How do you vaccinate against life. You could use a condom for starters or if you are Catholic and opposed to contraceptives then perhaps you could promote celibacy and advocate playing with little boys instead of producing them. But even if this strategy worked, I mean really worked, and all humans vaccinated themselves against life and died out (which they may anyway shortly) it would still be less than a spit in the bucket. Like fighting malaria with a slingshot.
Life is a whole lot more than human life. Go tell the mosquitoes and bacteria to stop breeding. No. Even a repeat of the Cambrian Dying-off in which 95% of life on earth got wiped out could not stamp out this disease completely. Those remaining 5% would do again what they did then, namely fill in the vacuum with even more species, and do it faster than before.
Let’s face it. There is no vaccine against life. At least not for the next 4 billion years or so.
OK, no vaccine. How about an antidote, a cure? If you can’t prevent a disease maybe you could cure it after it happened. But how do you go about curing a disease with 100% mortality rate? You can’t just reduce it to 69%. That might work for the AIDS virus which not everybody has, but not for Life, a viral epidemic encompassing every living organism on the face of the planet. Imagine you being one of those unlucky 69%, being told that some of your friends will live forever while you are doomed to die. That could put a serious dent into your golf game.
You can’t reduce the risk factor either. You can’t be 31% dead (though many people feel that way most workdays). No, sir. Physiologically speaking, if you are infected with life your prognosis is a death warrant, no exceptions… unless… Unless… the disease is vanquished, eradicated completely, once and for all, utterly wiped out like TB or Polio, and the threat hanging over us all is gone, vanished, vamoose. You heard me (Praise the Lord). Life eternal, here and now (Hallelujah). I must quickly add that unfortunately life may for the foreseeable future still be sexually transmitted (how distasteful) until a cleaner, more Christian way can be found, but the mortality rate certainly can be brought down to 0%.
A cure. Nobody dies, not in the cosmic sense at least. God is great.
All this is of course no big news if you have been paying attention. This is pretty well what we have been told for much of our existence, in every language, in every creed. Hindus go as far as to believe that even mosquitoes live forever, and one of them, for all we know, may reincarnate as Donald Rumsfeld. It makes little difference if you are a good Christian, a devout Muslim, or pray to your Versace handbag. The itinerary may vary. You may end up not coming back but moving on to sit at the feet of the Lord (what feet!!) or come back as lettuce, or merge with the All. The salient point is that you’ve been saved. YOU DON’T DIE!
Life = A sexually transmitted disease with 0% mortality rate, i.e. not a disease at all.
Phew! That was painless.
[a few blank pages]
And that pretty well concludes my book. Thank you for buying it.
©Copyright Peter Elyakim Taussig, 2012
There are two things wrong with contemporary classical music. First, it is an oxymoron, and second, it’s no good for jogging. The aspiration of every contemporary composer should be to become a classical station regular, like Mozart (commuting), Vivaldi (shopping), or Beethoven (office work), while still alive. You know you have arrived when a bookstore or espresso bar pipes you in. No one since Mendelssohn has even qualified.
The French composer Eric Satie (circa 1910) was right when he said: “Music should be like furniture. It’s best when you hardly notice it”. Whether we like it or not, people today listen to music while doing other things. Distracting them is not the object. The ultimate litmus test for any great music is “does it make mowing the lawn go faster?”
A classical music experience has three creators. One third is the work of the composer, one third that of the performer, who transforms dots to music, and the final third is the contribution of the listener, who brings his own world to bear on the music. It is this three-way collaboration that creates any musical experience. In this reckoning the listener gets 1/3 of the credit (maybe he should get 1/3 of the royalties too, indexed of course to the intensity of the listening effort expended...? ;)
Things are different with the new kind of virtual music I write, where the roles of composer and "performer" are merged. There are only two co-creators here, me and the person listening to my CD. The proportions are 50/50. In this respect I, a "classical" composer, am joining the singer/songwriter crowd, but there's nothing new about that. We too had a "singer/songwriter" tradition (or rather a "player/composer" one). It was in fact the standard for most of musical history. Then, around 1830, a split occurred, and the role of a performer who plays other people's music was invented. I predict that this trend is about to be reversed, same as in popular music. Consider that almost no singer or band before the 60s wrote their own material. Now it is an exception if they don't.
For the first time ever, composers like me have the ability to produce completed works, much as painters or authors do, without having to shop my music to performers or conductors. We can also bypass the prohibitive costs and rigmarole of recording a live symphony orchestra. It’s hardly a difficult choice. All but 0.001 of composers would never have their composition even considered by a symphony orchestra.
