Since the beginning, I have secretly questioned the ramifications of a participation in social media. How much do I want to ‘share’?  I have had a Facebook page for a few years, and a minimal participation in Twitter and Linkedin, but some aspects of this process have led me to further question  this form of communication. I have always been leery of sharing anything ‘personal’ on social media, as I consider them as the average person’s tabloids and hesitate to make public aspects of my personal life that others seem unconcerned to share. If you say something on a social media site, basically you are saying it to the entire world.

Some individuals use people’s Facebook pages to shamelessly over-promote themselves  and inundate your page with their content, or worse, may post inappropriate content… which is more than I bargained for.

Social media are like shop windows – they allow people to display written, audio and visual content to the public at large, and therefore in a way are similar to web sites, although people may consider much more carefully the type of content they place on a web site. Also when some people put questionable content (statements and are politically incorrect or shocking) on social media and it may come back to them with a vengeance as we have seen in recent events.

Social media are business darlings, from the consumer product companies who are looking for approval and endorsement of their goods, to nonprofit organizations who look at social media as a no-cost outlet for networking. I have attended a few seminars that extolled social media for the arts. However, from a practical standpoint, the time involved in getting in touch, chatting with and checking communication streams on a social media site would eat up some hours of the day, and with questionable results. It becomes too much of a ‘business’, and even though I realize that arts business is very important, it should never be as important as the creative process in its own uniqueness and quality, which seems to be easily forgotten.  Whenever, in the balance of activities, I see that the ‘business’ takes more time than the creative, something is wrong.

Also there are times when I need my privacy so that I can maintain a focus on my creative, undisturbed by social demands of any kind. I do love people, but I tend to alternate periods when I see people and periods when I don’t. As far as social media, I participate when I have some valuable content to share,  just not any junk because there is a thirst for the new, and it  may take a long time before I have something I deem worthy of sharing in my shop windows.

Although I haven’t even dared to publicly express my doubts about the efficacy and coolness of social media, I found a study by Laura Portwood-Stacer, Department of Media, Culture, and Communication, New York University, (email: entitled: Media refusal and conspicuous non-consumption: The performative and political dimensions of Facebook abstention.

This is the abstract:

“This paper is a study of consumer resistance among active abstainers of the Facebook social network site. I analyze the discourses invoked by individuals who consciously choose to abstain from participation on the ubiquitous Facebook platform. This discourse analysis draws from approximately 100 web and print publications from 2006 to early 2012, as well as personal interviews conducted with 20 Facebook abstainers. I conceptualize Facebook abstention as a performative mode of resistance, which must be understood within the context of a neoliberal consumer culture, in which subjects are empowered to act through consumption choices – or in this case non-consumption choices – and through the public display of those choices. I argue that such public displays are always at risk of misinterpretation due to the dominant discursive frameworks through which abstention is given meaning. This paper gives particular attention to the ways in which connotations of taste and distinction are invoked by refusers through their conspicuous displays of non-consumption. This has the effect of framing refusal as a performance of elitism, which may work against observers interpreting conscientious refusal as a persuasive and emulable practice of critique. The implication of this is that refusal is a limited tactic of political engagement where media platforms are concerned.”

So apparently, I am not the only one to have doubts about the ethical, philosophical and professional aspects of social media.

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My first encounter with Terry Riley’s music was through a recording called A Rainbow in a Curved Air in 1969 (I was still in college in Paris studying economics and doing a rock band). It is a layered electronic keyboard piece where he plays all the tracks.  But the unique and groundbreaking composition style based on a repetition that organically develops, in a similar fashion as a raga develops from a basic pattern into a complex improvisation inspired me immediately. The striking element of Terry Riley’s minimalism is that his repetition is a stasis that evolves over time, it is dynamic, and in this quality it differs from other minimalist approaches.  In C shows how this stylistic premise is applied to a chamber orchestra, and the piece is probably his most popular piece (there is even a microtonal version). I was there too for the premiere of his string quartet at Town Hall, another groundbreaking event that launched the Kronos Quartet.

So when I heard about the electric violin concerto… I loved the idea of the electric instrument and the orchestra, and even though the piece was not anything like I would have expected, it was a lot of fun.

