Thursday, December 17, 2009

Piano Recital

Two posts in two days! A Neue Record.
As you may know, I teach piano lessons to one student at the moment, she's 8. Yesterday was our Holiday Recital. She played a couple songs, I played a Bach Prelude, she sang Jingle Bells and played Jolly Old St. Nicholas on guitar–she has many interests and I'm in full support of her pursuing them (though sometimes I wish she could focus on one thought for more than 5 seconds, but then again, she's 8). It was a lovely time for the audience of myself, her mother, and ten stuffed animals on the sofa who were lucky enough to get tickets to the show.

As we were having our "dress rehearsal", my student became distracted that the decorations on the piano were shaking when she was playing. I joked that maybe it was an earthquake. She said, "nuh uh!" and I said that she better play something quick before the piano falls into a crevasse or something equally dramatic. She responded with: "I don't care about playing! I care about LIVING!!"

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


The Nathan Hall Collection of jewelry was mentioned in Pittsburgh's PopCity Media blog today! I say Nathan Hall Collection as if it were the Jacqueline Smith Collection at Wal-Mart or something. In actually it's called 'n by nathan hall' and in the few moments of spare time I have, I made sculptural jewelry things out of twisted wire, crocheted items, lots of earrings, and some nearly unwearable avant-garde-looking things. Either way, I think it's my first press that I haven't solicited myself! And I get called an artist, that's good, right? Maybe commissions for birds-nests creations will skyrocket.

"The number of names on my list dwindling as rapidly as my shopping stamina, I slipped into the Mattress Factory to check the status of two things on my own wish list: a belt buckle crafted by Ohio-based company Maxine, Dear, from the salvaged pages of old children's books, and a silver bird's-nest-like necklace created by local artist Nathan Hall."

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Stalactite Debut

My sculpture 'Stalactite' debuted last night at SPACE gallery in downtown Pittsburgh! I crocheted the wire, created a soundtrack with my voice that sounds like cave noises, and hooked up speakers to project the sound out of the sculpture. Overall I was quite happy with how it turned out- it wasn't my original vision to have the top part be so curvy but apparently a lot of people liked the waves. And whose project ever turns out exactly like they plan it anyway?

Thanks to all who came to the opening, even though it was so loud that my piece was inaudible... You could still look at it, though, and that's a large part of the appeal. It's on view at SPACE until Feb. 13, 2010. Here are some photos of the installation process and its opening night- thanks to Nikki who took my and B's picture for an action shot, and thanks to Nikki and Laura for curating such a strong show of local museum talent.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Waffle Shop and Vocal Assembly

I recently was a part of one of the strangest gigs I think I've ever done. A group that I sing in called Vocal Assembly was asked to sing in a Live YouTube Soundtrack Battle in a Waffle Shop. Let me explain. Vocal Assembly is a group of singers who perform our own compositions of things like graphic scores, text pieces, and improvised music. It's fun. Waffle Shop is a restaurant-slash-TV show that serves waffles but also interviews community members about things they might find important. The waffles are delicious. The venue decided to host an event which takes two live bands, and pairs them up against one another, and the two bands "compete" to perform live soundtracks to videos. The videos are projected onto a screen in the waffle shop along with a live feed of the performances. Bands trade off so each group performs the short clip, which is shown twice.
But there's also a catch! The performance was videotaped in the kitchen of the waffle shop. We managed to get a quartet of singers, a drummer, a keyboardist, and an electronic musician with laptop and supplies, along with two video cameras, a monitor, and TV screen to watch the videos all crammed into a tiny kitchen. It seemed like no small feat. And it seems like an unsuccessful idea, but somehow it manages to work. We pulled it off! The videos will go up on YouTube at some point in the future. We also got free waffles (hooray!).
But the best part of the night was for what few people were in the "audience", one woman, a mother of one of the other band's performers, decided to congratulate us on such an interesting performance. She was pretty drunk. She managed to tell us about her life in New York, the lack of new exciting music, how great Pittsburgh is, her rotator cuff surgery, how we should get to know the music of Laura Nyro, and most shockingly, the fact that this woman's mother passed away less than 24 hours prior. She also called our performance "delicious", along with several other things throughout the night that usually aren't termed "delicious" but it somehow made sense. Then she gave us all hugs, and thanked us some more for making her evening so enjoyable, and then asked if she could give us all a kiss.
It was a memorable night. (click on the comic to enlarge.)

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Mr. Potato Head

Artful photographs and retouched images of my great Mr. Potato Head Collection, circa 2007. I can't believe I didn't post these when they were actually happening! I think it's because I gave the printed photos as gifts...'cause I'm such a good friend, of course, who wouldn't want to get these beauts in the mail. The one above is a remake of Michaelangelo's Pieta! Can't you see the resemblance?
This one is Butt Belly.
That one is obviously American Gothic!
This one I like to call 'Brown on Brown'. It really recalls the Suprematist compositions of the mid twentieth-century, highlighting the flatness of Clement Greenburg's modernist thesis while still recalling the works of Kurt Schwitters. It's also a cow butt.
This is the food pyramid! Well, before it was inverted into an upside-down triangle. You have your carbs and vegetables (and potatoes...poor guy, he's on the dinner plate and still clings onto some broccoli) on the bottom and your meats on the top.
Finally, to leave you with a final 'wow' piece, I give you the very influential work, 'Abstraction with Carrot and Ear-Hat'. Thank you.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


One of my most hated mispronunciations of words occurs when people say 'Supposedly' as 'supposably'. But perhaps I shouldn't be the one to critique, seeing that in high school I was adamant that word 'subtle' was being pronounced incorrectly, and I would go around telling people that it's really said as 'sub-tuhl'. Minus five for me.