But the DIY approach is much more than just getting a composer an audience. If it spreads it may fundamentally alter the dynamics between composer and listener.
As the quality and flexibility of sampled sounds continues to make quantum leaps, the bad name the early electronic music earned is less and less justified. The tonal quality of a simulated acoustic instrument may never be 100% equal to the real thing but it’s damn close now. What can be equal and often surpass the “real thing” is the quality of the performance. Working with my virtual orchestra I have unlimited time to refine nuances. I am not limited by a union contract or scheduling constraints. My work is not relegated to the customary half-hour rehearsal. When it’s done it will resemble what I had in mind the way a live orchestral performance could never even come close. And I am not even talking about the sneezes, cackles, latecomers, and the terrible seat you are in where all you can hear are the double basses.
I often think of those accounts of disastrous, excruciating first-performances of masterpieces by Schoenberg, Stravinsky, or Bartok, botched by the “real thing”. But am I throwing out the baby with the bath water? Do those bad experiences justify the elimination of the performer, that middle-man, from the supply chain between me and my audience?
Two strong objections to what I propose are usually raised. First, that composers are not necessarily the best interpreters of their own works, and second, that their works benefit from the insights of performers.
The first assertion is just plainly wrong, an unjustifiable generalization. Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler, Leonard Bernstein, all were stellar conductors as well as composers. The second argument though does have merit and deserves a consideration. Bartok was a superb pianist who often premiered his own works. The premiere of his second piano concerto however was an unqualified flop. When several years later he attended a performance of the same work by the young pianist Geza Anda, which received a standing ovation, Bartok remarked, only half sarcastically: “Well, you obviously understand my music better than I”.
So, are performers necessary even when composers of the future may not need them to perform?
Actually no. That function of shedding new light on a composition will most likely be taken over by the listeners themselves, thus further justifying that 50/50 split I mentioned earlier.
How? Easy-to-use tools already exist for intelligent listeners to modify any composition to their liking, adjusting tempo, timbre, balance, and even notes. What we don’t have yet is a cultural groundswell, a shifting of what it means to be an active listener. But that too is coming. Could someone 30 years ago have imagined that designing your greeting cards, retouching your photographs, making films, preparing tax returns, or publishing your book from start to finish could be casually done by you without professional help? Could tailoring music to your taste be so far behind?
The shift from "composing for performers" to "composing directly to listeners", the 50/50 collaboration, is most likely to send shivers down concert-going spines and the beleaguered marketing departments of symphony orchestras. But I say not to worry. Symphony orchestras will continue to play the same old tired stuff their aging patrons demand. The newer stuff no one really liked anyway. Give me Beethoven 7th, not that cacophony of Osvaldo Golijov. It’s like taking vitamins, good for you but certainly no fun.
And what about composers like me, the 99% that never stood a chance to even be considered as a vitamin? Well, we just get ourselves the latest music editing Internet tools and if our music is any good we’ll find amateur tinkerers with flair to go to work on our masterpieces. It can’t be worse than entrusting them to a yawning self-important conductor whose stinky feet I'd have to kiss for my half-hour rehearsal and the ensuing botched-up premiere cum last-ever-performance of my new symphony.
@Copyright Peter Elyakim Taussig, 2012. You may download materials from this site for private personal use only. For all other uses please contact to request permission in writing.
International Federation of Failed Artists & Musicians (IFFAm)
Call for Membership
According to exhaustive historical research, 94.86% of all living and dead artists are failures. We, the silent majority, have suffered too long in ignominious obscurity. It's time for the rejects, has-beens and wannabes to crawl out of the footnotes of history (and your mother's basement) to wear proudly the glorious crown of failure!
FAILURE IS BEAUTIFUL. WE ARE THE WORLD!!
To start, fill out the questionnaire below. It is a quick way for you to determine whether you are truly a Failed Artist (FA) and thus qualify to join our ranks, or not.
This may well be the most significant step in your miserable life up to this point.
I _______________ the undersigned testify that I have not lived up to my dream of gaining fame and riches through my art or music or writing or dancing or what have you, that my work is either unjustly neglected or rightfully ignored because it’s crap, or because I have never even tried to publish it, or because I don’t have any work, or because no one remembers my past glories (sob, sniffle).
I further testify that this is the last time I will feel sorry for myself and henceforth I will be proud to uphold the age old tradition of failure and declare myself to one and all as a Failed Artist (FA).
As a member of IFFA I promise to support my brothers and sisters in failure wherever they may be and deeply scorn the few freaks who “make it” and the multitude of delusional success junkies. I will endeavor to ignore any temptations offered to me by Hollywood studios, Broadway producers, publishers, MOMA, and the New York Philharmonic.
