Saturday, July 30, 2016


I love love lists: the authors who have written about whales in Moby Dick's Cetology chapter, the f*cked-up misogynist's library in Darconville's Cat. Joyce is chock full of them, and there is Joan Didion's packing list from the White Album. But for absolute richness of tongue-loving collisional beauty, it's hard to beat those in Kharms. I loved setting them, I love hearing them song or recited, and the phrases connect to so much of my life: the Song of the Sirens, small smooth-haired canines, artworks without theoretical foundations, the lack of persuasiveness of mathematical proofs, a perfect sound.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

UKSUS as it was

Below: David Papas's behind-the-scenes look at last year's production of UKSUS.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

UKSUS 2016 announced!


Aug 30
Tue 8pm
   Aug 31
Wed 8pm
Sep 3
 Sat 8pm
Sep 4
 Sun 2pm
Oakland Metro Operahouse, 522 2nd Street, Oakland CA

Directed by Jim Cave • Conductor Bryan Nies
Design Lynne Rutter

Timur Bekbosunov • Laura Bohn • Nikola Printz
Bob Ernst • Roham Sheikhani

accompanied by the orchestra
Beth Custer • Rob Wilkins • Joel Davel • Diana Strong
John Schott • Ela Polak • Lisa Mezzacappa

A phantasmagoria of delights, the music jazzy, racous, but bitterly sweet,UKSUS is the latest by Erling Wold, composer of Certitude and Joy, A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the VeilQueer, and Mordake. 

UKSUS is an autobiography of Daniil Kharms and the OBERIU in the Soviet Union of the 1930s, a narrative told through their stories and brief lives, as the OBERIU - The Association for Real Art - maintained their love of words and nonsensical art to their deaths in Stalin’s Great Purge, Kharms starving to death in a psychiatric hospital in 1942 after his arrest at the hands of the NKVD.

Kharms was known for decades in Russia as a writer of books for children, even though he hated children and imagined their painful deaths, until his adult works, secreted away by a friend, were rediscovered and reclaimed by a new generation of troublemaker artists who have run afoul of the authorities. Pussy Riot claimed the OBERIU poets, saying they "remained artists until the end, inexplicable and incomprehensible, and the librettists, artistic descendents of the group, met working in the Moscow theater of Kirill Ganin, who himself was arrested for artistic hooliganism.

Oakland Metro Operahouse is about a 20 minute walk from the 12th Street BART station, and there's a lovely parking garage just across the street.

Other questions: 


Friday, March 25, 2016

How does one own the things one discovers

One of my pet annoyances is announcements by friends of things just found, which they hope to be first to show you: posts of clickbait articles and RIPs to just-dead celebrities being two of the most grating.

But I am here to confess I am the worst offender. And my likes and dislikes aren't simply joined to the ephemera ebbing and detriting on the waves of the social networks, easily posted and as easily ignored. No, mine are crafted into Great Works of Art - Operas for God's sake - that take years of toil and untold piles of euros and dollars and scribbling, writing and rewriting and marketing and pushing and asking for money and then berating singers for not getting it right and reducing them to tears, and after that the premiere and the lights and the hushed silence of those who have paid for the experience to listen to What I Have to Say about this Thing I Found.

So, at the beginning of last year, after the English language production of UKSUS, I decided I just wasn't going to do it anymore. The silliness of it all became frighteningly apparent, as when the clouds open and the rays of the sun come a'shining through. Stop showing off, I said to myself, stop seducing people, stop ruining other people's perfectly good novels and stories with your tepid attempt to adapt the unadaptable. Does one really need approbation its associated sycophants? Isn't it enough, I asked myself, to simply read a book one loves and to bathe in its language, and maybe to put it on a special golden shelf with a bit of glitter, and to dust it carefully from time to time?