Electric violinist Tracy Silverman plays a six-string electric violin enhanced with effect pedals which he uses like a rock guitarist. His violin sound is gorgeous and allows for a wider range of expression and power than an acoustic violin, and he was an exciting interpreter for the new work, with moments of deep emotion – especially in the part where he plays against the woodwinds. Formerly a member of the famed Turtle Island String Quartet, Tracy Silverman is a crossover musician who is well-versed classical, rock and ethnic styles, for whom John Adams also wrote an electric violin concerto.

The concerto itself, called The Palmian Chord Ryddle, (the Palmian chord = D-E-F-F#-G#-A-B-C cluster) was to me kind of reassuring. One wouldn’t expect Riley to compose minimalist music at this point, or anything that sounded like In C – and the musical style was somewhat undefinable, which is exactly where many of us are at. First I’ll say what it isn’t: it isn’t atonal, it isn’t repetitive, it isn’t traditional, it isn’t caught up in itself, it isn’t pretentious. Themes emerge and evolve in unexpected ways. It is basically style-free,  multiple, beyond crossover, as if all the former ’styles’ have become part of the new global vocabulary of music. As Riley described in his notes: “a very spontaneous work full of the things that I find colorful, dynamic, beautiful, challenging, humorous, loving, friendly, joyous, stark, and universal”.

The Nashville Symphony commissioned this piece, and brought a very large orchestra that just about filled every inch of the Carnegie Hall stage, conducted by Giancarlo Guerrero, in a boisterous atmosphere, cheered on by what looked like about a hundred people who came from Nashville to see this performance and were waving green scarves.  

Note: Terry Riley and his son guitarist Gyan Riley will be at the Poisson Rouge (158 Bleecker St) tonight from 7pm…

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After the album release last year and some performances in Europe, Arthur’s Landing  opened to new creative avenues,  resulting in a branching out of some group members into new  groups.

The new Arthur’s Landing “coup de balai” headed by Steven Hall (lead vocals, guitar) includes a super-funk rhythm section with Mustafa Ahmed on percussion, Lionel Rice on drums and Carlos Hernandez on bass, and myself on piano, synth, vocals and projection art.

 The other group called “Bear 54” consists of Joyce Bowden, vocals and guitar, Bill Ruyle, drums, Ernie Brooks, bass and vocals, Peter Zummo on trombone and Jerry Harrison on keys (formerly with Talking Heads and Modern Lovers as was Ernie).

Both groups will perform tomorrow night at Le  Poisson Rouge for a special Arthur Russell Tribute and Benefit Concert (for Queens Artists’ Resource Collective and Gay Men Health Crisis),  this event marking a 20-year anniversary.

Arthur’s Landing will be joined by guest performers Jonathan Hirschman, guitar, Alex Waterman, cello, Zach Layton, guitar and James Duncan, trumpet, also featuring Bill Ruyle (who plays with both bands) on hammered dulcimer.

I am all for it… it’s a positive way to solve creative differences and continue the mission of making the music of Arthur Russell stay alive.

The band schedule for Wednesday, April 4 at Le Poisson Rouge is as follows:

First Nature – 8:00pm
The Forms – 8:30pm
The Kennys – 9:00pm
Bear 54 – 9:30pm
Arthur’s Landing – 10:30pm

Le Poisson Rouge
158  Bleecker Street betw. Thompson and Sullivan
Admission $10
To purchase tickets online go to:

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SPIRAL WAVE is a multi-arts project originally conceived and produced by Carolyn Ratcliffe, and programmed by the Art Loisaida Foundation, bringing together artists from different fields on the theme of a continuous spiral.  This creative  framework was inspired by a large scale sculpture by Jose Landoni, a spiraling shape constructed from perfectly fitted pieces that can be assembled and taken apart – the piece seems eerily light and supple for such a large size object and has an organic beauty. The sculpture will be shown on video for this one-night only performance but when the piece actually runs,  the sculpture will be installed in the theater as a stage set.  I became involved in this collaboration, along with choreographer Peter Cramer and a new group of performers, Spool Dance.  Spiraling patterns emerged from my soft synths, and the score is so far entirely electronic and computer composed. A first installment of this performance is presented by Theater for the New City (Crystal Field, executive director) for a preview  on Saturday March 10, at the Chino Theater. 155 First Avenue – Box Office 254-1109, tickets $12/$10 sen/stu.

From my  viewpoint as a composer, this is a familiar framework as I have often looked at music is a manifestation of the geometry of nature. The heart of the daisy below shows those naturally occurring spiral patterns, as does the Nautilus shell pictured on the postcard.