Terms of Membership
Welcome to IFFA. Congratulations on finally coming to grips with who you truly are as an artist. As a member of IFFA you will have the continuous moral support of a worldwide fraternity and sisterhood of fellow losers. You will have a platform to voice your opinions and exhibit your fiascoes to a sympathetic audience. You will proudly wear the IFFA symbol of unfulfilled potential, and never again have to invent fictitious awards and non-existing book deals.
Membership however entails one important obligation, to resolutely renounce the craving for recognition and resist the temptation to make it in any shape or form.
Remember - your continued membership is contingent on continued failure. Should you at any time succumb to the lure of a one-man-show, a premiere, a part in a play or a movie, or a book deal, your membership will be suspended for 6 months and your work placed on a “wall of shame”. However, once your career attempt fails (as it surely will) your IFFA membership may be reinstated. Be aware though that after 3 such suspensions you will be declared a “failed Failed Artist” and banned forever from IFFA.
Call for Submissions
Send us your rejection letters, your crumpled drafts, your torn canvases, your half-baked symphonies, your mold encrusted photographs and movie scripts. Let us shine the light on the failed promises of your dreams. Here in the vast archives of failed artists you will gain the obscurity you deserve and bury once and for all any vain hope of ever being discovered. You will walk tall, free from the burden of having to prove yourself, proud in having found the real YOU - a Failed Artist, a proud link in the unbroken chain of flops and losers that reaches all the way back to the cave dweller who smudged the bison on the wall and never painted again.
Uploads are free and not juried.
IFFA is a worldwide movement of artists who are excluded or have excluded themselves from the marketplace of commercialized art in all its forms. The federation has chapters for various art forms that include the:
Activities & Publications
Success is just failing to fail
Be a patriotic American! Vote Chipmunk!
We at the Chipmunk Party hold these self evident truths:
The "True American" (modeled on chipmunk values) is a:
The Chipmunk Party platform welcomes immigrants of any species to this land but recommends that they leave their foreign ideologies, institutions, and ways of life behind them, and become real Americans by adopting wholeheartedly the chipmunk way of live.
This afternoon (at 2:18 PM to be precise) I thought about the Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree for 48 days straight. I was driving back from grocery shopping at Price Choppers, which I doubt had anything to do with it, and this weird question popped into my head, made weirder still by the fact that I don’t ordinarily associate shopping at Price Choppers with spiritual questions, least of all with the Buddha.
Here is a transcript.
Maybe the Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree for 48 days not to seek enlightenment but because he had nothing better to do and no reason to do it. Perhaps he was clinically depressed like me. Maybe having looked in vain for every conceivable purpose for life under the sun, he hoped to find it in the shade. Who knows, maybe he was just sick and tired of running around so he sat down until something better came along, and nothing did.
Imagine, 48 days!
Sometime during those interminable 48 days it must have occurred to him that he in fact he had the right answer all along, before he ever sat down under that goddamn tree; there really was no point to ANYTHING. I mean, if sitting under a tree for 48 days doing nothing doesn’t teach you the meaninglessness of life, what does?
Having had this brilliant realization, he got up.
Big mistake! Right away some spiritual groupies attached themselves to him, he became a busy sage, he started a big-ass religion, he became god. Busy, busy, busy. Oh for those blissful quiet days under that tree…
Poor Buddha -- had it all right when he sat down, got it all wrong when he got up.
People have always aspired to live long. In a brutally short and unpredictable life merely outliving others could be looked upon as an accomplishment, a blessing. Besides, old age brought with it a measure of status, even veneration. A mere idiot became a sage by dint of simply clinging to life. But desirable as it may have been longevity was clearly understood to be a fluke, an answer to a wish or a prayer. No one deluded themselves that it was within their power to affect it.
Not so now.
Living longer and longer is now a science. It is the dominant aspiration of an aging population reared since infancy to believe in its power to control destiny. Getting old and staying healthy has gone from being a rare and lucky break to an obsession. And a multi-billion dollar health and wellness business complex fans and feeds the fantasy that old age and decrepitude can be beaten.
Put simply, the delusion of control states that if you live a “healthy lifestyle”, meaning that you avoid smoking, drinking, the sun, the air, tap water, cell phones, sweets, all non-“organic” food, and in addition spend every spare minute of your life in a gym, you will not get sick, live to climb mountains at 88, and continue to date into your 90s. Young people may believe this, old people should know better, yet they don’t.