Any personal pronunciation irks for you, readers?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Vassar Premiere and New York City

This past weekend I jetsetted off to Poughkeepsie, NY and New York City, just two weeks after I flew to Colorado. My coworkers chided me for being such a world traveller, but I think I spent the six months prior here in Pittsburgh with maybe only a trip home to the family in there! This trip was a little bit more job-oriented, as I was attending the premiere of a chamber work I wrote for Vassar College's Mahagonny Ensemble.

I arrived in New York and saw Ben, who tells me that he's met designer Christian Siriano several times, and Christian, despite his TV persona, is quite nice, polite, and always shows up 15 minutes early for meetings. A rarity! I also treated myself to somewhat of a fancy meal at Mary's Fish Camp in the Village; if you haven't heard of it, you need to go and eat their fried items! They are crispy and melty and don't taste greasy or fried, though I probably would have enjoyed that too. I also ate cockle shells, which I had never eaten before, and I had a delicious something chocolatey for dessert that seemed like a stripey mix of melted/hardened chocolate and fresh cream/whipped cream. Amazing.

I arrived in Poughkeepsie, and stayed with my friend Kelly, whose life is always in flux but who was willing to host this composer on her sofa. And what a good time we had! Kelly played the drums while I sang and played piano; we visited Dia:Beacon (pictured), my favorite art museum of all time; we ate a bunch of times at our favorite café by the college; she also brought friends and family to my premiere, but did not bring her yelping dogs (one of them shown here, being a sleeping princess). We then walked over the new Bridge over the Hudson (also pictured at top), which is a recently converted railroad bridge turned pedestrian-only bridge, and the views, despite the rain and wind, were breathtaking. Where's Thomas Church when you need him to paint something like this for you? No wonder the Hudson River School was so inspired to paint here.

Vassar looks about the same as usual, with "usual" being stunning and quite impressive (Vassar Lake, pictured below). The Art Library now has Marcel Breuer chairs. The Retreat Cafe now composts and uses biodegradable flatware! And Nilda's cookies are still delicious. These cookies can still be found at the local gas station with the paper tags inside of them advising cookie-eaters to Never Ever Shake a Baby. But you can shake your booty over the deliciousness of Peanut Butter Choco Chip.

The performance of 'Dark Interval' went well. I was actually very surprised to hear how much the ensemble snapped into shape by the final performance- I got to go to the dress rehearsal, and give my suggestions/improvements, and small changes. I'm hoping that with a few further adjustments the balance between 7 instrumentalists and two singers will be better. That hall has such good acoustics! It's a blessing and a curse. There were also a couple small melodies or motives that I thought could be given to other players that didn't get to have much soloistic time. One of the singers complimented me on my attempt to use the voices not only as solo lines and text setting, but also as instrumentalists in the overall texture, sharing melodic material, and I think I could do more of that in future works. I should mike the singers next time, though, so that the horn and trombone don't have to always play so quietly, and the really wordy sections can be heard clearly. And it's a little more rock and roll.

A rare treat about this piece is that it will also be given a second performance on January 30th at Vassar College Skinner Hall of Music, for their ModFest week. I have the opportunity to change things and make the second time 'round even better. You should come hear it!

I also went back to New York to see fabulous Nicole, and together we went to the Cloisters. Neither of us had been there before, though I've wanted to go for, oh, nine years now. It's a converted monastery, full of imported Gothic and Medieval architecture and art, reassembled before our very eyes through magic and spackle. Vøilå! It's also way up north in Manhattan, at 190th Street. I don't know about you, but I'm rarely in New York City, and I've never been north of 130th and some. This felt like the air might be thinner, way up in the frozen north. Luckily it was a beautiful day, the gardens were lovely, the views were clear, the art was amazing, and even the view across the river was untainted by city life, having been preserved as well. Kudos to the forethought of wealthy old philanthropists, you did it. Now future generations like me can enjoy some peace and quiet amidst the unicorn tapestries.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Bird at the Airport

Also when I went to Colorado, there was a live bird in the Dulles airport on my layover in DC, and it was patiently sitting in the chair next to me. I assume it got in through the open terminal doors, but I envision my interaction more like this:

Bird:"Hey man, what's up."
Me:"Hey bird, not much, you fly here all by yourself?"
"Yeah, I like to migrate."
"Cool, where you headed?"
"Oh, I thought I thought I'd check out Sarasota, I hear the trees are nice there."
"Sounds fun, don't forget to use your frequent flyer points."

Or perhaps,
Me: "Hey, is this seat taken?"
Bird: "Nope, don't mind my feathers."
"So, you come here often?"
"No, just passin' through."
"Hey, I think your plumage is real perty."
"I have a girlfriend back at the nest, buddy."
"Oh. Sorry."

