would be grateful for feedback.

What do you think? Should I embark down this path?

[polldaddy poll=1414788]

Dylan, TED and the New Renaissance

Dylan Painting Lately I have been listening to webcasts in the background as I work, particularly if I am correcting scores and parts (which as any composer will attest, is personally fulfilling but mind-numbingly tedious). Damon Lee, a composer friend of mine who lives and teaches in Germany, recently turned me on to TED, an amazing site that contains talks by some of the world's greatest inventors and thinkers, including Dean Kamen, Ray Kurzweil, Al Gore and others. One brilliant, very funny lecture that caught my attention is by Sir Ken Robinson, entitled Do Schools Kill Creativity?

Something Robinson points out and that I have noticed with children—mostly with my  2 1/2 year old son Dylan who is the child I spend most of my time with—is that if they are not hindered by adult preconceptions, they will interactively express themselves in truly unique and organic ways. Dylan synthesizes all sorts of influences and stimuli into his own form of creativity. He sings and dances while he paints, holds two paint brushes like drumsticks, painting and drumming on the paper all at once, and even depicts stories in his paintings that combine all of his diverse stimuli—everything from Itsy Bitsy Spider to the moon and the stars. Interestingly, everything makes perfect sense to him because no one has told him otherwise. Nothing is a mistake. The whole time, he is developing motor skills, exploring and stretching boundaries. His personal expression, without adult-imposed limits or categorization, is a highly entertaining and profoundly beautiful experience to watch.

Back to TED, the summary on the Do Schools Kill Creativity? page states that Robinson makes a "profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity." Robinson calls the meeting of passion and skill "The Element" and perfectly summarizes all that is wrong with most modern educational systems. Even some of the most radical schools still treat the arts, sports and "the other intelligences" (anything other than the humanities and languages) as second class citizens. Arts courses are allotted fewer credits, and most schools still structure their degrees and curriculums using outmoded models meant to prepare people for a society centered around industrialization.

I think we are entering—or already experiencing—a New Renaissance. Our life spans are now long enough that we need not have one career, one passion or even one intelligence. We can have multiple facets, either at the same time or one after the other. They can be related or not, and we do not have to choose one over the other. You can be a musician and a corporate CEO, a dentist and a pianist, a photographer and a professional chef. Technology is helping us express ourselves and save time enough to distill the essence of what we desire. Our only limits—other than a lawful society and survival—should be what we place on ourselves.

As I have always said, genius is mostly about connecting disparate elements where there were no connections before, and having the skill and passion to carry out your ideas. I only hope that as parents, we can allow Dylan to be as unique, creative and skilled as possible.

Recent Happenings

I have been busy these last few months: premieres of Winter Songs, Piranha and Eating Variations, a lot going on with my group, the American Modern Ensemble, and much more. But I am back, and I promise to be much better about contributing to the new music blogosphere. Recently I had the pleasure of attending the recent award presentations for both BMI and ASCAP. It was both exciting and humbling to meet so many young, talented composers, and in particular, to hear excerpts of pieces at the ASCAP ceremony. It is always wonderful to mingle with the amazing luminaries in attendance, but it was the young composers that got me excited. Perhaps it is their optimism and fresh outlook, but I find it comforting to know that they are creating so many great works.

In other news, my plans this summer are to work on—and hopefully finish—an orchestral work I started two summers ago while in residence at the Copland House. This is tentatively called Journey of a Dragonfly, but will probably be shortened to Dragonfly in order to avoid comparison with Flight of the Bumblebee. Or, maybe I will just keep the name and weather the storm. If anyone out there has suggestions, let me know. Maybe I will set up a survey.

I also plan on composing a scene for a new opera I will be working on called Invisible Child. What else? I will be working on a new commission for the Volti choir in San Francisco, to be premiered next spring. If you do now know about Volti, you should: they are one of only a handful of choirs in the United States that focus on new music, and the are quite amazing. Bob Geary is an enlightened, dedicated director, and he and composer/advisor Mark Winges have worked together for many years, creating a true oasis for modern choral works and composers. I should note that Winges is also a gifted composer and he writes some of the most adventurous choral music I can think of. If you are an arts organization or patron who loves new music, and particularly if you are in the San Francisco Bay area, you should be donating to this organization.

