music, technology & life in pasadena, california

Short Takes

William Bright, a designer living in NYC, opened a website that offered iPod users downloadable subway maps for several cities, but because he accepts donations on his site, certain of those cities objected. Cities don’t sell their subway maps and most are paid for via taxpayer dollars, so what’s the problem? Chicago, Boston and Washington, DC all decided to give permission but NYC was the holdout, asking $450 for an annual license. That sounded ridiculous to William, so he designed his own version of the NYC map. He was also slapped with a cease-and-desist from Apple who complained about the use of the word iPod in the site’s name and domain name. I Googled and found a lot of sites that use the word iPod in their name and domain. Did Apple come down on them, too? Don’t they realize that Bright is expanding the value and use of the device? Anyway, if you’re tired of all the petty copyright wars, head on over to and check out the 23 cities available.

This past weekend I saw "Good Night and Good Luck", the latest movie from actor/director George Clooney, featuring actor David Strathairn as Edward R. Murrow. It chronicles the newsman’s heated conflict with Senator Joseph McCarthy during the 1950s. The parallels to our present time are shocking and I left the theatre wishing we had someone in the media today who wouldn’t be afraid to stand up and tell it like it is when government begins to overstep its constitutional boundaries. Dianne Reeves sings several period tunes on camera during the movie in what amounts to the only music heard during the film. The effect works and it all adds up to one of the strongest films I’ve seen in a long while.

Back in July, I wrote a piece about Steve Wynn and his west coast hijacking of the Monty Python musical, Spamalot. Did he happen to read it? Because a few weeks ago in the LA Times he tried to defend himself against one of the arguments contained in the article.

"Are you really going to play that on me — make me feel guilty about the poor people of Pasadena? This is unconscionable — you're playing the pity card. First of all, there are no poor people in Pasadena. And second, what about me? What about all the people who need jobs in Las Vegas? Don't they have the right to be employed and to be entertained too?” – Steve Wynn

What about me, indeed, mmm-hmm…in the meantime the LA Times also reported that Wynn’s “art museum” is closing. It seems that not enough people were willing to fork out a $15 admission charge to see his 14 paintings, which included a Picasso and Vermeer among them. The gallery will be used to add yet more retail space to his namesake hotel/casino.

Writer Joan Didion appeared on The Charlie Rose Show last week and talked about her new book, The Year of Magical Thinking, a book about the year following her husband’s sudden death. John Gregory Donne and Didion had been inseparable for much of their long marriage and she wrote the book as a kind of catharsis in order to understand what she was feeling. Six months after the book was finished Didion lost her only daughter as well. Charlie Rose was as sensitive and elegant as I’d ever seen him and the intimate interview that resulted was one of the best television shows he’s produced.

Joan Didion will read and discuss The Year of Magical Thinking at All Saints Church at 132 Euclid in Pasadena on Friday November 4 at 7pm.

And finally, another front in the copyright wars has opened. Tattoo artists are now carefully monitoring rights to their art on the bodies of high-profile athletes. Read about it in the November 2005 issue of WIRED.

October 31, 2005 | Link to this entry

We'll Miss You, John...

Last week, John Mauceri, long-time conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, announced plans to step down after next summer’s season. The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra was formed in 1991 to help ease the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s busy year-round schedule and to fill the slot at Philips Records left vacant by the Boston Pops. John Mauceri was selected as the music director and the orchestra was staffed by many freelance studio musicians.

I was already the guitarist for the Philharmonic, especially active during the summer “pops” (I hate that word…) season and was hoping to be involved in the new orchestra. Fortunately, the call came and I became a charter member of the new HBO. Not too much was known among the players about John, except that he had been a protégé of Leonard Bernstein.

At the first rehearsal, I saw something I had never seen. Before the rehearsal began, while the players were warming up and getting their instruments ready, John Mauceri walked amongst the different sections of the orchestra and greeted the musicians, introducing himself and making small talk and joking with them. He even knew some of the players’ names already. He made a big first impression and the players were ready to play their best for him.

John proved immediately how serious he was about creating great music and bringing it to the Bowl crowds. Instead of the usual “pops” (there’s that word again…) fare that concertgoers were used to, music of the worst kind, a pandering to lowest common denominator tastes, he chose music that reflected our special legacy as Hollywood studio players. He mined the best music of Erich Korngold, Alfred Newman, Max Steiner, David Raksin, Elmer Bernstein, Jerry Goldsmith and dozens of other great film composers. He raided the archives of MGM and Warner Bros. studios and saved or rediscovered scores that were in danger of being thrown out like so much recycled trash. He commissioned orchestrators to listen to recordings of scores that had been thrown away, like The Wizard of Oz, and had them reconstruct new scores and parts so that this music wouldn’t be lost to future generations of concertgoers and scholars alike. The more he challenged the orchestra, the harder they worked for him. Here, finally, was someone throwing down a challenge to not only musicians, who are always eager for the new, but for concertgoers as well, whom I had long guessed were tired of the “same-old” when attending summer concerts. He instituted “Movie Night” as an annual event, at first starting with themes and underscores of many wonderful films and gradually growing to a technical tour-de-force which involved John conducting the orchestra “to picture” which brought with it a whole host of technical impossibilities which he was able to tame and pull off every single time.