And so this I did, for many months. And I became everything I had never been before: a layabout and a slugabed, one who spends her days watching videos on p-adic numbers, who whiles away the night on the meaningless drivels of the day job, and in between the jack off and then the jack off again. And in between I would read and read about Donald Trump and any else I could find that would deepen my depression, and it was during one of those wallowings that I came across this interview with Mark Leyner, whose books are in fact on that special golden shelf. He interviews like he writes, which is to say brilliantly. My favorite quote:
Now I feel like a completely alienated and marginalized person who traffics in some form of discredited esoterica.
Yes, this is me as well, although Leyner's esoterica is much in the pop world, whereas mine is modern opera and a never-ending fascination with the intricacies of the Christian Religion, cf. Synodus Horrenda.

But now a year has gone by and I've forgotten almost all the resolutions I made.  Except for the seducing part. And I'm doing another production of UKSUS in August at the Oakland Metro Opera House, and I seem to be starting another project as well, an Umbrellas of Cherbourg for the modern fascist age.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Because a knock on the head gets them thinking

photo by the glorious empress herself
Dear Reader,

The years have taken their toll and it is with great sadness that I announce my impending death. In dying, I will release myself from all connection to the Earth and its peoples and problems, and take the long Sleepe / during the one Everlasting Night  / after our Short Light / contrariwise / to the Sunne / who may set and rise†. I guarantee that this will be a most Theatrical Death, the favorite action of actors, full of gravitas and chest pounding and tearing of the hair, sure to inspire pathos in even the most jaded viewer.

But, before this long-awaited decease, I wanted to get my affairs in order and cross a few things off the Todo list, and the first is to write of the glorious performance of UKSUS seen here above and below.  First, I simply loved it. Fuck, just look at the photo above. What a delight! My son and great wit Duncan to the left, next my nemesis and alter ego Bob Ernst, and Roham Sheikhani, and my ofttimes partner-in-art Laura Bohn, and then Nikola Printz, an old woman so against type, all dancing among The Empress's magnificent constructivist scenics.

Now, if you put your ear just to the left of the photo and listen very closely, you can hear our leader and narrator Jim Cave. And that loud and somewhat jazzy music played so ferociously? That's the band, and the whole mess led by Bryan Nies, and me and my lovely wife dancing to it all night by night.

So - many favorite bits, in no particular order: the dialog between a corseted Stalin and Pushkin/Kharms, the bed scene between Kharms and Marina, the so pretty Requiem Mass for Michelangelo, Beth Custer's Divan Song, the slapstick beating, when Nikola sings that really pretty part, the Pussy Riot moment...

I have been worried about that Pussy Riot moment. I mean, who is really going to know, but I am supposed to attend Lynne to Saint Petersburg aka Leningrad next year and things are a little funny over there. Putin has said "Whoever does not miss the Soviet Union has no heart. Whoever wants it back has no brain." - but it's pretty clear that he does want some version of it back. Not the old Atheistic Communist Stalinist version but rather the Russian Orthodox Theocratic version, both of which do the topsy-turvy dance of Lysenko-ist reality warping, both of which hold one by the throat where, if one doesn't simply croak, one can find oneself in a Very Bad Place indeed. Kharms and his friends found themselves there, Pussy Riot found themselves there. So many ways to transgress. It's wonderfully telling how the official communist newspaper was titled Pravda, and like all good autocrats they still have their truth which is the truth. There is no other truth.

I have my own truth by the way. Some of it I try to tell through my works - partly hidden truths that tell lies that tell the truth - but some I state here baldly and with simple words.

As a composer, I must become inured to criticism, but it's not always easy, and I must remember that those who criticize know so little of the work, having spent so little time immersed in it, and maybe not wanting to put the effort into understanding, and coming to it sometimes from a different world where the assumptions about what is good and what is bad are so different than mine. And maybe it's a bit whingy to focus on a few bad reviews but, seriously, how can those who loved Certitude and Joy or - especially - the surrealistic delights of A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil, not be able to let themselves experience the unbridled joyous flow of brilliance of the performers channeling the fantastic texts of the OBERIU and Kharms, masterfully knitted by Yulia and Felix into a subtly-threaded Wunderwerk?  Each time I saw the piece, first in the original German-language production, and then again in my native tongue, I was taken by how well it worked together. I've written the big monstrosities of operas, sprawling and unwieldy, but this one was a tight and lovely piece, flowing from one moment to the next, filled with tears and surprises and joy.