Music can be perceived as a set of proportions – the octave, fourth and fifth in particular are found universally in nature, in the human body and in man-made objects and architecture. These same proportions are found not only in the musical scale but also in the harmonic series. Music is a connecting path between realms – human, animal, mineral, macro- and micro-cosmic as a series of self-replicant intervals. This works in the old geometry of Pythagoras and in the new fractal geometry of Mandelbrot. A pattern is replicated ad infinitum in different sizes but the shape remains similar – but at some point, something different happens.

At left is a“golden’ spiral proportioned to a golden triangle one can see that in the center of the spiral, there is a smaller size similar rectangle with a self replicant shape in a smaller size.

Golden Spiral

Below is a study of the Sierpinsky fractal in natural forms of the seashell.  At stage 7, something is a little “off”, there is a shift! It grows.

Would that be the pesky Pythagorean comma, making the tuning of the last note in a full cycle of fifths a little off from the fundamental – now endowed with a new meaning: the law of constant growth.


Sacred Geometry by Miranda Lundy

A Little Book of Coincidence by John Martineau

L’Empire des Nombres by Denis Guedj

Sacred Geometry Philosophy and Practice by Robert Lawlor

Introducing Fractal Geometry by Nigel Lesmoir Gordon, Will Rood, Ralph Edney

Sacred Geometry by Stephen Skinner

The Power of Limits by György Doczi


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Is the universe full or empty? What does it mean to meditate on emptiness? The buddhist concept of emptiness can be deceiving – nothing is actually empty at all… like a Buddhist hot dog, one with everything. Emptiness means that there is not one item in reality that can stand independently of others. Everything is inter-connected.

How did this coffee cup come to being in my hand? It was purchased at a store, which means that a store had to be in existence for me to purchase the cup, and the store manager had to order it from a manufacturer and have it delivered, and the cup wouldn’t have existed if it hadn’t been designed by someone, and realized by others, and if those had not been born, this particular type of cup wouldn’t have existed at all – which brings us to birth,  going back generations and generations.

What emptiness really means is that everything is co-dependent. Every part of our reality is connected. What we call the Global Economy is an obvious manifestation of this principle: if one country does something, everyone else will be affected by it to some extent, like an amplified “butterfly effect” – as a butterfly flips its wings in Beijing, weather patterns may change in Alaska…which means that within this framework of interconnectedness, our music could be much more meaningful and affecting than it would have seemed at first. Every note, every vibration of an instrument, every movement of a human being playing an instrument, every feeling invested in the music and communicated, is potentially affecting everything else – and the consciousness that is projected through that music and the people putting it forth is an aspect of the composition framework that should not be ignored.

This notion of interdependence is outlined in detail in The Meaning of Life from a Buddhist Perspective by The Dalai Lama (translated and edited by Jeffrey Hopkins, 1993 publication of lectures given in 1984), but was made much more clear by a casual and yet enlightening newer book, The Wisdom of Forgiveness by The Dalai Lama and Victor Chan (2004).

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I accidentally came across a rather humorous department store commercial for some special sale. It showed actors screaming with exaggerated joy or awe… to the contrasting accompaniment of a few bars of one of the most moving pieces I know: Mozart’s Requiem.  Some may be shocked, but I have come to embrace the pervasive vulgarity of popular culture. Even the concept of vulgarity has long ceased to hold a negative judgment. In Paris where I grew up there was a kind of rule of “Taste”,  turned on its head by the Punks back in the 70s, and now completely outdated against the conflicting and miscellaneous value systems in world cultures – after all, in some civilizations, farting loudly after a meal is a required compliment to the cook.

The mysterious Requiem was only sketched out by the Mozart on his own death bed, with the help of a student at his bedside, and was completed by others after his death – a rather atypical Mozart piece actually – containing the seeds of romanticism, or possibly the seeds of his own musical future that he didn’t get to live out.  What’s so odd is that he actually ended up composing a requiem for himself  which he was reluctant to do at first, but he needed the money. So he lived his own death in the music – a young man of 35. That’s why I get upset when it’s conducted too fast. Those violin Sforzandos have to dig in, not just glide along.

