Sunday, May 17, 2015

Recently flowers of roses were given by the Pope

Back in Firenze, my mind drifts, and my thoughts are filled with The Dome, that of Santa Maria del Fiore, invisible from where the Empress and I are staying, but last year ever-present, sometimes inviting, sometimes forbidding, yet always breathtaking. I loved when a visitor, invited in, would talk and walk and suddenly be stopped dead at our breakfast table exclaiming what?! or, on occasion, holy Jesus fuck.

Consecrated on the 25th of March 1436 by Pope Eugenius IV, who presented (as popes do quite often - did you know?) a mystical and rare rose of gold, representing satiety, joy and love, and even I would think that one can never have enough joy or love, popes have different opinions, and they are known to concern themselves with all sorts of limitations, eschewing the modern dictum of do what thou willst being the whole of religious law. But that rose also represented the rod of Jesse falling on his foot and the fruit bearing forth and, along with the lion lying with the lamb, and the child leading them all.

So now, let's have another gelato, and while we do, let us listen to the work that accompanied the consecration of that Cathedral, titled by the act of the rose recently given, written by Dufay:

It's a incredibly well-structured piece, and thrilling to music theorists and historians and intuitionists alike. Historians as it sits at the inflection point between the isorhythmic style that preceded and the freer polyphony that followed; theorists as it is chock full of rhythmic devices, including the 6:4:2:3 integrally changing mensuration, not quite diminishing; intuitionists as the work is immensely satisfying as it accelerates to its pretty end. It's hard to imagine that, with such a powerful and affecting work, Mr. Dufay didn't find the pope, or at least one or two of the members of the choir, deigning to consecrate him, like the cathedral, by their sacred hands and holy liquors, this being the reason we composers do what we do. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Magical Thinking

There is no logical line of reasoning which would lead one to choose a career in the arts. It is a hopeless endeavor, guaranteeing only such anxiety, ridicule, disfavor and failure as to bring one to an early death. Even worse is to have additionally ordered, out of the menu of life's idiocies, a soupçon of great expectations sprinkled over top, as these will lend even a bitterer taste, that of a bright future tragically unmet. Yet every day, we see bags of newly-minted and fresh-faced young folks unloaded off the trucks arriving in the Big Art City, fresh from the farm, dreaming of the stardom that they so deserve and so clearly must achieve that they can hear its metallic clang ringing just off in the distance.

We feel the specialness of us in ourselves, we understand that we are the ones who will be chosen, if we just believe, if we just work hard, if we just climb hand over hand without stopping nor questioning. Studiousness and perseverance are our tools, and we set our faces determinedly toward the sun. But, someday, we will have to scratch the sparkling silver foil from off the lottery ticket, and see revealed all the possibilities left unfulfilled: two out of three liberty bells, mismatched dollar amounts, a not-quite diagonal bingo line. We try to get back to the 7-Eleven® to buy another, but they are there no longer, replaced long ago by a Chinese restaurant now out of business, fortune cookies crumbling on the sidewalk, their enclosed slips of paper blown away or so faded they can no longer be read.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A day out

I say, let's play a game. I'll be your daddy and you will be the prodigal son, the one I sent away when he came out, singing and dancing and tying his shirts at the midriff.  But now you have come back, and now that I see you all grown up, I'm beginning to have feelings I've never had before, even tinglings. Oh gosh, shall we really say that? Ting-a-lings? And why not, fuck it, when I see what a man you've become, just like our Lord compleat in all parts a man, born of a woman, but now one big manly man.

A tenor friend once told me a story: heading into a gay establishment on the outskirts of the big Texas city, who should he see but his own father sitting at the bar, who turned to see him there and who then simply said we will never speak of this.

My wife, the Empress of all things beautiful, so much a woman, and my woman when she allows herself to be, tells me every day how much action I would get if I simply came out, and I suppose she means first to myself, finding that truth like the love that dare not say whatever, and I too could find how natural it can be "when the elder man has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him," and the two meet in that closeness that can be no closer, one to another and again and again.

So come now and sit on my lap and cuddle up. Maybe after we'll go fishing or play ball or the other things that fathers and sons do. But first the loving. First the consensual torture. First the slippery slope, unabridged.

