Category Archives: Music

Book presentation at AAP Launchpad event

I presented my latest book, OMA’s Milstein Hall, at Cornell AAP’s joint book launch event, called Launchpad, on April 17, 2024, at 5:30 PM. Details here. Because I was in Madrid for the 2024 ASHRAE International Building Decarbonization Conference, my presentation consisted of a 7-minute music video. I was thinking of adding something like, “Be there. Will be wild!,” but will resist the temptation. Bad taste.

The video was released on YouTube at the same time as the book launch event. Why not subscribe to my YouTube channel to get notices of such things!

Cornell concert posters from the early 1970s

Who says architects can’t do archival research? An email conversation got me thinking about a Persuasions concert from 1973 that I saw at Cornell when I was an architecture student (they opened for Stevie Wonder). Being at Cornell’s Olin Library to return a book, I decided to check out the trove of concert posters in the “Rare and Manuscript Collections” held at the Carl A. Kroch Library, an underground addition to Olin Library designed by Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson and Abbott that opened in 1992. Once there, I was presented with two large folders containing a sample of Cornell’s collection, including posters for at least two of the concerts I attended—not only Stevie Wonder and the Persuasions, but also Joni Mitchell playing with Tom Scott and the L.A. Express. I should note that Stevie Wonder and the Persuasions played at Bailey Hall, so the acoustics were great; whereas Joni Mitchell played in Barton Hall, a large field house that’s great for lunchtime basketball or watching track events, but horrible for music.

I made a webpage containing photos that I took of samples from Cornell’s larger collection, from September 1972 (Elton John) to April 1975 (Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock).

Concert poster for Stevie Wonder and The Persuasions, playing at Cornell's Bailey Hall March 30, 1973.

Concert poster for Stevie Wonder and The Persuasions, playing at Cornell’s Bailey Hall March 30, 1973 (Ticket prices: $3.00–$4.00).

Puzzle of the Heart (new version/remix)

In preparation for my upcoming “Greatest Hits Vol 4” album, I remixed my 2021 song, “Puzzle of the Heart,” by adding drums, bass, organ, and a touch of back-up vocals — starting at the second verse of the song.

This entailed straightening up the free-form, and somewhat uneven, tempo of the live performance, not only for the new Logic Pro X audio, but also for the new Final Cut Pro video. Having  made those subtle modifications, I was able to re-use most elements of the 2021 live video for this 2024 version (with the new 2024 soundtrack).

I Wish I Were a Bee (new version)

I wrote the chorus to this song when I was in high school, but only got around to writing the verses and bridge about 50 years later, i.e., just before first recording it live in January 2020. This is a new recording with a bit more orchestration and back-up vocals.

For those interested, the Sartre references are based on a cursory reading of Being and Nothingness (no, not the book; just the Wikipedia entry):
“From Sartre’s phenomenological point of view, nothingness is an experienced reality and cannot be a merely subjective mistake. The absence of a friend and absence of money hint at a being of nothingness. It is part of reality. In the first chapter, Sartre develops a theory of nothingness which is central to the whole book, especially to his account for bad faith and freedom. For him, nothingness is not just a mental concept that sums up negative judgements such as ‘Pierre is not here’ and ‘I have no money.’ Though ‘it is evident that non-being always appears within the limits of a human expectation.’ the concrete nothingness differs from mere abstract inexistence, such as the square circle. A concrete nothingness, e.g. not being able to see, is part of a totality: the life of the blind man in this world. This totality is modified by the nothingness which is part of it.”
The idea that “man is not the sum of what he has already, but rather the sum of what he does not yet have, of what he could have” is from Sartre’s “Temporalité,” in Situations (1947, 1949).
And the Kanye reference in the bridge is based on Mr. West’s similar claim that “everything I’m not, made me everything I am.”
I Wish I Were a Bee
Words and music by Jonathan Ochshorn 
© J. Ochshorn 2020
I wish I were a bee
I wish I were a bee
No one would ever ask me
What I wanted to be
Verse 1
I hate all questions that presume some cultural identity
Defining who you are in terms of arbitrary norms
Some people get so obsessed with such a dubious ontology
That they become what they dress up as in their uniforms [Chorus]
Verse 2
My friend Jean-Paul’s apartment is somewhere on the second floor
I think perhaps apartment “B,” so down the hall I wander
I’m about to ring the bell but doubt sets in as I approach the door
Is it “2-B or not 2-B” — that’s the question that I ponder [Chorus]
[Instrumental Chorus]
Kanye says everything you’re not makes you everything you are
Jean-Paul agrees that it isn’t the sum of what you have thus far
But rather the sum of what you don’t have or could have that really should prevail
Even if, in principle, all human actions are doomed to fail
Verse 3
I meet Jean-Paul at a café to talk about reality
His friend Pierre is still not there so we order bread and honey
He says that a concrete nothingness is part of a totality
As he leaves me staring at the bill while I run out of money [Chorus]
Links to all my music and videos:

Blank Space

Celebrating Time‘s 2023 “Person of the Year,” here is my cover of Taylor Swift’s mega-hit from 2014, Blank Space. The song was re-released as “Taylor’s Version” in 2023.