Saturday, October 31, 2009


I went to Colorado last week and it was stunning! I had never been anywhere West of Indiana before, and that's not very far West. Unless you count a trip I once made to Hawaii, but I didn't stop anywhere in between. Hawaii is almost way East, come to think of it. Anyway, I visited some friends and did the tourist thing after getting a cheap flight over there, and I was so impressed! The weather was changing all the time, which I really enjoy. The mass transit was punctual and got me exactly where I needed to go. There is a great art and music scene in Boulder and Denver.
Here are a few quick pictures! Here I am (bonjour!) at the foothills of the Flatirons in Boulder, CO, which are the foothills of the Rockies, and the Rockies are are the foothills of the Gods, of course.
This is the other side of the Flatirons. It had just finished gently snowing, though it wasn't very cold out, and it was postcard-perfect. There was also a fog that sometimes obscured the view, but also made for good middleground drama with these conifers.
I also spent a little time in Denver and saw the Denver Art Museum, which has a brand new wing built by Daniel Leibeskind. It's crazy angular and slightly disorienting inside, but in a good way. I thought it helped spice the art up by showing pieces on slightly angular surfaces- a little wacky, but I saw a few things in a new way. There's also a great installation by Sandy Skoglund there. But what's that on the front steps of the museum? It looks like a broom and dustpan.
Sure enough! It is. It's hard to tell scale in this picture but the broom is about 15 feet tall. There is also this fabulous plaque on the ground, telling us that the work is a collaboration between a Dutch artist (I forget the name) and Claes Olderberg. It was one of the highlights of my trip! The landscapes were fabulous and very inspirational, the hosts of my trip were so hospitable (and excellent cooks) and the art was all new and in a totally different setting, where the vistas are grander and the skies much much wider.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Manatees and Manna Tees

Future teeshirt empire:
Manatees: everyone's favorite sea cow.
Manna Tees: everyone's favorite Jewish snack item!

There's even a double pun, after the 'more cowbell' teeshirt that is way too ubiquitous online.

I totally call a part of the profits on this shirt, should it ever be made. Copyright 2009 Midnight Shoveler Shirts, y'all! Perhaps it could even be made out of manna, like organic cotton teeshirts. Useful during fasts, and late-night snack binges. Do not attempt washing.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fall 2009

It's fall! Raise your flags (higher, higher!) in excitement for long sleeves and cups of tea.
To celebrate: an old work not so much of a collage as an alteration of an old magazine ad, with japanese maple leaves and some scraps of tissue paper.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Jane Tyson Clement and the Bruderhof Community

When I was a senior at Vassar, I had the pleasure of creating an independent study in Religious Communities around the Hudson Valley, NY. As the air in Pittsburgh grows colder and wetter, I have the memories of wearing a giant wool cape at a Benedictine monastery around this time of the year, when the sole monk living there requested that I help him enter some prayers into the most archaic, jankety Apple computer I've seen in my life (and I once took classes on a Commodore computer, which is pretty archaic). Gosh, I wish I could have kept that cape, it was totally enveloping and everything a wool cape should be, especially when you're freezing in a monastery, holding onto a sugar cookie for dear life.
I digress.
One of the places I visited on my community search was the Bruderhof settlement in Rifton, NY. There are quite a few large families living on the land there, in a religious community that I usually explain as a sort of Quaker mentality: respect for the earth, focus on the family, education is important, hard work is too. The Bruderhofs also make excellent nail-less furniture for children's playsets.
One of the more visible members of the Bruderhof Community in America was Jane Tyson Clement. She was an active poet and musician, as many of the community members are very musically gifted, and she published many of her works. Her book 'No One Can Stem The Tide' was given to me as a thank-you for visiting the community and taking the time to see what their life was like. (While I love the concepts of raising your children to know how to rewire a house at age 7, and living in the countryside nearly self-sustainably, I can't imagine myself converting to farm life or being opposed to homosexuality. Nevertheless, mucho respect for you for going against the lure of the iPhone.)
In 2005 I began setting some of Clement's poems to music. Three of those poems will be premiered at Vassar College in November in the form of a piece for chamber ensemble and two singers. It's been great revisiting these poems, and during this fall season, it's very nostalgic thinking back to writing music as an undergrad, being in a practice room when it's raining (and trying to block out the sounds of the pianist next to me). One of the poems I had put to music has never been performed, so I re-orchestrated it; it's great to know that something that's been in the works for a long time will get heard. Clement's poems are usually filled with joy, grief, love of nature, and very simple but stunning language that I thought was perfect to set to music. Rehearsals are underway now for a performance in November. I'll also be able to visit Vassar for the performance, so I invite all my Hudson Valley/NYC to come hear it and say hello!