What the people who make their billions on drugs, wellness books, and plastic surgery don’t want us to know is something we shouldn’t need anyone to tell us; every year added to your life adds a factor of risk to your health, regardless of how “healthy” you are. Getting old is the real danger to your health, not what you do, and unfortunately that’s the one thing neither you nor anyone else has any control over. A 45 year old falling and cracking their hip is a rarity, at 85 a certainty. In fact being past 80 and NOT having a life-threatening, debilitating, or at least hugely limiting disease is a freak of nature worthy of a news article. With that prospect a statistical certainty, staying alive is the name of the game, at all cost, even hooked up to a life support machine. The quality of that life has become secondary.
I beg to differ.
Being healthy for me means being able to move about unaided, to have the full use of my senses and my mind, to be free of pain. These are minimum requirements, the lowest benchmark that might justify the effort demanded by living. If these requirements can be met, they make the aggravations of life worthwhile. As it is, most geriatrics today, with their arthritic pain, truckloads of medications, and replaced hips, shuffling along with their walkers, swaddled in diapers, or brainless with Alzheimers aren’t even in the ballpark. The delusion that this fate can be averted is nothing but wishful thinking and a marketing ploy for snake-oil merchants. A few rare exception to this dismal picture actually prove the rule.
And still death is always regarded as worse than living, no matter how horrific and pointless life seems to be. It is nothing but a mindless prejudice. If the minimum benchmark of a pain-free, mobile, and lucid life cannot be met, wouldn’t the alternative of dying make far more sense?
The first track on my CD "101 Sound-bite Symphonies", representing the number 1, is entitled "One Nasty God". It consists of one horrific chord. Here is a verbal elaboration on the topic.
The first commandment, “Thou shalt have no other god but me”, kind of puts the Kabosh on the other nine. All these useful edicts, like not violating the Sabbath by going out and killing your neighbor to steal his wife and then lying about it to your parents and the police, lose their moral strength when the reason for following them is not common sense, or common decency, but some arbitrary command of a megalomaniacal god.
Here are some examples. Why, you may reasonably ask, can’t I say the word “God” without being smitten down like some cockroach (second commandment: Thou shalt not utter my name in vain"), or if I happen to be a sculptor I’ll be condemned to eternal damnation with all other sinners (third commandment: thou shalt not make thyself any graven image")? You may look in vain for some kind or reasoned explanation for these odd edicts but all you'll find in the bible is the gruff paternal “’cause I said so, goddamit!” (OK, not in those exact words but close enough).
What’s so great about monotheism anyway? I'll grant you, it’s more efficient. Keeping track of all those hundreds of Hindu gods and their concubines can get a bit unwieldy. You need a database to keep them straight. But efficiency isn’t everything. As plot lines go, the one-god scenario is a pretty dreary story when compared to the Hindu Mahabarat. Imagine the Greeks having to worship just Zeus, with his temper tantrums, and no one else. Not even Aphrodite or Eros. Their whole mythology summed up on a napkin. Efficient? Perhaps. But what a bore.
Let’s be honest. The only thing that has kept the Old Testament in circulation is not the cockamamie idea of an invisible nasty sky god. The secret of the Bible's staying power is al the violent and dirty stuff, all those slayings and crucifixions, and double-crossings, and let's not forget sex and fornication. The Yahweh bits are just an endless irritating repetition of the first commandment, “Me, me, and only me! ! If you as much as think of trying some other deity, you’re dead meat, you sods!”
And you know something, all that smiting and flooding and turning people into salt pillars and burning them alive with fire and brimstones is not even the worst of it. The thing that really gives me the creeps is when God, after one of his frequent rampages, grabs the survivor's face tight and pulls it towards His, and like Marlon Brando in the Godfather rasps: “I only do this for you son... because I love you”.
Ugh! enough to turn anyone into an idol worshiper.
Life is highly overrated. We make such a fuss over it - “It’s a life and death question”. I don’t get it. You live you die. You were you aren’t. You became something else, some other compound. We don’t fuss over sugar dissolving in our tea or yesterday’s rotten vegetables composting into topsoil. Things exist and reconfigure. That’s how it goes, and not just in life. Molecules do their eternal dance, bonding, separating, generating electricity. Some have bonded in such a way as to acquire cognition in some mutated apes. After a short while they disintegrate and go back to being Hydrogen and Nitrogen. No big deal, really.
The narcissistic mirror-gazing that characterizes our species is the most ridiculously elaborate nonsense ever created by Nature. It permeates every human thought and activity. The most cynical nihilist still labors under the delusion of being special. Life is considered a miracle for some reason and, by extension, human life must be an extra-special-miracle, so special in fact that it is sacred. And from this unfounded premise flows every concept, every mythology, every god, every moral our harebrained imagination ever concocted.
