Thanks to Hank

With some reluctance, I should say that my next big project will be a documentary movie about the life of Hank Wilson.

I usually don’t speak of my projects until they are done, but most of my projects have required no money. This has been fundamental for me: make art that costs no money. The large majority of my music CDs were produced with a budget of zero dollars. If you can make your art for nothing, you are free of the obligation to sell it.

But movies cost money, and even if we make this movie using every possible community resource, and cutting every possible corner, it will still require more money than the production cost of all of my two dozen CDs added together. So I have to raise money. So I have to talk about it.

Hank Wilson was a kind of a gay saint. I know that sounds ridiculous but there is truth to it. He founded many of the queer organizations that populate today’s LGBT landscape in San Francisco. He organized the first gay film festival and the first gay cabaret, the first gay liberation organization and the first AIDS activist groups. But even though his contributions to queer culture and politics were second to none, he spent most of his life serving the homeless. For 20 years he ran a 150-room SRO hotel for the indigent, with an all-queer staff and no budget, making it pay for itself yet providing services beyond those provided by funded organizations. When AIDS arrived he turned an entire floor of the hotel into an AIDS hospice for the indigent. He was also my dear friend, my mentor, and briefly my lover.

He was also beyond modest: a big talent and a small ego. Very few people know of his work. In this era when most queer activism has mostly focused getting stuff for “us” (the right for us to marry, for us to serve in the imperial army, for us to get access to medical care we think we need), I profoundly miss his commitment to a much broader vision of justice, but always from a gay perspective. This is what I would like to share through this movie.

I have never made a movie, but I am going to make this one. I have partnered with Joan Grossman, a wonderful film maker I am looking forward to working with. And we are bringing in Leo Herrera, a young gay film of enormous talent.

And yes, we need money, and are accepting donations, no matter how big or small. We have a a Facebook group for those who want to follow the progress of the film  here,  and web site for the film where you can give us money here. If you are an American citizen, your donation will be tax-deductible through the fiscal sponsorship of the GLBT Historical Society.

To learn more about Hank, here is the Hank Wilson obituary I wrote on The Huffington Post. 

Thank you.

HankinOffice

 

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My new hero

Rebecca Ferguson is my new hero.

I’ve been asked and this is my answer. If you allow me to sing “strange fruit” a song that has huge historical importance, a song that was blacklisted in the United States for being too controversial. A song that speaks to all the disregarded and down trodden black people in the United States. A song that is a reminder of how love is the only thing that will conquer all the hatred in this world, then I will graciously accept your invitation and see you in Washington. Best Rebecca

Brilliant! Way better than saying no. THANK YOU.

http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1spgc5t

Link

Christopher Williams, an American musician and scholar living in Berlin, just completed his PhD dissertation, which is actually a website:

Tactile Paths: on and through notation for improvisers

Tactile Paths is a native website — filled with music, scores, videos, and other tidbits in addition to plenty of text about the interface of notation and improvisation in contemporary and experimental music. It features sounds and thoughts around Richard Barrett, Cornelius Cardew, Malcolm Goldstein, Lawrence Halprin, Bob Ostertag, Ben Patterson, and myself.

There is a large section on my Say No More project, which includes audio, images, scores, and Christopher’s writing. There is no other place on the web where all of these elements are put together like this.

http://www.tactilepaths.net/ostertag/

 

 

New Music Release: Wish You Were Here: World Tour 2015-2016

Pleased to announce the release of music from my a-year-a-month-and-a-day world tour from March 2015 through April 2016.

https://bobostertag.bandcamp.com/album/wish-you-were-here

Like most of my recent releases, this is download only, pay what you like, no minimum.

The music is played an the Aalto virtual modular synthesizer by Randy Jones and Madrona Labs. But unlike my previous release, Bob Ostertag Plays the Aalto, in which I left the synthesizer in various states and simply let it run, in this new music I play the synthesizer quite actively using a standard gamepad.  I use the Max programming environment to create what might be called virtual topographies of the synthesizer through which I can explore and wander with the buttons and joysticks.

With the development of this instrument, I feel like  I have finally found a way to play a modular synthesizer in a manner both musical and constantly surprising, something I have been dreaming of since I first began playing modular synths in the mid-1970s.