The enigmatic death of Mozart inspired many books which at some point I read voraciously; could be that he died of an unmentionable disease born out of pleasure, or from its ineffective poisonous mercury cure – or both, or maybe the Masons did it – because of a couple of scenes in the Magic Flute were too close to revealing their secret rituals – and ultimately he died too poor to afford a proper funeral, his body dumped in common hole in the ground; but think again, in some part of Tibet, his body would have been cut up in small pieces for the vultures to feed on his life force as a step in the cycle of death and rebirth. Those were the associations brought on by the television commercial – fortunately, none of them about going out shopping.

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Through a presentation at Chamber Music America by Norma Hurlburt, executive director of the Chamber Music Society at Lincoln Center, I became aware of a surprising youth program involving high school students in the production of CMS venues. I became immediately curious – when I ask my students at CTech to play me their favorite tunes, they come up with songs in a variety of styles – from 70s R&B and classic rock to music entirely created from samples of Disney movies (Pogo), to grunge, to the latest rap – but no classical.  It seems there is an exception to this, and I had to find out more about it.

 For the past couple of decades we’ve heard about how classical music audiences are from older generations, and I believe it has something to do with the fact that music is no longer a subject of early education, so people do not have a built-in appreciation of this style of music. Children and teens are more likely, in a universe of iPods, internet and MTV, to embrace self-taught electric guitar and songwriting in a band situation than they are to listen or play classical music. As a child, in Paris, I had weekly music classes in elementary school and performed in a choir on a regular basis. In high school, we performed Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas with professional soloists. We also had music theory. This was provided to all! (In addition, I had a private lessons in piano, theory and the basics of harmony and counterpoint – and my jazz musician father blew it all away by showing me how to play the blues, which opened up another area of exploration and improvisation, and eventually both forms combined into my own music.)  So… despite the absence of music education in high school, CMS has found a way to proactively involve teens in classical music, by seeking out high school students who produce three concerts per year and invite their friends to these events, with $5 tickets and a pre-concert reception where they can meet and talk to the performers and sponsors in a casual environment. Then they enjoy the concert sitting all together at the balcony.  In this situation, the student producers become classical advocates to their own generation.

 I went to hear one of these student-produced concerts at Alice Tully on February 10, featuring string quartets by Haydn and Beethoven performed by the Jupiter string quartet and song cycle by Beethoven performed by Randall Scarlata, baritone, accompanied by Gilbert Kalish, piano, to a full and enthusiastic audience.

 I spoke with Derek Balcom, director of education, who is in charge of this program, and he described how for some years now CMS has been recruiting high school students from a variety of schools, both public and private and from different parts of the city, to be involved in the production of certain events. They gather as an advisory body to listen to a number of staple programs and choose the ones they feel would be most appropriate for their age group. They are also given the opportunity to be “producers” of these programs and handle all aspects of the concert production, including designing postcards and promotional materials.

 I am delighted to see this happening, and I hope that this can become a model for more programs of this nature to bring a renewed form of classical music education to the teen age group.

Photo left to right: Young producers Boat Lynch, Alison Chang, Lilian Finckel, and Claire Leibowicz.

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Plants used to thrive with Mozart, and wither to the sounds of rock music. But plants changed. Here is an actual report from a fifth-grader from the Mini-Science web site: “I did the project entitled “Do Plants Grow Better to Music”, and I got different results! I did Rap, Pop, Rock, and No Music. My Results were Pop1st, Rock 2nd, None 3rd, and Rap was last!” Mythbusters: “Seven small greenhouses were set up on the M5 Industries roof. Four were set up with stereos playing endlessly looping recordings (as having the MythBusters actually talk to the plants could contaminate the samples with their expelled carbon dioxide): Two of negative speech, two of positive speech (Kari and Scottie each made one positive and one negative inducing soundtrack), a fifth with classical music and a sixth with intense death metal music. A seventh greenhouse, used as a control sample, had no stereo. The greenhouses with the recordings of speech grew better than the control, regardless of whether such talk was kind or angry. The plants in the greenhouse with the recording of classical music grew better, while the plants in the greenhouse with the recording of intense death metal grew best of all.” Inconclusive evidence here, but the effect of music on human beings is no less unpredictable.

Music has the power to affect the human psyche. Most people consider music as a pleasant experience, if not more than that. We also know that music can heal, from shaman ritual to music therapy. But we tend to forget that it may also, in certain circumstances, inflict pain… Historically music has been used in warfare to frighten and disorient opponents with loud instruments and battle cries. The legend of the siege of Jericho points out that the fortress held up for six days in silence, but on the seventh day the horns and shouts took it down.

