11 June 2011

T.K.O. in Gamers vs. Audiophiles

Yesterday, I discovered that the local Radio Shack (in the poor neighborhood) no longer stocks plain old headphones. Instead, they exclusively carry "headsets" with a single earpiece and a microphone for speaking. While the pictures on the packaging show smiling young women in phone banks, it can safely be inferred that the target market for these devices is, in fact, young male gamers, who apparently now outnumber headphone users to such an extent that the more specialized devices are no longer worth stocking.

A trip to a nearly equidistant Radio Shack (in the cake-eater neighborhood) was more successful as customers there have their choice of several sets of headphones ranging from $14.99 to $99.99 (as well as the same selection of headsets located in a completely different part of the store). Since I seem to destroy these things regardless of quality or price, I opted for the bottom-of-the-barrel set, which is something musicians aren't suppose to do (or at least not publicly admit to doing), but in my world, harmony and counterpoint are the cake, everything else is the icing, and Grainger and Ravel are booo-ring.

An aside: a techie acquaintance chides me for shopping at Radio Shack in the first place, a chain which he says "sold out" to lowest-common-denominator consumerism years ago (indeed, as I found, it's an ongoing process). I'm a musician, not an electrician; record stores, jazz clubs and bandmates are entities capable of selling out, but electronics stores are not. When I need a piece of gear, I need it fully assembled and functional, not in raw component form, and I'm pretty much at the mercy of other people/entities who can provide such services. For reasons I won't go into, I've boycotted Target and Best Buy for years, and I have to assume that Wal-Mart is a nonstarter for anyone reading this, as it is for me. Chances are better that I simply don't know about Radio Shack's dirty laundry than that they have none; anyone out there got the goods and want to force me to become a headphone-maker? (Yeah, I'm sure it's all slave labor anyway...any American-made headphones out there?)

04 June 2011

Blogging The Spare Parts

Here's a doodle that grew into a sketch and stumbled haphazardly to quasi-completion:

Prelude for Three
Listen (MP3)
Download Score (PDF)

This is perhaps the only kind of music I can write pretty much on command, and when I'm in between projects and sit down to brainstorm for the next one, this is usually the first thing that comes out. I often keep the sketches but rarely ever end up using them; there isn't often enough material from which to build a substantial piece, and it's too damn pretty anyway. I've long maintained split musical personalities (classical/jazz, written/improvised, tonal/atonal) that operate in relative ignorance of each other at least as often as they cross-polinate, but it sometimes surprises me even so that I might produce something myself that would be, like this little trinket, likely to bore me to death if someone else had written it. I suppose that's why I've summarily tacked an ending on it and moved on rather than going for broke; and yet, there's definitely an attraction here, enough at least that I'm not completely ashamed to make it public when it could have, with less effort, been buried in the oblivion of my hard drive. Considering its brevity and the paucity of actual music that I post here, though, the oblivion of this blog seems the more appropriate one.

Though I folded in this instance, I increasingly find myself seeking to redeem such materials by subjecting them to "virtuosic" development, which represents an unlikely about face in some ways. In my younger days, I believed in an idea of "pure" inspiration whereby the very distinction between material and development was impossible to make. I still find this "improvising to paper" approach to suit my needs in many cases, but I certainly appreciate large-scale development more than I did previously. Here, I guess, is yet another of those balancing acts so typical of creative disciplines.

Finally, I wonder about potential practical uses for such neo-tonal miniatures. There is a dire need for educational music that introduces, for lack of a better way of putting it, "20th Century" musical content in a technically accessible way, and while there's nothing much here approximating what I would consider to be dissonance, the chromaticism would present interesting challenges (reading and hearing alike) to young players who have just learned their chromatic scales, as well as to more advanced players of transposing instruments who are learning to read in concert pitch. Finding K-12 educators interested in prioritizing these topics can be elusive, though, and so I'm not rushing to find a publisher.