In porn, there are simple rules. If someone is seen on camera, they are going to fuck or be fucked by something, and if two people are seen together in a room, or out by the pool, or in a school or examining room or boxing ring or shoe store or malt shop, or when the pizza is delivered by someone who is cut like diamond, they are going to fuck each other, and here I use the word fuck in the sense that my wife uses it, the broadest sense, that is something that you do that you may not want to tell your wife or boyfriend about if they the singular they are not excessively broadminded, and may include such as nipple pinching and a rubbing of a clothéd crotch and slapping so hard across the face that their hair flies and they laugh out loud, slapping you back and you both fall over into each other's arms and the kissing begins.

Back here now. Slip off your shirt, and I will put my hand on your toned chest, and then undo your pants and I will sit you astride me, looking into my eyes while I look into yours, and I notice the moistness of your lips and the touch of your beard on my face, and let me live with you here for always in a sphere of copper and gold that holds against all the world.

Saturday, April 4, 2015


Duncan and Nikola as Pushkin and Stalin.
Photo by Lynne Rutter.
The truer version of the hoary quote of Camus is that fiction is a lie through which we tell a lie, and the world loves fiction for exactly that. The illusion of artistic truth, that somehow the artist has a special insight into life, that her characters and settings and narratives are somehow more real than real, and are clear and cogent keys that she manipulates to elucidate the real world, is simply baloney. In truth, her characters and settings are false, her plots calculated, and the best and most successful fiction, by design, bears only the most superficial resemblance to reality.

Audiences want to believe that the world and their lives are something like the artistic version of truth, i.e. a book or movie or play or opera featuring a compelling and compressed narrative. A clear line is by its nature unlike real life, which has no plot and which offers no cathartic tears nor laughter. People prefer the shined-up shit, the perfect take, the tuned vocals, the edited scene, the crafted page and the polished bronze, and in a modern age where something close to perfection is possible, those arts that can best make use of it - the phono-recordings and the talking pictures - have risen in stature, and those arts which do not allow such a glossy overcoating to adhere have found themselves both troubled and troublesome.

John Cage once said: "In the immediate present we don't love; life is too much with us. We lust, wilt, snort, swallow, gobble, hustle, nuzzle, etc. Later, memory flashes images swathed in nostalgia and yearning. We call that Love." This is the heart of the problem. If two people fall in love in front of you, do you feel their love? If someone kills another in front of you, do you feel the anguish? No, it is only in the lie, the untrue version of the experience assembled by me the artist after, the fiction, using all my craft and charm and artifice, that the average audience finds the connection.

When an artist desires to assemble a truly live performance, a performance happening in a real space with real actors in real time, pressuring real sound waves formed in space by real sounding bodies, not unduly amplified, diffusing real light reflecting off real objects in motion, unmediated by projections of prepared imagery, and not allowing for cuts and retakes and careful reconstruction, she finds herself facing a fork in the road.

To the left, she sees fiction and its seductive clarity of narrative, a lie that lies about its connection to reality, but, even though that way lies easy success and an easily beguilement of the audience, she will find herself able to achieve something only less than perfect, an illusion never complete, the spit of the actors brushing past one's cheek and the sound of the ropes changing the backdrops allowing too much real reality to seep in past the barriers erected around her created world. It is an uncomfortable place, a step too close to the truth to be truly believed. She can try, as many do, to build up the barricades, to caulk the seams, to add more lights and brighter costumes, or to fall off the path of true performance completely, to reduce actors and dancers to automatons in a carefully constructed world of computer-controlled photons and phonons.

However, if she follows the less-traveled road, she will find there a bright welcoming light. Here the performance is simply a real experience, performers and audience experiencing a world together as it happens, with some showing off their abilities to sound and move with grace.

When the Empress and I were in Barcelona a number of years back, and we stumbled out of a Greek restaurant after the second complimentary ouzo handed to us by the laughing and singing waiter, and I started drunk-dialing my female friends back in the States to flirt and confess my love, Lynne wandered off to find one more thing to drink, and was waved in by a flamenco bar which was closed but not completely closed, and found herself with an overfull glass, in a circle of men passing the guitar one to another, an example of true performance, no fiction, real and present.