Christopher Rodriguez

This story is truly sad: a 10-year old boy in Oakland, CA named Christopher Rodriguez was accidentally shot and paralyzed while taking his first piano lesson at a music store. A stray bullet from a gunman robbing a nearby gas station went through the wall of the music store, puncturing his kidney and spleen and severing his spinal cord. He faces years of rehabilitation, and his parents still haven't told him that he will likely never walk again. Here is a blog, with links to news articles:


This poor kid did nothing wrong, and his family can't afford to work and be with him at the hospital at the same time. I guess it resonates with me because I am a musician, and because it is yet another very human reminder of how messed up this world is. It makes me so grateful to have the luxury of living in a safe environment, with a loving family, a healthy 2-year old and enough food to eat.

I can't imagine what this family is going through right now. We will certainly make a donation to this family, and I certainly encourage everyone to donate if it is within your means.

Late Night Thoughts

Dropped Computer I have a lot on my mind lately, and the problem is that I have no time to write anything down. Ironically, I wrote a few short entries in the span of a few days, but I want to make a promise to anyone reading this—and mostly to myself—that I will write an average of one entry per week, which seems reasonable, particularly if they are short and readable.

Between finishing Winter Songs, being with Dylan who has a stomach virus, getting over a cold, chores, AME and misc. other distractions, I can't even find time to read, let alone listen to CDs I receive for AME. It is a shame, because I usually enjoy listening to what I receive, but I am considering not accepting unsolicited scores because I am having a difficult time finding time to compose. If I cannot compose, I start to feel ill. I am always happiest when I write every day (which involves some virtual performing as I usually sit in front of a keyboard), eat well, get some exercise, spend time with my family, and have a little down-time at the end of the day. If even one of those components is missing, I feel sick.

Here is something I think about: the distractions we have now are vastly different than what J.S. Bach or Mozart experienced. I'm not sure which is worse, distraction-wise, then or now—or can you even compare?

How ironic: in the Western world, we have cars, automatic dishwashers, generally clean food and water, laundry machines, electric lights, and elevators, and we generally live much longer (Elliot Carter is 100!), yet a composer today is lucky if he or she produces as much music in an entire career as Mozart did in one year.

Did Mozart have degrees? No. Did Beethoven have all the distractions we have now? Certainly not. Both composers worked within fairly limited systems, and limits encourage growth—any smart composer knows that—so they produced a lot of music. Granted, whole chunks of both Mozart's and Bach's music are crap and are only listened to because they are by the Gods, Bach and Mozart—there, I said it—but there are obviously many, many gems in those piles, works that have been and will continue to be cherished by millions.

What's my point? I think you will find more gems per pound from these guys than from almost all modern composers. I think that this is because they had more consistency in their daily lives and less exotic distractions. Yes, Bach had a bazillion kids, and children are definitely a distraction—albeit a lovely one—but it's just not the same. With technology, we have created one of humanities greatest ironies: time wasted and saved, all rolled into one. We have created a monster.

All of this leads me to believe that we all might be better off where we began, with organic family gardens and farms, no TV, no cars, close familial ties in smaller towns and the sound of a sharp pencil or quill pen cascading across a piece of parchment, with no way to cut and paste anything, unless you do it with scissors and glue.

How About a Centralized Database?

Lately I've been thinking that one of the major problems I have is feeling compelled to work with multiple databases. FacebookMySpace and every other mainstream social networking site should work together via a central database, an all-purpose location for all of of our information. These sites should be shells rather than separate entities. Proprietary  networks are interesting, but extremely inefficient. I'm certain we could save billions, and perhaps trillions of dollars—and millions of hours—if everything we used in the digital realm subscribed to a central database. It's not just social networking sites, but credit card information and medical records as well. Everything should originate in a central location. As shocking as this may sound, I think the government should spearhead this, and force credit card companies, the medical establishment and even social networking sites to comply. Just imagine: never having to enter a credit card number again; never having to fill out a medical form at the doctor's office; never worrying about where you can access your email, and where your records are stored. The possibilities are endless.