The recording includes parts of concerts in Malang and Surabaya (Indonesia), Lima (Peru), Montevideo (Uruguay), Beirut (Lebanon) and New York City.

Thirteen months on the road took me to the US, western and eastern Europe, the Middle East, China and Taiwan, Southeast Asia, South America, Central America, and Mexico. My travels relied on the support of many wonderful people, far too many to thank here by name. Here, for all of you, is an entirely insufficient THANK YOU.

The beautiful cover art is by Rutger Zuydervelt.

Don Buchla, my friend

How strange. My previous blog post was about a private concert I performed for Don Buchla. My post today is about his death. But then, no one I have ever met was more comfortable with life’s strangeness than Don.

I first encountered a Buchla synthesizer at the Oberlin Conservatory in the 1970s. In a way, I could say that encounter reset the course of my entire musical life. The Oberlin studio also had a Putney synth and a very large modular Moog. None of us students cared about the Moog. It sat untouched. The Buchla was where it was at.

Over the years, the pop-quiz version of the difference between a Moog and a Buchla got reduced to the idea of a keyboard: the Moog had one, the Buchla did not. But there was so much more to it than that. Moog essentially built an electronic pipe organ, with knobs instead of stops. Don built a cybernetic instrument, in which the human musician was invited to intervene in automated processes in a very open-ended and creative way.

It sounds like hyperbole to say that Don’s instrument marked something fundamentally new in the history of music, but it is close to true. (To tell the whole story, we would have to include Bebe and Luis Barron, and Raymond Scott.)

Karlheinz Stockhausen, in his characteristically pompous way, used to talk of his dream of a music of “total serialism,” in which the same serial processes would be applied to pitch, time, dynamics, and timbre. Don Buchla built a device which made the realization of exactly this idea fun and intuitive.

Don’s instruments were not cheap, far out of reach for an undergrad. So I built a Serge synthesizer, a build-it-yourself synth designed by Serge Tcherepnin to be the “poor person’s Buchla.” I dropped out of Oberlin and took my new Serge on tour with Anthony Braxton, and then settled in NYC playing my Serge in the downtown music scene of 1970s New York.

Fast forward a decade and a half and I arrived at my new home in San Francisco around the time that Don released his Lightening wands, a sort of Wii controller for music, years before Nintendo came up with it. I went over to buy one and meet my hero and inspiration.

The man I found was like no one I had ever met. He hardly spoke. You could ask him the most convoluted questions and get one word answers. Gruff, I think, is the correct word. I came away from the encounter thinking this was a guy who could make you feel intellectually inferior simply by stating the time of day. Thus began a close friendship of many years with one of the most unusual people I have ever known.

Once you got to know him, you learned that what initially came across as Don’s gruff exterior  was simply the exterior reflection of the way his mind worked. I am convinced that a big part of Don’s genius was his unique economy of thought. Don’s manner of thinking always cut to the chase. It didn’t matter if you were talking about circuit design, history, music, personal relationships, or anything else. His thought process was free of clutter. It wasn’t that he was talking down to you or demeaning you, it was just that he had no interest in all the clutter: yours, his, or anyone else’s. He was just trying to move things along.

Once you “got” that, Don became the most delightful friend anyone could have. He was interested in everything, and always with a unique spin. You could have the most wide-ranging conversations with him. I remember wonderful dinners with Don, his wife Anne-Marie Bonnel, and friends. Don would say one word to everyone else’s two hundred, yet be a full participant in the conversation.

I think of Don as being exceptionally funny. I am not sure many others share that assessment. How can you be funny when you speak so little? Well, when you really thought about his one-word answers, and worked your way backwards through Don’s thought process, it would dawn on you how acutely aware he was of the humor in the situation – any situation. Don’s humor  wasn’t all laid out for you, or served up like desert. He never told a joke. He didn’t really care if you even got it. But it was there for you if you wanted it. And when your reply indicated that you had found the same humor he had found, his eyes would twinkle and he would crack a wry smile.

His humor was like the ideas in his instruments: there for you if you took the time and effort to find it. He was not about to “sell” you on his humor, his instruments, his ideas, or anything else.

