A 365-Day Project

"We Are All Mozart"

A project to create
new works and change
the perception of the
music of our time.

Mantra Canon score pages Dennis

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"Been gone for a while. Better explain. Mumble." That's been going through my head, and composer Robert Bonotto's email today reminded me that I did kind of disappear. It isn't a serious vanishing, just deadline work and the pressures of minor transition -- a hardware and software upgrade for my computer, the process of editing a client's thesis, one music engraving client whose large project finally arrived, a new client whose work is on imminent-premiere deadline (and she lost her previous engraver), and the dreaded "We Are All Mozart" eBay ad.

Yes, an eBay ad. Another set of press missives has gone unattended and performers are engaged in one-on schmooze from meatfield composers, so I've created some cheap come-on for the public. Here's a draft. The listing goes in on Beethoven's birthday. In putting this together, which was done across a week, I ran into silly-stringless land mines of eBay rules. I'm one of the eBay originals (from when it was Auction Web in early 1997) so this rise of bureaucracy and wrist-slapping nannyism is an undignified surprise. My buying and selling has been only occasional, so I hadn't noticed this progression from friendly virtual marketplace to walled virtual commercial community guarded with virtual AK-47s. Here's one. If you look at my ad draft, you'll notice a list of short compositions -- but it's not a text, it's an image. If it had been text, my attempt at explaining the project would have been considered "keyword spamming" since I'm not actually selling Bach or Chopin or Sousa ... and I can't even use alternate text for the visually impaired.

Most of my online eBay forum helpers had no idea what a musical score was -- "oh, you mean sheet music". Lovely folks, yes, but more enthused with selling knitted mittens or a living room full of handbags or odd fallout shelter paraphernalia à la Only Fools and Horses than they are with art. There are service-vs.-product thickets, delivery date thickets (I'll have to run one of these at the end of every month), and the rule against selling the items outside of eBay (not sell March until February? I. don't. think. so.). Madness. I guess it comes from ticket scalpers and baby sellers and other scam artists, but it sure ain't yer grandpa's eBay. Hey, wait -- I'm the grandpa whose eBay it was!

As far as the computer goes, it's come time for an upgrade. Because I am a composer (often an electroacoustic one), my colleagues typically assume I have a Mac. I don't. A little history here. Drop by The TRS-80 Home Page to get an idea of my early state of mind. Yes, I wrote a book called The Custom TRS-80 and Other Mysteries, and it was a microcomputer-era best seller, with 100,000 copies coming off the press (so why ain't I rich? because I learned to read the fine print. too late). The TRS-80 was the first nationally distributed microcomputer (Apple came out of the garage first, but didn't get to the east coast until some months later), and being a Radio Shack clerk in 1977, I bought one when it was nothing more than an announcement on a green sheet of paper -- and when it arrived, I promptly became intrigued by the simultaneous mysterious and elemental natures of computers. In a few months, special hardware gadgets were breadboarded that could control my 1973 Performer analog synth, and software modules and gadgets spilled out of the home workshop for the next few years, including Quaver, a four-voice software synth with full polyphony, all done in software on an eight-bit machine with one one-thousandth the speed and one thirty-two thousandth the memory of the one I'm typing this on. It had a bluish screen (later replaced with an orange tube), and ran compositional creations such as Not Vermont Hardware, Bugs, Cruise, and Rando's Poetic License.

Other computers passed through the house and later the small computer company I founded and lost to bankruptcy: a KIM-1, a Spectravideo, a Tandy Model 100 (the first journalist laptop, which is now in an Amsterdam computer museum), an MC-10, some Texas Instruments machine, a Rainbow, two Ohio Scientifics and a UK-101 knockoff, a Timex-Sinclair 81, two LNW-80s, and dozens of TRS-80 Color Computers (that formed the structure of Nighthawk, Echo and In Bocca al Lupo). As relics, an IBM PC-junior and an IBM Convertible (post-Osborne 'portable') joined the ranks of rental storage a few years later.

By the time I retired the first and steadiest machine -- retrospectively called the "Model I" -- fifteen years later, it was impossible to consider a computer that I couldn't build up from parts or at least modify to my tastes. Only one line of machines that survived the computer wars of the 1980s actually let a person dig into the guts, and those were PCs -- the successor name to microcomputer, the friendly name, running an IBM design with a Microsoft operating system. My first PC arrived with an Intel 486 processor running at 66MHz, 8MB of RAM, an 80MB hard drive, and diskettes of MS-DOS 6. The articles and books that had been written on the TRS-80 were transferred to it for safekeeping via the serial port. And with each passing year, parts were upgraded and secondary computers built from the detritus. Except for two laptops (unbuildable commodities, one each in 1996 and 2005), that Samsung PC has spawned five others -- this one, my wife's, the house server, a backup machine, and one to run a little passel of scanners and printers. My original Samsung? Nothing remains but a 3.5-inch floppy drive. Even the case has been replaced.

So I buy parts and customize. (It's not the only reason that PCs occupy this house instead of Macs, but the other reason is socio-political and to be saved for another time.) The machine I've been running since 2001 has been exemplary with its overclocked 1.6GHz AMD processor with 512MB of memory, and about a terabyte of hard drive space. It's fast -- faster than your usual out-of-the-box 3.5GHz Intel machine, loaded down as they are with useless software -- but it runs Windows 98SE, an operating system nearly seven years old. In consumer hands, those old Windows operating systems were a disaster and begging for upgrades. Tuned up as this one is, it seldom misbehaves, far less than the Windows XP laptop in the living room. Unfortunately, the operating system is abandoned now, and programs that I use often (primarily Sonar, Finale, and Audition) require a later system.

None of this is news if you are reading these commentaries, because you know that computers move on -- a risk for artists but one we have meekly accepted in our quest for new features, a quest that parallels that of every other latter-day consumer. I'm not my grandpa's grandpa.

Which brings me to next week's task. An Asus motherboard arrived today, and an AMD Sempron processor ripe for overclocking should be here tomorrow, along with a few memory sticks. I have tested all the software I need (for now and for archiving old projects) on my Windows XP laptop; I'm satisfied. So next week, on a quiet day, the old Iwill motherboard and Athlon processor will be swapped out to the backup machine. Boards will be cleaned and dusted, cables tested, and in the evening a new machine should be running fast & stable. By then UPS will have delivered a Windows XP upgrade package, and the old operating system will be extinguished by the grey upgrade goo, and the entire device modified in the fingers-crossed manner of deeply experienced geeks. (This is my last Windows operating system; the next upgrade will likely be to Linux or, if Apple untethers its operating system from its hardware, to Mac Unix.)

So it's not been a very interesting tale tonight, I'm afraid. But after ten days of silence, my fingers had to get back to the feel of typing my thoughts. And to those good souls wondering, yes, I'm okay. Tomorrow some reflections on what it means to copy others' music for them, whether it be computer engraving as I do now or hand-copying from my college and early conducting days.

The original "Custom TRS-80" runs the Killer synth with the Apple Hill Chamber Players in 1980 (Click the picture for a full cover.). Yes, that's me at the keyboard; Anthony Princiotti (far left) now conducts the Vermont Symphony when it tours, and he brilliantly premiered my Icecut in 2004.

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