Vassar College, Mahagonny Ensemble
Premier of 'Dark Interval' for chamber ensemble and two singers
Friday November 13th, 8:00pm
Skinner Hall of Music

Pictured: pleasantly abstract stained glass panel from a religious retreat that was one of the stops along my independent study.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Giant Squid Dating Site

Personal Details:
Marital Status: Single
Ethnicity: Giant Squid
Eye Color: Black
Hair Color: I have whitish tentacles, does that count?
Age: 500 (but I might be lying)
Looking for: Soulmate, someone to explore the ocean depths with me for all eternity
Turnons: bright red skin, ocean currents, lacy panties
Turnoffs: Sperm whales, hunting vessels, bright lights, gangsta rap, fish depletion
Any interested mollusks, please come find me, if you can.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Terrifying, Gross, and Amazing: Sally

Sally is one of the most fascinating and hilarious people I know, and like myself, her life often revolves around categories. I once decided that all objects in the world could be categorized into "funny" and "not funny". Pillows: funny. Pencils: not funny. Sometimes it's a bit intangible as to why you think something is inherently funny when it's not outwardly wacky-looking or used in a funny way. It's not difficult to get a long list going once you start, and there is sometimes crossover potential. Noses are sometimes funny (Barbara Streisand), but sometimes not funny at all (allergies). There are also side categories of "amusing" (lawns) and "vaguely sexual" (kumquats), but still, the system works for me. I might post my funny/unfunny list one day, but Sally's list goes like this: Terrifying, Gross, and Amazing things. Note: if something's particularly amazing, it can also fall under the category of "amahhzing", in which there are few allowances, mostly things involving RuPaul.

Terrifying Things
heatdeath of the universe
the year 2080
children's hands inside of their own mouths
thinking about one's death
time travel
the sun becoming a red giant
geologic cataclysms
reversal of magnetic poles/weakening of forces
ozone depletion
solar radiation
extreme ocean depths
anything more than 2 feet off the ground
having children
anaerobic life

Gross Things
eating the sea/sushi
bubble tea/tapioca
cottage cheese
lumpy things
raw chicken
having babies (see also Terrifying)
bones, teeth

Amazing Things
sea salt
the sun
mammals and marsupials
venus flytraps/carnivorous plants
giant squid
blue whales
anaerobic life

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Idle Worshippers

All hail the God of SPF 50. Personally, I'm always ready for fall, but there's something great about the remaining heat in the back-to-school summer season that's not too be missed. One last trip to the beach, perhaps, before classes begin. Or better yet, a new box of color-changing pens to impress your classmates (that was me in 5th grade).
Don't look too closely at the coloring of this one, it's not the best paint-bucket 'Fill' work you've ever seen.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Northside Library Branch Revolutionizes My Life

I've been working on Pittsburgh's Northside for almost exactly one year now, and it has been very hard to get to a library. There has been no branch of the Carnegie Library here on the Northside for some time, as a new building was under construction. Some times I'd feel adventurous and take the bus back to Oakland to the main library, but this meant that I'd have to get off the bus, walk, and then by the time I got back on the bus, I'd get home at 9pm for a stop that could have taken ten minutes.
What I have been doing primarily for the last year is ordering books from interlibrary loan, and then picking them up at the Downtown branch. The problems with this is are multifold: the Downtown branch is only open for a half an hour after I get out of work, three days a week. I have about ten minutes to squeeze into the doors of the library to pick up my books from the desk, but only on Monday-Wednesday. The downtown library also doesn't have a bookdrop-I heard rumors of too much trash being thrown in the downtown deposit slot, and they took it out. So I can't even return books after hours if I wanted to.
Well, my life has been revolutionized. The new Allegheny Branch of the Carnegie Public Library has opened on the Northside. I can walk there from work in under ten minutes. It is open until 7 pm every weekday, and I can catch the same bus I normally do to get home! It's also a beautiful new modern building, with wooden slat walls and a bamboo courtyard, tree-lined walks, and an after-hours bookdrop.
What's even better is that when I went into the library, there were tons of young people already reading, using the computers, and chatting in the library. There's a whole room for youth books, and meeting rooms in the back, still being completed. I hope it stays a cool hangout for young people- much needed on the Northside. As an added bonus, a Crazy Mocha coffeeshop is opening on the corner of Federal Street and North Ave to quench all of its thirsty readers.
This is starting to sound like an ad for the Library, but if you get a chance to visit the new Allegheny Branch, I think you'll be impressed. Then you can wander to the museum and come visit me!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Aiport collages

Sally and I recently made some tiny collages canvases and tried our hands at a collaborative art piece. Participants sent a few dollars in the mail to 'The Canvas Project' at the Atlanta Airport, and we received five tiny 2" by 2" canvases in the mail, and five random words chosen by the participants. We then made the canvases as inspired by those words, and the one that we made to the title of 'pilgrimage' made it up on the wall of the airport. It's not our favorite of the set we made, but it is very cool to see such a collaborative project take flight... get it? Airport art? Please, hold your applause.
Our canvas is among these, third row down, fourth from the left. But it's not really about us, it's about the collective appearance, and there are certainly a lot of canvases on display!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Book Lists

Because I love lists, I can tell you how many novels or long books I've read since the beginning of 2007. This doesn't count short stories, magazines, books that I only read half of and got bored, books that I read half of for a research project, or assorted other forgotten things, but perhaps it illuminates something about my personal tastes, and perhaps you might be inspired to pick one up off the shelf and give it a go.

