Sunday, October 16, 2022

My little epic film

 She Who Is Alive is in production!  Laura Bohn jetted in from Amsterdam last month to shoot two of her scenes, one alone with Beethoven and one with the inimitable Bradley Kynard.  There's a teaser which, as teaser's do, teases what is to come: 

Three Romances with Nikola Printz


The film that Nika and I fabricated during the pandemic was accepted into Opera Philadelphia's Festival O22, a select few from 600 or so submissions, and we were tickled by that.  The venue - The Philadelphia Film Society - is a big old beautiful theater, and Nikola's profile against the moonlight SF Skyline was ever-present.  Our film was placed along with Alexa Deja's gorgeous Be A Doll and some other crazy and lovely pieces in the weirdo section of shorts aka Opera Boldy Goes. I believe our entry might have been the lowest budget and smallest crew of all. I remember when someone at Sundance asked Henry Rosenthal what the budget was for Sure Fire and his response was "including the trip here?" 

Philadelphia is a very intriguing city, a mix of old and new, where classes and races mix much more than in wanna-be-progressive but highly segregated San Francisco.  And people dressed for the opera, so nice to see, no comparison between the the decked-out crowd at Rossini's Otello at the festival and the dressed-down audience at the SF Opera's recent Tony & Cleo.  

Monday, January 10, 2022

Those X-lets

Anyone who has played one of my little insouciances has experienced my fetishistic fascination with triplets and quintuplets and, to a smaller extent, septuplets and 21-lets and all the other n-lets. Although the notations are the same no matter what the underlying intent, my enchantment with them comes from a variety of sources. The first is just the usual old-modernist fascination with the joys of complication, combined with the constructed textural landscapes of the Impressionists, then to the Ligetis as well as the totalist post-modernists, who all love to break up rhythmic lockstep by floating the notes by each other on parallel tracks, waving at each other through the windows as they pass. And there is the simple mathematical interest, where many composers have thought that maybe bigger integer ratios ratios in rhythms lend a spiciness like those same ratios in pitches. 

The second is the way I was taught to set text, which has stuck with me, probably more literally than intended, calculated to capture something of natural speech rhythms, as no one speaks in quarters and eighths when not rapping.  It's still a musical approximation, allowing the vocal line to connect with the rhythm while still flowing a bit, and also notating something beyond just notation, something like performance, e.g. the way a crooner delays the entrance of every new phrase. 

But finally, and maybe this is the most important, it is that I grew up with those rhythms. When I was studying tabla, I would while away the time on walks to and from campus tapping out polyrhythms over and over, 3 against 4, 4 against 3, 5 against 3, 4 against 5, etc.  I was pretty facile up through the 9s, and proud of myself, but shamed when my teacher could so easily play 11s over 7s and beyond, and not just straight rhythms, but tabla patterns with all the details included. 

This is all to lead up to my curious experiences when other musicians confront my scored demands. One, I've had singers exclaim WTF is it with all those triplets, not to mention the 9:8s, where I simply shrug my shoulders, meaning well, that's what's there and that's what it is. 

But even more exciting is how these little landmines are interpreted by instrumentalists. Some cause immediate freakout, especially if across the bar lines or shifted by a little something, which is understandable - they freak me out as well - although nothing gives me greater pleasure listening nor playing than a beautifully performed series of triplet or dotted quarters running over a set of every-changing 5/4s, 7/8s, 4/4s - what delight!  However, problems arise even when an X-let stretches simply over a prevailing metric unit. Consistently the beginnings are stretched and the endings compressed. Triplet halves move toward two dotted quarters followed by a regular quarter, quintuplet eights are almost a triplet followed by a duplet.  I have decided that, if I ever start a music conservatory, I will walk with the students to and from school and do what I did, with the additions of skips and hops, all in three-quarter time.   

Cold early morning here in San Francisco while over the link to the orchestra, it is late in Skopje, snowing. 

Friday, December 24, 2021

The Globalization of She Who Is Alive

fames orchestra
I've been recording the orchestral parts to She Who Is Alive with the North Macedonian fames orchestra the last few months.  Many covid delays but so delightful to hear the music come to life. 

They are fabulous and fearless musicians, although not without complaints about the unending velocity of some of the parts or the Zeitmaße-like length of some of the held notes in the wind. And it seems that every time a 7/8 measure appears in the score, at least one member of the orchestra is unable to restrain themselves from playing Blue Rondo A La Turk during a pause. For me, it is unbridled joy, and getting up at three in the morning to meet with them on the other side of the world is part of the excitement, like waking up to catch a plane or head off on a fishing trip with dad.  Which I believe I did once. 