If all of our important pieces of information are stored in one place, the greatest danger would be two-fold: the government accessing our information without our permission, and the possibility of security breaches. Otherwise, it seems like a win-win situation.

What I Am Grateful For

Glass of Water

Every day, I try to remember to take a moment to reflect on what I am grateful for. I know this may seem almost quaint—reflecting at all in today's Twittering world, right?—but I often feel like we take for granted all that is wonderful, and all that we should cherish and protect.

Living in NYC, I am incredibly grateful to have clean water. As most of us know, this is and will become a bigger and bigger issue as each year passes. Sure, almost all water sources are not as clean as they could be, but what we have is worth protecting.I am grateful for clothes and a safe, warm place to sleep. This is a luxury most Americans take for granted, but there a lot of homeless people without a consistent place to sleep or even warm clothes. Although there are shelters and places where people can go for free clothing, many homeless people are not mentally stable or able to put two and two together, so they need help even finding out where to go. At the very least, when someone who is homeless on the street asks me for money for food, I at least offer something to eat. It's pretty hard to be insensitive to this most basic need.

I am grateful for being able to work and my teaching job. It is such a luxury to have time to compose, time to learn and wonderful students to teach.

I am also grateful for my beautiful family, and Dylan, our newest member. I am especially grateful that he is healthy and happy.I am grateful for so many other aspects of my life, such as living in a safe environment, and to list them all would take an encyclopedic essay, but I think it's so important to take a moment every day, particularly now that Thanksgiving is approaching, to remember that many of us have so much to be grateful for, and to remember to help everyone we can within our means.

Ultimate iPhone Wish List

Apple’s iPhone I blogged a while back about what I wished the iPhone would have, before it's debut. Of course, almost no one—including me—anticipated how cool it would actually be: it's even better than some of the, intriguing, whimsical ideas our Apple-loving community came up with.

As the dust finally settles, I am noticing that there are many features the iPhone doesn't have, some frivolous, but some potentially very useful. A few are so important to me that I will hold off purchasing an iPhone until they are implemented.

To Do List I haven't seen much written about this, but I use iCal's To Do List feature all the time. Am I the only one? Why is this not included? Some other features I could care less about (like the Stocks button), but this one is crucial to my personal workflow. I don’t want to have to access the web for my Do List (what if I'm on an airplane and think of something I need to do?), I want to use the one I’ve been using that’s attached to iCal.

iTunes Music Downloads I should be able to download music from iTunes right onto the iPhone, and it should automatically upload to my computer when I sync.

Sharing Music Some people have written that they want music sharing, a potentially great feature. I would love to be able to beam my music, right onto someone else's iPhone. Obviously, copyright infringement is an issue (i.e. how many devices can be authorized for a piece of music), which is probably why this feature doesn't exist yet. Modern technology could solve this if we charged monthly micro-payments to someone's account as each tune is shared more than the basic amount. We could also prevent second generation sharing: if you share it with one person, that individual can't then share it with someone else. Or, something could be shared for a limited amount of time, say, a week or a month, and then be disabled until you purchase it outright.

Personalized Ring tones I would love to customize my ring tones. The available ones are fine, but every other cell phone allows this, why not the iPhone? Hell—I should be able to create my own ring tones, easily, right on the iPhone. Maybe someone out there can design an iApp to do this.

Portable iApps They are being developed as I write this, but there are a few specific pieces of music-related software I would love to see, such as a metronome with a tap feature (like the Dr. Beat) and odd-meter capability. A tuner would also be nice. For all the non-music geeks out there, the most useful applications would probably be either productivity tools, such as something that produces MS Word files and/or PDFs and then beams or stores them, or file sharing software.

More Storage The iPhone should not only be able to store regular files (like a portable hard drive) but I want it to also be able to play as many songs as the best iPod. Granted, it's got a lot of storage already, but in this case, more is better.

Replaceable, Swappable Battery Why did they build in battery that can't be accessed by the user? We should be able to easily replace the battery once it's drained.