But is such immediacy the only possibility? Can one not use any of one's skills to organize or to compose if one wants to provide a true experience? I think so. Like the Pushkin / Kharms character of UKSUS (as played by Duncan Wold above), I am interested in nonsense. The best parts of UKSUS, like the best parts of A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil, are those moments where the audience is at a loss, understanding nothing, but allowing themselves to be carried along. The skill of the creator comes in seducing the audience into a place where their normal requirements and expectations - spoon-fed a narrative and slathered with the fake truths of art - have been set aside. Some watchers find it easier. Some really don't care at all. My son's friends, who come from the comedy world, had no issue with the never-ending non sequiturs, whereas some who loved my previous works, most noticeably Certitude and Joy, had the most trouble letting go. But maybe I was lacking in my ability to seduce them, assuming that my love of incomprehension is shared by all. Or maybe I should have processed through the air vents a mild psychedelic, to give them the softest shove towards the euphoria I know they craved.

Sunday, March 22, 2015


A few years ago I got it in my head that I wanted to do an opera based on Solaris. I reread the book a few times, a book about the impossibility of connecting with an alien intelligence or, for that matter, even knowing if one is confronting an alien intelligence, as well as the psychic shock of such a confrontation and its attendant uncertainties.

There have been at least three films adapting this book, two better-known versions, one by Andrei Tarkovsky and one by Steven Soderbergh, the latter even more than the former concentrating in its Hollywood way on the romantic relationship between the main character and his deceased wife. Lem himself was skeptical of both these adaptations, writing that "the book was not dedicated to erotic problems of people in outer space." No, the book is about the Solarian ocean, its incomprehensibility and its reaction, possibly intelligent or possibly automatic, like one's skin pushing out a splinter, to the human ants crawling in space above it. As my lovely wife the Empress Rutter has pointed out, films which adapt a book make choices out of the necessity of time, somewhat like operas that adapt a book, but the power of films lies in their reach to the masses, and a film's point of view often becomes the book's point of view, even if the film's point of view has little to do with what the book is about.

I agree with the book - the book unsullied by the movie biz - and its contrarian attitude as to aliens, that they aren't attractive human-like creatures more-or-less like people around us now but wearing less clothing, nor monsters which do not yield to reason nor emotional appeal, but just love to cut through us like knives cutting through cubes of warmed butter ready to be spread on cinnamon toast. I have always been amazed at the naïveté of Voyager's Golden Record, of the SETI project and the Drake equation, of the notion that humans are the pinnacles of evolution, and that supposed scientists fall for this kind of religous thinking, wanting to believe that we are special, that we still are at the center of some aspect of our little universe, that other beings are even beings, that we will all get together on a Sunday afternoon and, after we deal with a few small impediments about their different language, which will be more-or-less like ours but have different words for iPhone and cupcake, they will want to chat with us about mathematics and physics and home economics. In the common scientific world, the Copernican revolution upended only the weakest notion of the religion that came before, the foolishness that we are sitting still while the suns and planets whiz about us, but retaining the foolishness that our particular whims and fancies are at the center of it all anyway.

It's difficult enough to understand the person who sleeps in the same bed with you, or who lives next door, or people that live in another country, those who line up and shoot others who minutely differ from them theologically, and almost impossible to understand people who lived at a different time. All of these people are really quite different from you and me, and you are quite different from me. We try to explain ourselves across this gap, even here in this essay, but the lack of understanding is unbreachable, its nature unknowable. In Certitude and Joy, the chasm between the protagonists, living in the same time and place, is wide, even though one desperately wants the worldview held by the other.

But, like most project ideas, it will probably never happen, and this may be made even more so by my recent discovery that one of my composer friends is also toying with an adaptation of the book, someone who once before informed me that another of my vague projects was being done by someone else, in that case Steven Mackey's Ravenshead, which adapted the Donald Crowhurst story. I suppose I could just do it anyway, and maybe that would be an asshole move, or maybe we could have a mini-festival of Solaris operas, followed by a dance where, late into the drunken and darkened night, we would find ourselves trying to reach that ultimate connection, that miniature death where ego disappears and two or three or more are one.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

UKSUS: a major contemporary writer, neighing

The English language score of UKSUS (by way of the Russian УКСУС) is done and we are now skipping to production at Dance Mission 6-8 March, the first weekend of March that is, and only one weekend of March 2015 AD.  Tickets, which you must purchase, are available at

The music has been expanded since Austria, and more narration added in that gasbag Erling Phd style, taking the hand of, and leading, the audience through the maze of Kharms and the OBERIU, their rise and fall, laughter and death.