I don't really know if there's a national average of novels read per year–this Washington Post article two years ago states that most people read four books per year, and 25% of Americans read no books in the last year. Pathetic! A national average is a pretty sticky situation: I wonder if it would have to be based on only particular regions of the United States, or weighted between areas of high literacy/affluence vs. illiteracy/poverty, and then also skewed the other end by ravenous sci-fi and romance novel fans. (Are comic books counted? What about average page length? Density of the topic at hand?...Does Playboy count?)

I'm never not reading a book, it just takes me a while to go through them. Then again, it also seems that I read just over one novel a month, which seems like a pretty good rate! I also realized that I've read most of them on various forms of mass transit, which makes me think, gosh, I've spent a lot of my life in moving trains and buses, thank goodness I can occupy myself somehow.

Here are the lists, averaging (at my current rate) just over 14 books per year! Not too shabby.

Assuming the Position: Rick Whitacre
The Final Solution: Michael Chabon
The Road: Cormack McCarthey
The Year of Magical Thinking: Joan Didion
Possible Side Effects: Augusten Burroughs
Sellevision: Augusten Burroughs
A Year in the Merde: Stephen Clarke
Einstein's Dreams: Alan Lightman
Buddha (Graphic Novels I and II, by Osamu Tezuka)
How to Be Good: Nick Hornby
Mysteries of Pittsburgh (again!) Michael Chabon
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: Jonathan Safran Foer
The Beautiful Room is Empty: Edmund White
Yellow Heart: Poems by Pablo Neruda
Noone Belongs Here More than You: Miranda July
The World Without Us: Alan Weisman
The Rest is Noise: Alex Ross
Arvo Pärt: Paul Hillier

Andrea Zittel, Critical Space: Andrea Zittel
Invisible Cities: Italo Calvino
Winter Music: John Luther Adams
The Courage to Create: Rollo May
Independent People: Halldór Laxness
Thinking with Type: Ellen Lupton
John Cage: John Cage
Selections from "IV": Chuck Klosterman
An Introduction: Jay Wiseman
Endless Love: Scott Spencer
What to Listen For in Music: Aaron Copland
This is Your Brain on Music: Daniel Levitin
When You Are Engulfed in Flames: David Sedaris

2009 (So Far)
Musicophilia: Oliver Sacks
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (again): Stephen Cbosky
The Sparrow: JT Clement
A Model World, and Other Stories: Michael Chabon
Choir Boy: Charlie Anders
East Wind Melts the Ice: Liza Dalby
Vanished Smile, the Theft of the Mona Lisa: R.A. Scott
The Place Where You Go to Listen: John Luther Adams

currently: The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet: Reif Larson.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Schoenberg Diarrhea

Sometimes mid-century avant garde just doesn't sit well in the stomach. Click to read in better detail (this time with pretty colors). This comic is also non-fiction!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Concerts and late nights

I've been doing a lot of fun things lately, and music-related things, but this week in particular has been hard trying to imagine when I'm going to have the time to work on other projects that have deadlines coming up. I hate to complain, because I've totally gotten myself into all of it!

Wungsten played at the "Best in the Burgh" show last weekend and though we didn't win, we played well and got some great response from the hosts of the event (and then we went out to Sonic to treat ourselves to a job well done and our waitress was on rollerskates). I'm also singing in an improvisatory vocal group late tomorrow night, and then Wungsten is performing again on Friday and on Monday! How do other artists find the time to do it? Oh, right. Amphetamines.

I'm currently writing a chamber piece for Vassar's Mahagonny Ensemble which is due at the end of August, and then right after that I'm writing a piece for the String Orchestra of Brooklyn, due in December. Very exciting! I'm also trying to make a 15-foot-tall sculpture for a gallery, but that's due in December as well. In the meantime, I'm editing a book for a professor, which brings in a couple dollars and is great for my brain, and though it's not until a time crunch, I like to be prompt about my work. My next assignment is to watch the Godfather Trilogy and mark all the timings for music cues. Not a bad way to clock in a couple hours of work!

Here's the complainy part: working 8:30-5 takes up a lot of the day! With a 45-minute commute, and then eating dinner, sometimes I feel like there are two hours left on the day to accomplish anything. Plus, every once and a while, I do enjoy spending time with the boyfriend, and maybe sitting down for five minutes before bed. I had to quit singing in the choir because the time for rehearsals was just too intense- a lot of the people who sing in choirs are retired, or this is their only "extracurricular" activity, whereas me, I have about ten outside activities at any one point. And don't forget about teaching piano lessons, every Tuesday evening.

The good thing is that all my random tasks are enjoyable, and good for my artistic life/career arch/whatever I'm calling my resume nowadays. I don't think I'd give by up. But someday I hope that all my artistic projects will pay a living wage, and then I can stop working the office jobs. I think I also need to learn to say no to events and concerts sometimes, and just stay home not doing anything. It's good for my brain to have some downtime. But sometimes, a great concert is too good to pass up, or Brüno calls, and I just have to see what all the füss is about!