Take, for example, the “manual” for his last modular synthesis system, the Buchla 200e. This is an extremely sophisticated and complex system. The complete manual, including complete descriptions of every possible module you could order, plus caveats about “not taking it into your hot tub,” totals 65 pages. For comparison, the manual for Apple’s music composition software, Logic Pro, weighs in at 1342 pages. The entire description of one of the 200e’s most complex modules, the Arbitrary Function Generator, comes to a grand total of two and a half pages.  He does, however, tell you how to turn the synthesizer on, adding that, “A bunch of LED’s should light up, indicating success in this portion of the endeavor.” Ha! Beyond that, there is absolutely no instruction as to how you might use the instrument. That was for you to figure out. Don’s point wasn’t to make it hard, but rather not to preclude any possibilities.

Some of my students struggle with that. “In order to figure this out you would need a degree in electrical engineering,” one complained to me. Not true, I replied. In fact, the truth is quite the opposite. All you need to need to learn to use a Buchla is curiosity and a lot of time with no distractions. Not really the norm in the age of applications with built-in mouse-over help bots.

I could go on and on. Who else in the world had a high-level security clearance from NASA while giving away 10,000 hits of LSD at the Trips Festival (the first rave) of which he as a co-organizer? He was a close friend yet I am sure there are layers and layers, stories and stories of which I am unaware. I just learned today of his work as a teenage smoke-jumper. There are many obituaries out there now to google, but I am absolutely certain none really has a complete picture.

There is no way to end this blog. But at some point I must stop. Here is as good a place as any.

So I will stop.

Goodbye Don. I hate saying goodbye to you, but it was your time. See you in some other dimension.

________

 

(My CD played entirely on the 200e is here.)

(Rrose’s remix of that CD is here.)

(A CD with a track played on the old Buchla synth at the Oberlin Conservatory in the 1970s is here.)

(Rrose’s remix of that track is here.)

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With Don Buchla and his partner Nannick

 

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Are you serious? Julian Assange used Wikileaks to support Donald Trump, with the additional support of some unidentified secret team of very sophisticated hackers? For real?

Yes, this does seem to be real. There is an additional allegation that the hackers were based in Russia and spoke Russian, but this is not confirmed.

Bernie Supporters: YOU ARE GETTING PLAYED.

Yes, the DNC functioned as an arm of the Clinton campaign. That is how it goes: candidates work to get their people into key positions, and then work every angle. It is not fair according to the party rules, but it is the norm. It is American electoral politics as usual. Hillary is good at it, and has been putting her people into place for years. Duh.

Anyway you already knew that because Bernie had been telling you that over and over. It is great to have so many new and passionate activists. The campaign was amazing, surely one of the high point of the left in the history of the US. That means you are playing in a big league now at a time of real danger in the world. This is no time to cling to your naivety.

Looking at the Assange interview, and reading other interviews he has recently given, is actually quite scary. His position is that anyone who is not for the kind of freedom of information he espouses is his enemy. This makes Clinton an enemy. Assange says he doesn’t know what Trump’s position on Wikileaks will be, so he prefers the unknown Trump to Clinton, whom he unequivocally considers a personal enemy.

This is nowhere near any sort of notion of an institution which is about transparency and protecting whistleblowers. There is no whistleblower to protect here. No one from the DNC freaked out with guilt over the misdeeds of their superiors and gave Assange documentation of it. Nor was there anything to blow a whistle on, other than the ugly everyday face of electoral politics.

The polls now show Trump ahead, and the bump that put him ahead was timed with Assange’s carefully orchestrated roll-out of the stolen emails.

The amount of power Assange wields is breathtaking. And the amount of power he thinks he should wield is even bigger. He is the nightmare combination of the extreme ego and extremist libertarianism of the digital elite, intervening in world events as a major player accountable to no one … in support of Donald Trump.

If it is true that the hackers were Russian, or even more explosively tied to Putin, that would make a trio of Trump-Putin-Assange vs. Clinton. But the Russian connection is an allegation at this point. The allegation that somehow “the Russians” did this adds to other recent allegations about Trump’s connections to Putin which as far as I can tell have been verified.

We are wading into very murky waters here. Global brinksmanship. Sabers are rattling. Blocks are shifting and forming. Is England in Europe or out? Will the US defend Europe from Russia or not?

Putin in Russia. Xi in China. And Trump up in the polls in the US.

Wow.