Credit Card Imagine swiping your phone to pay for a purchase, instead of carrying around a whole wallet full of credit cards. Don't laugh: this is already possible in Japan via RFID tags. Some normal plastic credit cards in the US even incorporate RFID tags so cards can be waved rather than swiped. However, I think biometrics will eventually replace cards altogether, but this is a great idea nevertheless.

RSS News Reader This is a great idea I saw on another wish list. This would alleviate having to surf the web for news text. It would be great to be able to access news and blogs via a continuously updated, easy to read list. It would also be great if read/unread and flagged/unflagged status could be synced with work and home computers. Offline support would also be nice, so material could be read when on an airplane and/or where mobile access in limited or impossible.

iChat SMS but not iChat? What's up with that? Maybe Cingular forced them not to implement this, but it really needs to happen. It's only a matter of time before we can bypass phone companies and their ultra-expensive SMS options. Instant Messaging specifically designed for the iPhone would be very cool. Perhaps it could incorporate voice and video as well, over WiFi. Maybe Skype will tackle this.

Lower Price This is a given: the price needs to eventually drop. This is a lot of money to pay for a phone, even this one, and it's a huge barrier for millions of potential converts.

Different Service Providers Some people are already figuring out how to "unlock" iPhones, but it will still be relieving when other service providers are able to sell them. I know, Steve Jobs and Apple had to do it this way, and the other phone companies couldn't see the light or were too stubborn, or whatever, but we can all hope.

Better Camera Sure, cell phone cameras have traditionally never that great, but why can't Apple buck the trend and build in an amazing camera? Not a full-fledged professional camera, just something that produces prints that are reasonably good, not just pics that are really only good enough to beam to someone else.

Rotating Lens (or Lens on Both Sides) Someone else blogged about this, and it's an intriguing idea: "the camera lens is currently located on the backside of the phone which makes it easy to take pictures and preview them on the screen. However, it would be really useful if the lens were rotatable to allow you to point it at yourself. It would then turn the iPhone into a killer video iChat device."

Voice Recognition I saw this on another post: "this would allow you to interact with the iPhone while driving. 'Computer: show the location of my next appointment.'" This could also act as a translator, alleviating having to include a bulky dictionary on your iPhone.

Voice Recording Sometimes when I'm driving, I have an idea, but can't pull out my phone. How about an iApp that translates your recorded voice into text and either saves it as a note or a To Do or sends it to you as an email message?

Hand-writing recognition This would be a nice option and make text entry easier for some people.

Hold Music It would be cool if you could pick a song from your phone (in my case, my music, since I am a composer) to act as the music someone hears when they're on hold during call waiting.

GPS Technology This is an ever-expanding market that is becoming more popular every day. GPS technology is so much more practical than carrying around geeky-looking maps.

Seamless International Calling I don't want to have to think about whether my phone will work when I travel from country to country, what each country costs for phone calls, etc. I should be able to easily choose options on the phone company's website, how much I’ll pay, which countries I'm traveling to, how many minutes I need, billing options, etc., then be able to travel wherever I want, without worrying about anything, kind of like driving through an E-Z Pass toll booth on a U.S. highway.

Wireless TV/FM/AM Signals This seems like a no-brainer. It would be amazing to be able to mingle TV, radio and web-based channels "webcasts") and sites together in one, customized list. However, I do believe that FM/AM will eventually die out, as it's so much more efficient to listen to what you want, when you want.

Portable Projector Perhaps this could be something you could add as a clip-on device. Not everyone would need or want this, but I've seen it mentioned elsewhere, and it does seem pretty interesting.

Flash Support As much as I hate Flash, many websites use it. It's obvious that we should be able to see Flash on an iPhone.

Some of these ideas are useful to some and not others, but that's OK: we all have different wants and needs. Hopefully they will be implemented sooner rather than later. Until then, I'll hold off on purchasing an iPhone until Apple incorporates the iCal-based To Do list.

Any other ideas? Let me know...

Amazing Food Facts

I really love odd facts, or as I like to call them, factoids: strange, and usually useless trivia about people, places and things in our daily lives. Here, I have compiled a few amazing food facts that you might not know: • Certain foods such as Blow Fish and Bamboo Shoots will kill you if not prepared correctly.