Life is no miracle. It is a very common phenomenon that follows ordinary laws that have been replicated in the laboratory. It is probably as common in the universe as carbon. Whatever is special about life is what we make up about it.
Not even the will to live is that remarkable. All living things have a will to live, until such time as they recognize that their game is up. All except humans. Only humans believe that there is something inherently wrong with dying. Death must be conquered.
And so we have metaphysical interpretations of Life, an “after-life”, souls, spirits, resurrections, eternal bliss, and invocations of a sacred “Life Force”. We now also have longevity research, and Cryopreservation, and cloning, anything but the simple fact, known to any chipmunk, that life and its cessation are the commonest ripples in the vast natural fabric of the physical world.
And a physical world is really all there is, if you leave out human fiction. In the physical world whatever exists dies, be it you and I, the bacteria in your gut, or our galaxy.
No big deal.
An intelligent alien would find the bizarre stories we humans make up fascinating, amusing, or perhaps nauseating in their pretentious self-centeredness.
I dislike entertainment. I can’t stand entertainers and I know what I am talking about. I used to be one of them. I don’t mind being entertained, inadvertently by something I notice around me, something that was not intended to be entertaining, and most of what I observe around me every day is actually very entertaining. What I dislike is people setting out deliberately to amaze me, to make me laugh or cry or forget my troubles. It is part of my resistance to being manipulated, and it seems to be the very purpose of that mind-numbing Tsunami of information and artifice that engulfs us every minute of our lives. While not very long ago people sought to be entertained after their workday or work week, wishing to relax with some mindless fluff, or wishing to escape their misery with some compelling distraction, today we are being entertained not just during work, but during every other activity, from going to school, engaging in politics, or doing business.
Consider a business consulting meeting without some pre-planned well-timed jokes, visual razzmatazz, and some very entertaining group activities. It just couldn’t happen. You want to find out what happens in the world, and you get actors (what else are “anchors”?) presenting you with little featurettes with dramatic musical background. You drive to work with Vivaldi. You surf the net instead of working at the office and pick up the latest moronic YouTube joke or celebrity gossip. Literature is reduced to a Tweet.
The “arts and entertainment” industry is no longer limited to films and TV and musical acts and the odd Broadway show we might take in while on a rare visit to New York. Today the industry is run by conglomerates that also control news, information, and politics, and who apply the same manipulative production principles to all forms of information exchange. The purpose of information is no longer to enlighten but to distract. By concentrating all forms of human communication in just a handful of corporate entertainment centers we have now succeeded in filling every waking minute with distracting content that has a single purpose - to make us NOT think, to make us buy, spend, and toe the line.
Notice the term “Arts and Entertainment”. It is a telling emblem of what is happening to our culture. By lumping art, that timeless and sacred expression of our innermost vision, with the mindless diversions intended to make us forget reality, by merging them into a single field, the purveyors of culture have in fact capitulated to the gods of commercial success. No matter how sophisticated a painter, choreographer, or novelist is, or is made out to be, the pipeline to his or her audience goes through those same boardrooms that hold absolute control of the culture “market”.
You can’t be successful without a Vaudeville act. An artist today faces a simple choice - to have an audience and be an entertainer, or to speak whatever unadorned truth or nonsense they manage to dredge up from deep within themselves and express it in total obscure isolation. There is no middle ground between these two choices, no compromise that doesn’t end up going through an entertainment boardroom.
If you think that avant garde art, the grunge stuff of starving artists in unheated garrets is immune, just step into the Armory Show, that annual extravaganza in New York City that brings together the most “provocative, off beat, and cutting edge…etc. etc.” merchants of art from around the world, and see if you don’t walk away from it with a dizzy headache and the kind of ringing in your ears that you would normally get from an auto trade show.
Today, more than ever in human history, what is sorely lacking is silence, empty space, information vacuum. But since most urban dwellers are unlikely to have the possibility of retreating to a mountain top or a monastery, and since “spiritual practices” like yoga and Tai Chi have been turned into “power practices”, quick and noisy, with the result of adding rather than reducing the stress and noise level, what can artists do to increase silence and empty space for society?
Staying silent may be the most urgently needed act for any artist. Creating in isolation, not seeking an audience may be second best. Eventually the tide must turn (as it always does). An art of silence may emerge, soundless music, blank slate art, motionless dance - the art of nothing.
The Kvetching Factory
"Start every day with a smile and get it over with" (W.C. Fields)