The background image, visible in the thumbnail above, if of the Palau de la Música Catalana (Catalan Concert Hall) in Barcelona, which was built at the beginning of the 20th century. In my cover version of the song, I do all the vocals and background vocals, piano, electric guitar, organ, bass, and drums (other than the guitar, the rest are actually “software” instruments played on my MIDI keyboard). I recorded the song using Logic Pro and made the video using Final Cut Pro.

Only true Swifties will understand the portion of the video where I’m in bed with my guitar. Hint: see this early Taylor Swift video.

Count Me Out

I’ve finally written a new song, called “Count Me Out”!

Thanks to brother Kurt for advice on the arrangement and mix; and to daughter Jennie for additional background vocals. I made the video using Final Cut Pro, with my iPhone either mounted on my bicycle seat (for the moving view of 6-mile Creek taken from Giles Street in Ithaca, NY) or on a tripod in front of my portable green screen. The dancer and the bit of smoke at the end of the video were found with an internet search for free downloadable green-screen-enabled clips; they are credited at the end of the video. The drummer is me in front of a black background from a 2011 video I had made for an earlier song; because I was wearing a black cap, the cap disappeared into the black chroma key void, so I added in an image of a hat worn by Neil Peart, the late drummer/singer for Rush, also found on the internet.

I play all instruments and sing the vocals and background vocals (with added background vocals provided by daughter Jennie). Except for the electric guitars, all other “software” instruments, including drums, bass, piano, strings, and synth, are played on my MIDI keyboard. I mixed the song using Logic Pro X.

Count Me Out
Words and music © Jonathan Ochshorn 2023

1. Count me out I don’t need those pointless invitations
Tell your friends I can’t be bothered with their vapid conversations
Whatever I told you just print it out and shred it
It don’t prove a thing I’ll deny I ever said it
Tell it to your lawyers they’ll bill you on your credit or debit card
Life is hard
Count me out

2. Ah cause you don’t need me hanging out with you
There must be lots of people that you know with nothing else to do
What about Dmitry just wake him from his trance
I know if you call him he’ll jump at the chance
And if you determine that your circumstance is unfair
I don’t care
Count me out, count me out, count me out

[Bridge] Me, I had enough for one night
In fact, I had enough for one life
I don’t want to discuss it no more
I don’t need this strife

Instrumental half-verse 3

Second-half verse 3. Do us both a favor let me off the hook
Maybe I’ll just hang out and curl up with a book
Order up some take-out so I don’t have to cook here tonight
Wrong or right
Count me out

4. Ah baby cause you know I never had the patience for this stuff
I’ve wasted too much time already can’t you see I’ve really had enough
Text me when it’s over call me when it’s through
Tell me that you missed my caustic point of view
Look it’s nothing personal I’m waiting for you here my friend
But till then
Count me out, count me out, count me out, count me out

Book launch performance

Chad Randl and D. Medina Lasansky organized a book launch event in Trumansburg for their recently-published edited volume from MIT Press called Playing Place: Board Games, Popular Culture, Space. Medina asked if I would perform my board game song — “Squints on a Triple,” which was the winner of the 2008 BoardGameGeek contest for real board games mentioned in songs. Unbeknownst to me, my performance on Sunday, September 10, 2023, was recorded on a cell phone by Jenni Minner, our colleague at Cornell, who was gracious enough to provide me a copy.

I put the cell phone’s audio track into Logic Pro and did some minor tweaking with some added EQ, reverb, and so on, but I couldn’t do much to balance the vocal and guitar. I then changed the aspect ratio from portrait to landscape in Final Cut Pro, and added some transcribed lyrics and other titles.

So, it is what it is, as they say. The original “studio” version of the song is here.

Metaphors and similes in Squints on a Triple

I wrote Squints on a Triple 15 years ago, and it remains one of my favorite songs. As it turns out, it’s also a song that I will have performed three times in quasi-academic settings that are somehow connected with Cornell.

The first time was when I hosted a Cornell “Thumbnail” event in 2018 with the theme of “Taboo.” What does the song have to do with the theme, you may be wondering? Well, one of the verses has some ambiguous lyrics that could be construed as having taboo content: “She has flung in my face all the skills that I taught her / Now I’m left in disgrace; there’s a moral that’s sought here / You better be careful when playing games with your daughter.”