According to new research by musicologist Suzanne Cusick of New York University’s Faculty of Arts and Science, modern warfare has integrated certain forms of music as a part of its intimidation and torture arsenal, along with other psychological weapons. Prisoners report being forced to hear blasting loud rock or rap music for 15 hours a day, with the same songs, repeated over and over, day after day, which would drive them to the brink of madness.

The link below will take you to Suzanne Cusick’s article.

 The curious twist here is that the same forms of music that started as revolutionary (rock, metal, rap), work just as well when used as means of repression. Aerosmith, for instance is not only coopted by the military, but used as a part of a torture arsenal. This brings back to memory a tune named “Blitzkrieg Bop”, from the Ramones’ first album. I don’t know whether it is on the torture list, but it may have been used in a TV commercial. The military hasn’t, as far as we know, touched classical music, but it’s only a matter of time until someone finds a way to manipulate the repertoire into a psychological weapon.  Collective unconscious overloaded with negativity? Do we need to write more uplifting material, or does it even matter? They could always play the tapes backwards…It seems that what’s even more important is the context in which the music is played.

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I remember about 10 years ago having animated discussions about John Cage with a Juilliard trained musician who was convinced that Cage’s music was a hoax, a joke, nothing to be taken seriously. I told him he had to listen to John Cage “naked” not just physically but mentally, without any preconceived notions, like a child, and then he might begin to understand the music.

 In the 1990s, a performance of 4’33 in Milan ended in a riot as the audience became outraged at the piece, according to my friend Renzo.

 Well, things have changed. Juilliard is presented an appealing series of concerts of Cage’s music, and all free. That’s historical!

Here are the program details.

At Peter Jay Sharp theater, Juilliard, 155 West 65 St
Friday, January 27 at 8pm
Monday, January 30 at 8pm
Tuesday, January 31 at 8pm preceded by panel discussion at 7pm

At Paul Hall, Juilliard, 155 West 65 St
Wednesday, February 1 at 8pm
Thursday February 2 at 8pm

At Alice Tully Hall
Prepared piano, orchestra, sopranos – Friday Feb 3 at 8pm

This is really a great opportunity with some classics like The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs and a lot of rarely heard pieces.

Information 212-769-7406

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 On January 1st St Marks Poetry Project holds a marathon reading going from afternoon to night. My friend Steven Hall said he has been in this event every year since he was 17! I have done this with him several times, and recently with Arthur’s Landing. I guess I like the idea of starting the new year with performing, although this particular event is geared towards poets –stepping on stage and reading or reciting for just a few minutes then on to the next artist…which present a challenge for musicians who have increasingly joined the bill but there is no set up time for the equipment, and there is no remuneration for this venue so we have to cover our own transportation on top of that. This is a very popular event with many names spicing up the program (Patti Smith, Philip Glass sometimes, Taylor Meade, Elliot Sharp, etc.) and a chance to hang out in the back room with the downtown celebs, as there is no separate dressing room for the artists.

This year the event was tightened up to 5 minutes per act, and we found ourselves struggling with how much to cut from the tune! We walked in carrying amplifiers, guitars, keyboard, even an extension and power supplies so we could literally “plug and play.”  This year there were very few chairs in the room, and there is usually a long wait between the time tentatively scheduled and the actual time when to go on.  I eyed one empty chair with a coat on it and took a chance.  A few minutes later a tall blond guy came up to me calling me by name. It took me a second to recognize him – Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth remembered me from the old days of the Coachmen and the double bills we used to do with Orchestre Modern and Sonic Youth since at one point we used the same drummer, Dave Keay.  He kindly let me have his chair. Various foods and soft drinks were available for a few bucks while people were hanging out, audience and performers mixing. So we waited for a couple of hours and at one point, I thought, if this wait goes on any longer, I will be so tired, I  am going to have to go home. And shortly after that thought, we were on…and gone. Somebody popped up from the audience and said “that’s the best music I’ve heard all night” which functioned as reward of the evening – talk is cheap!  I am not sure that I will do the 5 minutes next year though… it used to be more like 15 minutes, and I can go for 15 minutes of fame, but 5 minutes is most definitely too short!

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