Friday, July 03, 2009

Bachelorette Party Giraffe

I drew this on the back of an Eat 'N Park placemat, but it is kind of cute. The giraffe, who is riding in a little red wagon for some reason, is saying, "I'm going to a bachelorette party!"
And the horned lizard pulling the giraffe says, "Dies ist nun kochen!" or something like, "Now we're cookin'!", but in German. Sadly the text doesn't show up on the placemat, but trust me. There's no doubt that that's what they're saying.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Denise McMorrow Mahone

I just bought-slash-won my first painting at an art auction!
It's a painting by the artist Denise Mcmorrow Mahone.
The museum hosted an event the other night for the Sherry Everett Scholarship Fund, which helps African American kids receive scholarships for college. They were setting up their silent auction items as I was leaving, and I thought, well, there aren't many people here yet, so I'll just start the ball rolling with a big near its starting price (which seemed ridiculously low to begin with). I outbid someone else by five whole dollars, and put my name and phone number down. I also bid on a cute little licorice plant for my bedroom. But sadly no one called me to tell me I had won, so I thought that was it. Then I came into work the next morning and I had won both items! I was almost excited not to have to buy them, thinking that more money had been raised with higher bids (and a little buyer's remorse). But I'm now excited to have this in my apartment. I loved that it had music pages collaged underneath layers of paint, and Italian and French texts. It's also sort of abstractly geometric, and has some slight pencil markings on top for a fancy finish.
I'm quite taken with Ms. McMorrow's installations as well, as most of her works seem to deal with topics like language, collections, obsolescence (great for you librarians out there!). I'm always curious about things like memory, spirituality, and nostalgia; even contemporary artists like Joseph Cornell and personalities like Lord Whimsy remind me of a Victorian time and place that I never experienced, what remains of creepy antique dolls, doorknobs, old books, lace, garden tools. I know they've been capitalized in movies and retro-lifestyle magazines, but I can't help feel a certain attraction to their well-lived lives. In a way, it's a nostalgia for a life you never lived. In short, I can't wait to look at the painting for a long time as it now lives with me. Come visit it!

(Above: the painting I purchased, Los Vestigios: Even; copyright Denise McMorrow Mahone.)

Saturday, June 27, 2009


I miss the days of making mobiles. I used to find soldering wire and make it into forms, like this picture of a mobile in my parents' house (can you spot abstractions of person sitting, and an eyeball with eyelashes?). Then when I discovered that a lot of soldering wire has lead in it, I made sure to create mobiles with lead-free wire. I made a delightful mobile for E. which looks like giant tree branches, as E. is a botany lover and knows all the Latin names for trees. I made another mobile for A. and B. which had little gossamer silver foil leaves inside heart-shaped dangling pieces, because they are in love, I guess. That one really didn't have a purpose other than looking nice and dangling from a high ceiling.
I don't even really have pictures of those pieces, but one never knows when I might try and rig one up again. In other wire-related news, I'm currently, slowly, working on a very tall crocheted wire sculpture/sound installation for SPACE gallery in Pittsburgh in winter, and all I can hope for at this moment is that 1800 yards of wire later, I will have a giant dangling stalactite hanging from the ceiling. Here's a toast to hanging dangling wires: you've been near and dear to me for ten years now. Keep up the good work. And don't give me lead poisoning.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Garden Party Pictures

I think this small sampling of pictures really says it all- minus the pictures of all the people actually attending the party. Images courtesy of George Mendel at Pittsburgh Grapevine.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Mattress Factory Urban Garden Party

Well, it's all over. Now we pick up the mess. Mattress Factory museum had their annual Garden Party fundraiser (though an equally busy Community Day is planned for tomorrow) and I managed to stay alive. I was in charge of ticket sales, and we had a thousand bodies come through the door in one way or another. I came into work a little late yesterday, as the museum was closed in preparation for the event, but I didn't get home until 1:30am. Let me collect my thoughts as to what transpired last night. Pictures will be posted on flikr at some point, and I was definitely in one of them, though I missed when images projected onto one of the 10 plasma TVs in our giant parking lot tent.

The theme of this years' party was 'All Access: Backstage Pass'. Guests paying $200 each arrived for the VIP party, greeted by a crowd of fans listening to a Rolling Stones cover band, and paparazzi taking all of the guests photos. Once you went past the band, you were 'backstage' (i.e. inside the museum) and the band was pretty much nonexistent. Interesting concept, I suppose!

I worked willcall with several other dedicated volunteers and employees, taking tickets and making sure that corporate sponsors got all the right tickets. Out of all the tickets given, I think I only forgot about three people on the list, which impressed me! The hardest part was deciding who gets VIP and which corporation they worked for- sometimes I'd have a last name of a ticketholder, and sometimes I only had a company name. There were way too many exceptions to the rules, and way too many comp tickets!

The VIP Party included, and I kid you not:
-A basement lounge lit by blacklight, with chairs and a bed made out of stuffed animals
-The Pens game on projection screen (and they won the Stanley Cup because we had the Garden Party, obviously)
-Tabla players
-Live-action painting
-A little person dressed as a nurse, carried on a caravan-style bed by four bodybuilders
-A big person nurse giving out jello shots, with an I.V. drip created from a vodka bottle.
-Um, and a naked girl covered in food for people to eat off of. I think she had some kind of banana leaves covering the important (possibly unsanitary) bits.

The regular party began an hour later, which opened up into the larger parts of the museum. This was the main event, which was open bar, and tickets were $90 each. I can't believe that all this happened:
-A Hookah bar
-Four drag queens performing (amazing!)
-A sword swallower
-A ceiling covered in stuffed animals, draped with fabrics
-A pole dancer
-Naked body-painted models dancing on stage
-About 60 food and beverage vendors
-A 30-foot-long limousine that functions as a bar: bartenders gave you drinks from the inside of it.