The second performance was a retirement event in January 2023; in this context, the song was part of a “growing old” theme — in this case, watching my daughter grow older and, for the first time, beating me in a game of Scrabble.

And now, in September 2023, I’m about to perform the same song for a third time — at a book launch event [updated Sept. 12, 2023: see this blog post] for a colleague who has published a co-edited volume about board games called Playing Place. In this context, the connection to the song’s lyrics is unambiguous; in fact, Squints on a Triple was the winner of the 2008 BoardGameGeek contest for real board games mentioned in songs.

But there is at least one more context in which this song could be performed in an academic setting, specifically, in an academic setting dealing with metaphor (and simile) — and, in particular, mixed metaphor. Even though the song is nominally about a game of Scrabble, I deliberately used inappropriate metaphors referencing all sorts of other games and ideas. A list follows, taken directly from the lyrics:

1. All of my hopes, false expectations burst like a bubble [the only simile]
2. Protect all your troopers from a flanking attack [war]
3. Don’t let the lineman in for a sack [football]
4. Let my constructions collapse into rubble [demolition]
5. On the very last play, on the very last roll [craps or other dice games]
6. She has flung in my face all those skills that I taught her [throwing objects]

7. I think she’s perhaps rolled the dice once too often [again, craps or other dice games]

Building Bad? Never too late to say “I told you so.”

Today in the New York Times, Lola Fadulu writes about New York City’s lawsuit pertaining to Steven Holl’s ADA-noncompliant Hunters Point library: 

A few years back, architects designed a public library in Queens that has been lauded as one of the most stunning public buildings produced in New York in a century. But it is also rife with obstacles for people with disabilities, according to city officials who are now suing the designers for the $10 million they say it will cost to fix.

At the Queens Public Library at Hunters Point, a staircase that runs from the lobby to the second floor is the only way to access three areas that have built-in desks with charging stations. A ramp that leads to the rooftop terrace, which has sweeping views of Manhattan, has a slope that is unlawful, the city argues. Bathrooms throughout the building do not have enough space for wheelchairs, the lawsuit says.

Two years ago, in July 2021, I wrote about the same library in my song, “Ballad of Building Bad.” Here’s the song, starting with the second verse:

Verse 2 (Jonathan Ochshorn, “Ballad of Building bad”)
Everybody’s talking about the fancy new library
Where you must climb up steps to get to these bookshelves
Asked about ADA mandates for access he says it’s customary
For disabled people not to get their books themselves
Now he’s pointing to the killer views you get looking out from those steel stairs
But when asked about excluding handicapped users
He says I won’t ruin my design just because of some strollers and some wheelchairs
This is a gift to the community so beggars can’t be choosers
And it’s based on these watercolor drawings in my sketchpad
Building bad

The song is based on my book, Building Bad: How Architectural Utility is Constrained by Politics and Damaged by Expression (Lund Humphries, 2021).

My live performance at retirement event

I performed four songs at a retirement event at the “Inns of Aurora” sponsored by Cornell’s Department of Architecture on January 27, 2023. This event was originally intended for the end of the spring 2022 semester (when I actually retired), but got delayed for various reasons, and then became a combined event for several other recent retirees who had not been celebrated previously because of Covid restrictions on gatherings.

In any event, my request to do a musical performance was still honored, and the resulting concert footage is embedded here. Well, not quite the original concert footage: I had earlier recorded a “practice” performance in my house which had much better audio than what was recorded at the actual event, so I synced this practice audio with the video clips of the real performance that were shot by my wife, Susan. Except that a clip for the first verse of the last song could not be found, so I lip-synced that verse at home, in front of a green screen, and simulated the performance of the first verse, which is now part of the official video.

These are unplugged — guitar-vocal versions — of four songs, three of which are about getting old (the first, “Endgame,” is an extended metaphor based on the game of chess; the second, “What’s the Point of Even Trying,” is taken from the standpoint of a child watching a parent get old; and the third, “Squints on a Triple,” is taken from the standpoint of a parent watching his child get older) with the last song, “Ballad of Building Bad,” being a critique of architecture (actually an advertisement for my book, Building Bad).

The songs that I perform live here can also be viewed in their original “music video” form (use links in the paragraph above).

Production notes:
Music written, arranged, produced, and performed by Jonathan Ochshorn (© J. Ochshorn)
Recorded with Logic Pro X software
Video edited with Final Cut Pro software
Vocals: Jonathan Ochshorn
Guitar and harmonica: Jonathan Ochshorn
Audio recorded live at home in Ithaca, NY, January 18, 2023; video of live performance shot January 27, 2023.