• Most of us eat seaweed on a daily basis without even knowing it.

• A Mouse would live longer on a corn flakes box than on the cereal itself.

• Cereal boxes uses Elmer's glue for the milk on the front of the boxes.

• 90% of all ketchup is made by the same company.

• Honey is really bee vomit.

• Someone else has already drunk a portion of the water you drink, maybe several times over.

Frozen food is sometimes better for you than fresh food.


A banana is an herb.

Bamboo and sugar cane are from the grass family.

Tomatoes are fruits.

Peanuts are legumes.

There. You probably knew these facts already, but if you didn't, don't say I didn't tell you.

The Long Tail of New Music

Lately I have been thinking about The Long Tail, a term coined by Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired magazine. The term refers to a distribution theory and is taken from a book Anderson wrote called The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More (2006). Here is what it looks like:

The Long tail

In the diagram above, the long tail is represented by the yellow tail, and bestsellers are represented by the green part on the left.

Basically, what Anderson argues is that low demand products that have low sales volume can collectively make up a market share that rivals or exceeds the relatively few current bestsellers and blockbusters, if the store or distribution channel is large enough. I am not so sure that the long tail correlates to high quality, just distribution or perhaps micro-distribution and perhaps individuality.

What interests me is the implication this has for composers and new classical music. It should be obvious to everyone by now in the classical music world—performers, composers, conductors and record companies—that the future of recordings lies in digital distribution, and for better or worse, physical recordings will become extinct, at least in their current form. Don't get me wrong: I love the physical sensation of holding a CD or record (especially records: those were cool—all those big photos!), but the efficiency of digital media is just too enticing, technology is constantly getting better, and album art, program notes and the like are becoming easier to access via digital players.

But how does this effect composers?

I think technology and instantaneous track switching will create a new form of classical music, one that's more malleable, more like a Mashup. It is already happening, but is still not that prevalent. If customers can combine individual tracks in the order they want, what's to stop them from combining parts of pieces, modulating them instantaneously (both with pitch and tempo), and creating whole new pieces? Cadenzas from one concerto or recording by a certain artist could be added to another. This process requires at least some level of musical intelligence and patience, but it is becoming easier to do over time.

The big mistake is thinking that our Garage Band culture and level of education can always substitute for the artistry of those who toil their whole lives, creating work that is truly earth shaking, moving and timeless. What we end up with in a creatively free YouTube society, one in which the tools are easy to use but the education and craft are still difficult (after all, plugging our brains into a sort of Matrix, Total Recall upload scenario is still not really here yet, at least in an off-the-shelf sort of way) is either appropriating someone else's ideas and calling them our own (which many of us do anyway, but often in a subtler fashion) or creating work that is vapid, lacking depth and silly. Don't get me wrong, I love silliness more than most composers, but are we really going to cherish Evolution of Dance in 50 years?

Laurence Lessig, that bastion of free creativity, has some interesting ideas on this front, but as far as I know, he does not really create, he just pontificates, and he gets some of it wrong. Creative Commons is an interesting and extremely useful idea, but sometimes, it takes the mind of one individual to create something truly fresh and extraordinary. Lord of the Rings, Berio's Sinfonia, The Ring Cycle, and other classics could not have been created in a YouTube culture. Maybe that will change, but for now, it hasn't.

We have the potential to create works with infinite variables, and have them all available, all the time. This type of world will reply on filters we can trust: excellent librarians, store clerks (online or off) with PhD's, and so on. We simply won't have time to filter it all ourselves. Perhaps the Amazon approach to reviewing will help filter for us, but who knows what the level of education is of the people doing the reviewing? Wikipedia, as much as I love it, has a similar problem, but at least there is always a way to correct someone if they are wrong, and you hope that over time, correct information wins out over incorrect by virtue of its correctness.

With modern classical music, it seems that The Long Tail will end up being a sort of Deadhead type of availability of potentially infinite variables of different works, whether via recordings or something truly creative. The question is, how many Long Tail creations will actually equal the quality of the best of the best sellers? Does quality correlate to availability? We shall see...