The lobby of the museum then transformed into a dessert room for all the guests, filled with cupcakes, cookies, and treats, and there were so many cupcakes left I didn't know what to do with them. Hardly a disappointment.

Oh! I almost forgot. As you enter the building, you are greeted by five models in bathing suits, in a hot tub. In the museum. I heard several curators say it was the best party they've even been to. I don't know about that, but it was certainly crazy, and everyone seemed like they had a blast.
I think the funniest thing about the party was that I kept repeating, 'I can't believe this is happening at our museum'. The chairs of the party are famous for their rock and roll event hosting, and they wanted everything to seem spontaneous and chaotic, like you might miss something if you didn't know it was happening. The weird thing about that was that the performers, guests, music, hockey game and the decorations combined to be a strange mix of Mattress Factory style (read: industrial chic meets goodwill meets 1940's deco) and tickety-tack tranny meets fratboy meets aging hippies. This towed the line between kind of horrible and offensive, and kind of awesome and amazing. And I think the crux of the event was that the mix just tipped over the edge toward amazing! I'll have to remember that when it comes to planning my birthday party.

The main event ended around 11:30, and cleanup went relatively smoothly, though it always takes longer than one hopes. I'm sure I've still got a lot of work to do on Monday, when the real cleanup begins, and we have to count up tickets, clean the liquor spills and the cupcake crumbs, and talk about how everything went. But now that the year's biggest fundraiser is out of the way, I can think about my summer vacation coming up in August!

Pictures to come, as soon as I see them posted...
Hope to see you at the Garden Party next year.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Nuclear Babies

This collage was a goodbye present of sorts to J & B who are moving to Washington, DC for better work (and real-people salaries...sniffle). They'll be missed, but they'll always have this strange collage to remember me by. Who doesn't love the combined forces of engineering drawings and pyschological subjects, and one picture of a lolcat, with some graphs and charts over top of it all?
I hope it finds a good spot on the walls of their new place so when I come visit I can point out how I really captured its owners essences (not really).

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Concert thanks

Thank you to all who came out to the concert in support of Wungsten and the Nathan Hall + David Bernabo CD release. We have very few of the first limited edition left, and may need to print a second edition soon! A great group of people came to show their support and I received lots of good comments on the music. It was also great to play in the same space we recorded the album in- the acoustics are lovely and there was a backdrop of a thousand piled-up instruments and stands which added I don't know what. Charm, maybe?
We also received one review from a fan, which you can read here. I'm glad that I surpassed expectations in some way!
My piano student also came and said that the next time we play, I need to play the song about otters because otters are her favorite animal, but Blackbird was a close second.
Here's one of my songs with Wungsten, called 'Tropical Depression', courtesy of Matt H.

Monday, May 11, 2009

CD Release: Nathan Hall + David Bernabo

Hello rabid fans! Or should I say, hello one unfortunate fan who got bit by a raccoon and many loyal fans! You probably wondered where I went after my retirement world tour, crack binge leading to rehabilitation, resurgence in the paparazzi, photo shoots with Christian Bale, and eventual clambering back into to the studio for another shot at the top of the charts. But wonder no more!
None of that is true. But the following is the real deal!
I wanted to let you know that my very first CD, titled Nathan Hall + David Bernabo, is hot off the presses and available for purchase. I'm very proud of this album, which has been a collaboration with a very fine guitarist/musician/artist extraordinaire. It was a practically painless process from the outset of rehearsals of my compositions to Dave's improvisations over top, to the typesetting of the package (I did the inside and the collage on the cover, and Dave did the outside text and back!). Brandon also deserves thanks for helping me find Library of Congress subject headings for the inside 'slide cards', which reference the topics of each instrumental piece. But that's a lot nerdy, isn't it?There are six tracks for $8 (or $10 if I ship it to you), for a total of just over a half an hour of listening delights inspired by David's and my love of the ecm record label. It's famous for its quiet music and nocturne-like jazz albums, and I think you can hear the similarities on first listen, though multiple listens should reveal a little of my personality and a little of Dave's avant-improvisational skills mixed together.

The release is a limited edition, and will be available on CDBaby and the album's record label, Abstract On Black, sometime soon. For now, of course, if you'd like the album, you can just email me, send me a check and you'll be on your way to guitar/piano/wurlitzer/vibraphone/improvisation/nighttime bliss.

Dave and I are also having a CD release concert May 21st so you can hear the songs in real-life, real-people, real folk-pop opening band times. If you're in the Pittsburgh area, you should come.

