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In Whiskey Veritas

“You can’t learn to talk, baby / And the air is your milk, your milk” Richard Hell and the Voidoids

I’ve finally gotten around to reading some of Richard Hell’s essays and I have to say that he’s a hell of a writer, ha.  Sorry, I couldn’t help it but I promise not to make it worse by asking you to excuse the pun because, well, it’s not a pun.

Anyway, one of the interesting things about Richard Hell is that he started out as a poet but started the Voidoids because as he says, “it sounds obnoxious but I wanted to influence the culture and there’s maybe two poets per generation who get to do that.”

This is interesting to me because my contention lo these many years has been the opposite, that we can change the culture over time so that it is more conducive to the creation and appreciation of things like poetry and, oh I don’t know, let’s say contemporary classical music.

I was having a very nice rye whiskey with my visiting guests from Mexico recently at a bar in Manhattan called Brandy Library, a gorgeously appointed room replete with bookshelves that, instead of books, were jam-packed with exotic whiskey bottles, and we started talking about this very thing.

Having produced concerts in both Mexico and the U.S. I was saying that what I find most interesting about playing and programming music in the U.S. is that people always tell me how glad they are that they came.  No one says this in the other countries in which I’ve worked.

But here they say it because they know that it was a close thing. They almost stayed home and watched Netflix but they made the game-time decision to go to the concert and once they were there they were so glad they got out of the house.

It’s interesting to me because no one says this after they see a movie, like, oh I’m so glad I managed to get my butt off the couch to see the new Avengers movie tonight.  This is partly because seeing the new Avengers movie was never in doubt and partly because we’ve normalized going to see blockbuster movies to such an extent that people do it without even thinking and often without even enjoying the experience.

With respect to Richard Hell though, I would say that the answer isn’t for all of us in the arts to form legendary punk bands, develop a drug habit, lose a couple of decades, clean up and become respected elder statesman writers, as interesting as that would be. I think there’s another way.

As I sipped my whiskey the other night I couldn’t help but think about Budweiser.  Partly as a joke like what would the sommelier, (yes there was a whiskey sommelier,) say if I ordered a Budweiser with a straight face. But also thinking about what they’ve been able to do with advertising.

I mean they’ve conditioned millions of people to drink Bud Light despite the fact that it’s objectively a bad product.  Just like Hollywood has conditioned us to go see the latest blockbuster even though at least half of them are mediocre CGI fests.

Since I’ve often seen firsthand that people in this country thank us for the experience that we artists provide, which is our product, my question is how do we condition people to go out and hear unfamiliar music, attend poetry readings, check out the latest opera and beat a well-worn path to the doors of their local storefront theater?

The answer is advertising dollars and a mascot.  I’m thinking some kind of Spuds Mackenzie-esque arts dog.  Or maybe Culture the Vulture?  Parrot Lunaire? Buff McPoetson?   Clearly this will need more thought.  Perhaps we should meet at the Brandy Library for a brainstorming session?

‘Art of Sound’ Festival May 6


That handsome devil at left was the subject of a photo by the great Diane Arbus.  I attended an exhibit of her works a couple of years ago and was inspired to write music to four of the photos I saw including this one, Patriotic Young Man With Flag.

I’ll be playing it live tomorrow night at DROM NYC as part of Composers Concordance’s Art of Sound festival. The evening features works by twenty-seven composers, all performing their own music.

DROM NYC is at 85 Avenue A and it starts at 6:00 PM.  Word.

Concept Lab Volume III


It’s time for the next Concept Lab!  This will be volume 3 and will happen in our new home, Cornelia Street Café at 6:00 on May 13.

Concept Lab is a place for composers to branch out, try something different, experiment and get inspired by each other.  Featured composers are myself playing my Jungian piece The Numinous, Will Rowe, Jeff Hudgins, Gilbert Galindo, Drake Andersen and Ellen Mandel.

It’s $10 and the price includes a free drink so, considering this is New York, it’s basically a free concert.  See you there!

‘Machine Language’ Concert


ACM’s final concert of our current Chicago season happens on May 14 at 7:00 at the Davis Theater and features music inspired by machines, gears, mechanisms and toys.  I had a blast programming this concert and it’s going to be fantastic.

We’ll give the World Premiere of Mechanical Bird Museum by David Smooke, a piece we commissioned for our Composer Alive project.

We’ll perform Cranks and Cactus Needles by Annie Gosfield, a piece inspired by the earliest record players that used cactus needles and had to be hand-cranked.  The concert also features Dan Trueman’s Machine Language, a piece inspired by the concept of computer algorithms designed to act like humans.

Then we have Nicole Lizée’s piece Sculptress inspired by outmoded technology and we’ll close it all down with Elisha Denburg’s Fisher Price Laugh and Learn Fun Table for ensemble, toy piano and, yeah a certain Fisher Price toy from the old days.


Last Month on Relevant Tones

Hey, I host the country’s only weekly syndicated radio show dedicated to contemporary classical music.  This is what we did last month!


Apr 6    Javier Álvarez
Apr 13  Dealer’s Choice
Apr 20  Look and Listen Festival
Apr 27  Alvin Singleton

Some Seth Music: The Customer Is Always Right

I wrote a six movement piece years ago inspired by signs.  I called it Signs.  This movement is The Customer is Always Right.  I quote a famous ad jingle in it written by a guy who is a great ad jingle writer but a terrible customer.


Miscellany, mélange, hodgepodge, etc.



Spuds MacKenzie by the way was modeled after a real dog named Honey Tree Evil Eye who died on May 31 1993.  She was female and it’s not known if she favored Bud Light but the odds are against it.  Because it is swill.

I’m heading to Boston for the New Music Gathering the 17th through 19th. Any of my peeps going? Hit me up!


I modeled for the New York Bike Expo’s fashion show for the third year in a row yesterday.  I caught a quick look at the price of one of the jackets I was wearing and dang, high end bike gear is expensive!

The OED says a pun is “a joke exploiting the different possible meanings of a word or the fact that there are words that sound alike but have different meanings.” If you hear someone say something is a pun and it isn’t, please do the right thing and point it out to them.






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