And something funny happened while we were all busy making music. The public caught on and tickets for the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra were suddenly the hottest seats in town. People loved John’s educational yet humorous asides between pieces, his easy manner of bringing great music to many, the way the orchestra developed its own sound under his baton, how the orchestra was so caught up in making incredible music night after night. If Walt Disney Concert Hall is touted as “Los Angeles’ living room” then John Mauceri made the Hollywood Bowl the city’s biggest “backyard patio”.

All throughout this hectic schedule, which included only two orchestra rehearsals per concert, I rarely saw him lose his temper and his humorous demeanor on the podium always inspired everyone. I rarely heard grumbles or complaints from the players, except of course during contract negotiation times, but those complaints had nothing to do with music. It truly was (or will be after next summer) a special 16 years with this orchestra, under the direction of one man whom we all look up to and respect for lifting the art of this genre of orchestral performance to the highest level it could ever achieve.

Thanks, John, for a once-in-a-lifetime and irreplaceable experience.

October 21, 2005 | Link to this entry

Drawing The Line

I’ve been spending a lot of time at Danny Gregory’s website, Everyday Matters. Danny is an artist in NYC and the author of several books, including Everyday Matters and the forthcoming The Creative License. His essays on creativity and his drawings have been so inspiring that I’ve taken up pen and paper to start drawing in my free time. Danny urges new sketchers not to judge what they draw, but to get out there and “just do it” every day, draw from life, train your eye to see and learn more about your world.

What I’ve found from taking his advice is that the feeling I get from drawing is surprisingly the same as the feeling I got years ago when I first started practicing the guitar. A kind of innocent spirit, open to learning a new craft and all the excitement that goes along with a new experience. I can’t wait to spend time with my sketchbook, learning about and executing a proper perspective, drawing things as they look and not just relying on symbols we’ve tucked away in our brains. Now, that recaptured feeling is starting to spill over into my musical life again. It’s a great positive feedback loop, with the two disciplines urging each other on.

I began an email correspondence with Danny and he offered to send me a copy of his Everyday Matters book. In return for his gracious offer, I sent him a CD of my solo guitar playing and chamber jazz group. Today on his site, he posted a video showing him working on a sketch. He scored the clip with a track of my guitar playing from the CD. All I can say is…wow!

Thanks Danny, for the inspiration, insight and encouragement. You’re a real truthsayer.

(Permalink for Danny's original post mentioned above can be found here.)

October 10, 2005 | Link to this entry

Music In A Digital World, Part 1

Part one in an occasional series of essays on digital music

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the digital age and the empowerment of individuals by technology has benefited society in numerous and immeasurable ways. But technology, by its very nature, is also a disrupting force, awarding adopters and leaving behind those resistant to change. It causes us (or at least the smart ones among us) to reevaluate what was once accepted as the norm and form new models with which to go forward. This is illustrated in the 2001 book, The Innovator’s Dilemma. One of the most controversial areas of technological change has been in traditional media businesses, in particular, movies and music.

After Napster’s first shot across the bow in 1999, things have never been quite the same. Record companies and the RIAA aligned themselves in a defensive mode against downloaders and the situation escalated quickly into a vitriolic offense. Soon, the RIAA was suing individuals after questionably obtaining IP addresses of suspected violators. So much time and energy has gone into this fight, yet even now, six years later, so little effort has been spent on offering music fans a workable legal alternative.

In this series of essays, we’ll take a look at why music fans feel the way they do, what went wrong for the record companies, and the current state of digital music, including some very unique and successful business models that integrate tightly with technology in order to deliver a richer experience for fans while benefiting artists in ways not available to them in the past.

When I was a teenager, my friends and I used to buy the latest albums, tape them to cassette for listening in our cars and trade them with each other. Taping for personal use is a “fair use”, allowable under copyright law. Trading, well, that was another story but it was generally localized in scope and tedious by nature. The only way to make copies was in real time. This, of course, put a limit on the number of copies you could reasonably make, and the cost of blank media further dampened any larger ambitions you might have had. Record companies knew this was happening but it was so minor that they condoned it by ignoring it. But that all changed with the dawning of the digitization of CDs. Blank media costs and copying time went practically to zero and the killer app appeared in the form of high-speed broadband. Now you were connected to the entire world armed with pristine-quality music and a near instantaneous delivery system.

But what would inspire a music fan to engage in file-sharing of a copyrighted CD with full knowledge that what they are doing is illegal? Is it just the fact that the technology exists and makes it so easy that causes them to break the law? The same downloaders would never even think of walking into a record store to shoplift those same CDs.

I believe that today’s music fans actually feel morally and ethically justified in their illegal actions. In Part 2 of this series, I’ll explain why.

October 6, 2005 | Link to this entry


Paul Viapiano is a guitarist working in film, television and live performance based in sunny Pasadena, California.

You can email me here.

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