The processes of recording and releasing music still amazes me., it is an entirely different animal than just performing and composing (which I'm so much more comfortable with than the business side of music). Certainly this is a smaller scale than a major-label global distribution, but in a way that lets me know just how many steps go into making a recording, and I can be a part of each of those steps. I'm still shocked that I'm holding a CD in my hands that has my name on it! Next on the road of recording, maybe within two years? Midnight Shoveler's greatest hits.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Musical Interlude: Walking the Line

Time for some saccharine self-reflection!
My musical output thus far has often walked a fine line – somewhere between the wafting of chamber pop while still grasping for higher Music (with a capital M). This presents a problem in academia. Music institutions accept composers who write 'academic' music that challenges the mind and furthers composition as an art form. Yet, part of the composer's job (if he or she is able to accomplish it) is to make their voice fresh and unique, possibly bring recognition to an academic program, as well as, if they're very lucky, bread to the table. Suffice it to say, many young composers have found themselves in a headlock between imitating classical role models (not very original), and say, playing original music in a rock band (songs about giraffes in parallel fourths, anyone?) whose music doesn't pretend to transcend anything. Many of my works are somewhere in a vague-middle-crossover area. (And no, I don't mean Il Divo.)

For example, I've written a great piece for two french horns and piano which is challenging but idiomatic, spunky yet dynamic. It also has fragments from Radiohead songs embedded in it and incorporates bag of broken glass played with drumsticks. So where does this piece fall? Is it academically 'acceptable'? Is it Art Music? Is it too much like a cover song? I feel that it's a misfit in both the academic and the popular music worlds.

All this confusion sometimes leaves me frustrated. I shouldn't be writing music to cater to an institution's particular academic standards just to win acceptance in that crowd. But I also want to have a real career in music, and receiving academic critique inspires me to work harder.

I could make a decision never to think about going into academia, but the biggest roadblock lies in the fact that I think I could make an excellent teacher for composition students. I've wanted to teach for a few years now. And while I may not be the most famous composer, let's not forget there are often differences between a famous composer and a good composition teacher – not always one in the same.

A colleague of mine was kind enough to say that he felt that my music has one of the most unique voices he's heard, which approaches music from many different and personal angles in its creation, while still managing to be personally identifiable.

I also received interesting advice from one young, now famous, composer. He wrote to me saying to not go back to school. Instead, I was to find the craziest musicians and artists around and perform, write, collaborate, and write, write, write! Anything in academia, he stated, would always be viewed as academic. However, anything I did on my own could be made exactly the way I wanted it, which is truly original – perhaps lacking funding, resources, and audiences, but original all the way.

Writing good music takes skill, training, and time, no matter what type of music it is. Steve Reich left academia but spends his days thinking about music, and he's now praised by his scholarly colleagues for his Pulitzer-Prize winning work. The same goes for Phillip Glass. Will composers who write infectious, hip chamber music or rock-based violin loops be looked upon in future years with the same critical praise? I hope so, but the collegiate world may never quite catch up to what's happening outside of university walls.

Until the day comes when I am some tenured professor or sought-after composer, I'll try to write what challenges me, and what I enjoy doing in the process (and maybe also hope that some part of my music pays a bill every now and then). Admittedly, it's also time to try my hand at something totally different this summer; I want to prove to myself that I can write intricate, brainy music that may not be my personal preference or a part of my identifiable aesthetic, but will be good, solid music.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Cookie Monster Model

Okay, now Cookie, you're going to stand here and pretend you're the letter F in front of this brooding model. Fur is the new skin, people! And Monster with No Name (who are you, anyway?), you're going to pet his titties. Beautiful! Work it, people, work it, I'm loving it! Give me more! Now Vogue!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Guy in armpit

This is a very important collage, done circa 1999. I'm sure it will be remembered long after I'm gone for its ingenious use of scale and proportion. Look at how that model uses another model as an armpit crutch! That's what you're allowed to do when you're rich and fashionable.
What you can't see was the high-heeled shoe on the right was attached to a head of Britney Spears (but no body, just a head coming out of a leg), and also somehow the head of Patrick Swayze was attached in there too. But I had to do some serious cropping to get the armpit shot into view.
This also probably infringes on copyright by using pictures of models without any kind of creative manipulation to the images. Way to go, me! I'm so creative it hurts sometimes.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Piano lessons

I've been teaching an 8-year old beginner's piano lessons since July or so; it's great to see her progress, though sometimes frustrating when I don't know whether to babysit her or try and teach her about dynamics, or if I run out of ways to describe what an octave is. I think she secretly soaks up everything I say, though, as sometimes if she plays something screwy one week, she'll play it near perfectly the very next week and I'll know she was listening.

I'm also glad to see that she wants to be creative with music, so sometimes we'll make up improvisations, or write "songs" together. Once she wrote a song all by herself (and notated it!) and it was called Fiesta. She even remembered to put in a time signature, though none of the measures had anywhere near the right number of notes (nor were barlines relatively vertical, but we're working on it).

Today we had to stop the lesson a little early as I just couldn't get her to focus on the song at hand–she was just too excited about writing a song down on some manuscript paper I copied for her. The song is to be called A Day in Life and the Times of Egypt. Her mom asked her to do something else, but she snapped back, "But I forgot to put in my staccato markings!!"
And that's when I teared up a little inside with composer's pride.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Washington DC Cherry Blossoms

Last weekend I went to Washington DC for a friends' wedding and I also experienced the Cherry Blossom Festival at its peak. The wedding was as beautiful as the blossoms.
There were also plenty of places to pee. This particular row of portable toilets adds a nice contrast to the delicacy of those light pink flowers sort of obscured in the distance.

Thursday, April 02, 2009