I'm still polishing here and there, but the writing is done, and the conductor's score clocks in at 814 A3 pages, about 3 1/2 hours of music, and 1737 pages of A4 parts.  I think I will add some electronic bits, as well as processing and editing and melodic fiddling but this is the bulk of it.  I've only just begun to think about casting, and whether the voices on Pro Tools will be those of the actors on screen, or if I should split them like Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Not that one has to be consistent. Filming it all seems daunting now, but somehow each piece will fall into place as it always does, and a castle on an icy lake will appear, as will the planes and tropical islands and the chorus of Young Virgins dressed alike in mustard-colored blouses. 

Thursday, December 23, 2021

The Endless Études

To the left is the Pulcinella notebook. Note the rapidity of the creation: dear Monsieur Stravinsky writing in ink, although later some revisions in red ink and blue crayon. Given my fetishistic attraction to such objects, I think how sad it will be for my biographers that I have left so few scribblings behind. 

Before I was old enough to buy cigarettes at the 7-Eleven, I worked in pencil, sometimes on small sheets (9x12), often on much larger. Those large sheets of unusually-sized paper, spread over the piano and the floor nearby, always made me feel I was creating something special, a large canvas on which I could spill my soul. Those still remain, tucked inside a filing cabinet in our storage unit along with the other detritus of a life well-lived: corsets, costumes, flyers, religious paraphernalia, conspiracy theories. But in the last decades, working primarily on the computer, there is no history.  It is gone, bits erased and then erased again.

However, there are a few threads that these aforementioned biographers can follow, as my large works steal from my small. In fallow times, when I am not obsessed with the latest objects of textual affection, I will write my ideas in small piano works, études for the composer rather than the performer. And, when I do write the next opera, I liberally mine those little pieces for material. You know it's been proven again and again that all music fits with all dance or all film or all text, but the resultant effect is of course very different depending on the particular combination. 

Now that I say what I said, I realize that they often are études for the performer as well, and usually too difficult for me to play except in approximation. For example, the set I wrote in Florence in 2019 is scattered through She Who Is Alive, but in January at the Center for New Music, I am playing them, in approximation.  

Friday, March 26, 2021

A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil, on its 25th anniversary


I had planned quite the coming out party last year: a new performance of A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil for its 25th anniversary, a second production of Certitude and Joy in New York City, and another of which I wasn't quite sure, but boringly now the long SARS-CoV-2 winter descended. However, even in a cold dark winter, there are days when the sun appears and the snow glistens with a crystalline light. This is one of those days.

Clicking the image above will take you to the bandcamp page for a brand new release of A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil, featuring Laura Bohn and Nikola Printz as the little girl Marceline-Marie (whose double first name ...) Rotimi Agbabiaka as the narrator, and Bradley Kynard as the R.F., the Celestial Bridegroom, et al.  We worked and recorded remotely, from here to Amsterdam, and through the marvels of this internet age, transported all the recordings to Jay Cloidt's capable hands†, who has sculpted them into the wonder which is now placed before you.  My favorite bit, of which I at first was skeptical, is his beautiful manipulation of the first sleep, although maybe you will find more to your liking the second ("Among the highlights are a gorgeous woodwind nocturne as Spontanette settles back into sleep" said Joshua Kosman), or the more frenetic glories of the Hair or the Academy of Science. Something for everyone. 

†Jay has mixed everything of mine since the Mass, Laura I've known since she herself was almost a little girl, and Nikola has been appearing recently on this blog in several guises. 

Friday, March 12, 2021

The Voyeur's Gratitude

I bought a long lens for my camera which the Empress refers to as "my penis", placing it in the category of muscle cars, assault weapons and other fashions in which we men in later life make up for a lost youth.  But it is a beautiful thing, and it allows me to dwell on the hummingbirds and wild parrots above our garden, and sometimes the moons of Jupiter in near conjunction.  But objects and people naturally far away suddenly brought near through the use of carefully shaped glass bring a sudden shiver, a frisson of voyeuristic fear. I tried to calm myself by searching for antidotes to my affliction, but instead came across the poems of Jeffrey Bean, including the one here now presented for your interest and anger and possible titillation.  
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