Once again I get to work with the incomparable Jim Cave as the director, a thought that even now chills me - Oh I shiver and cry. My wife, the most talented and beautiful Lynne Rutter, is putting together the scenic elements and telling me now what colors I may next paint my nails (black, white, red, with some blue and yellow, primary colors, bright, with occasional occurrence of acid green or bright orange in small amounts acceptable), and Laura Hazlett is costuming us all once again - squee. And I can't forget that Bryan Nies, the glue that held together the revival of Queer and assembled Certitude and Joy, is conducting.

The cast includes my number one son Duncan Wold (thanks to Mission Control); my long-time partner in music and surrogate daughter Laura Bohn; the talented Nikola Printz, who I just saw in Rossini's Italian Girl of Algiers at San Jose, an opera that is bizarre and incomprehensible to someone like me for whom old-fashioned opera is Lulu, Einstein on the Beach and Private Parts; Bob Ernst, who goes way back with Jim and me, having choreographed the knife fight in the original A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil; where you would also have seen Mary Forcade, again here; and Roham Sheikhani, the mute presence in Dieci Giorni.

Now the band, the band, the all-star band. This is maybe where my heart truly lies, most fervently and even with some palpitations, as I wonder, am I really good enough for them? Beth Custer clarinet, Chris Grady trumpet, Joel Davel percussion (drums even), Diana Strong accordion, John Schott guitar, Ela Polak violin, and Lisa Mezzacappa contrabass.

Now, let's hear a story, that of Aleksey Tolstoy:
Olga Forsh went up to Aleksey Tolstoy and did something. Aleksey Tolstoy also did something. At this point Konstantin Fedin and Valentin Stenich leapt outside and got down to looking for a suitable stone. They didn't find a stone but they found a spade. Konstantin Fedin cracked Ol'ga Forsh one across the chops with this spade. Then Aleksey Tolstoy stripped naked and, going out on to the Fontanka, began to neigh like a horse. Everyone said: There goes a major contemporary writer, neighing.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Blake Eckard, Coyotes Kill for Fun

Writing a film soundtrack is difficult for me. It's hard to get into someone else's world so intensely, and we know that music is in fact intense in film. The well-known exercise of repeatedly playing the same silent footage against wildly different musical selections demonstrating the point most clearly, viz., that sound enters at a lower layer in the human software than the visuals, arguing or supporting or twisting or even simply stating clearly here, this is what they are, take them. With such great power comes great anxiety over its misuse, and this anxiety for me has never been pleasant.

However, I have written some of my favorite music when asked to write for film. The Bed You Sleep In is still one of my best-self-loved works after all these years, in large part because I wanted to give Jon what he wanted, and in doing so an aspect of myself was revealed to me. But I still remember the chastening experience when the producer, Henry Rosenthal, shrugged his shoulders upon hearing the soundtrack and said "Well, Jon does like when the music doesn't really relate to the film." You know, while I was writing it I sure thought it did, and after he said it I realized he was right, but after now these many years, he is simply wrong, since the music and the film are just an old married couple, always seen together at their table at the diner on the corner, not necessarily talking, but still there day after day.

I've thought that, given the importance of choosing the right partners in sound and vision, what makes more sense, and what is way better for my apoplexic health, is when the filmmaker either (1) writes the music themselves, or (2) simply takes some music that has already flowed into the channels of their psyche and uses it. Like paper-clips, one might think there is enough shit-tons out there already that you don't need to make any more, but I suppose there's always one more bit of divine harmony left to be mined from the heavenly vein of sound as yet unheard.

And so, I just finished writing some music for another of Blake Eckard's movies, the first being the grim Bubba Moon Face and the current one, his newest even grimmer and more frightening Coyotes Kill for Fun. The fright in this movie is the fear we have when we face a world that doesn't care about us at all, that tells us whether we live nor die is no matter. The sociopathic lead blows through the action leaving many dead, and maybe it is just for fun, or maybe it's just because of nothing at all. And, best for me is that I had to only fill in a few parts, as Blake used mostly existing music of mine, in particular the Second Mordake Suite and In the Stomachs of Fleas (with Pete von Petrin), which both find their way to being a little scarier.
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