Safe travels,



† Catullus 5, duh

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Schlacht - Das Maß

During one of our many wars post Vietnam, my first wife Lynn Murdock said that when she was young, she thought that people were really beginning to understand that war was actually a bad thing, but she had come to realize since that, no, the antiwar movement of the 60s was just a fad, like hairdos and hemlines. She was prescient, and now that simple and obvious sentiment - that war is brutality beyond imagination, that it destroys lives and culture, that it does not solve problems but only creates new ones, that it is avoidable and should therefore be avoided - seems naïve and sentimental. After the clamor for war begins, it simply becomes louder and louder, and those who speak against it are silenced, even when those wars are pointless, and when the objections raised are proven true. Bertrand Russell was famously imprisoned for saying that Germans were members of mankind, a humanization which could not be tolerated at the time.

We are now in the middle of the 100th anniversary of one of the most pointless of the modern wars - the First World War, the Great War - whose social and political seeds grew into the Second, which begat the Cold War and its proxies, and on and on. Although these wars have each in their turn taken the scientific mechanization of slaughter to new levels, the Great War seems the bleakest, a line of trenches drawn through the bucolic northern European countryside as a machine through which many millions of young men were made into meat, a process taking on average six weeks from the time they arrived. Let us stop and imagine the horror experienced by a schoolboy of 14 or 15, encouraged by his family and his teachers and betters to take up the call, to leave his home and enter a Hell of death, corpses packed into lintels and thresholds, screaming death brought by machine gun fire across a lifeless desert of mud, constant shelling, no sleep, and terrifying slaughter blowing in on the wind, melting your lungs, blistering your face, blinding your eyes. 

We are faced with a simple and clear and banal truth. War is hell, we've heard it before. And, as is it so obvious, we are forced to wonder - why does it happen? Why does it appeal so? Why do the soldiers, for the rest of their lives, speak of those horrors as the greatest moments of their lives? And why do we hold ideals of honor and duty to country and service? Is it merely a scam by war profiteers and those who seek power and riches and care little for the deaths of others? Yes. But maybe it's also because we love it so very much, we cannot wait to mix it up, to witness the slaughter, to fight and die and kill and maim. Truffaut is often credited with saying there's no such thing as an anti-war film, meaning that war movies raise our pulse, entertain us with pyrotechnic explosions and the splatter of blood and brains, ply us with the excitement and the camaraderie of war and, as such, serve as recruitment vehicles for the armed forces, no matter what horrors they include.† This is something we must understand. 

Next month, Heidi Moss is singing the song I wrote for her, a setting of Rudolf Binding's Schlacht - das Maß.  The poem was written in 1918, the same year post-WWI when Eugene V. Debs was arrested for claiming that peace was good, and the aforementioned Russell was serving the prison sentence for his crime. After our recent first rehearsal, in which I realized that she is singing it beautifully - to be expected as she has a drippingly beautiful voice - she wrote a blog entry about the song and about the way the poem explicates the savagery and also the appeal of war.  It is a strange work, and the first time I read it I thought oh it's just another of the endless stream of war poems, maybe a little more purple than most, I mean, the burning crucified corpses drifting to heaven and all, but then I saw it was much stranger, a glorification of masochism so much more than anything presented by the tour guide at, even when she locked you in that little cage in the floor said you are a fucking little bitch right there in front of everyone.

Binding studied law and medicine, but in his forties, after the outbreak of the Great War, became a cavalry commander fighting on the Western Front, and his experiences there found expression in much of his later writings. However, like so many artists of his time, his legacy was tainted by his association with the exceeding horrors of the Nazis. As one of the 88 signers of the Gelöbnis treuester Gefolgschaft - the "vow of the faithful followers," published on the 26th of October 1933, he sinned a sin that brooks no absolution. Dates are important in assigning blame, and yes, even though 1933 was early, and the war and Kristallnacht and much worse were in the future, the thuggery had begun, the Reichstag fire had been set, the legislature dissolved, non-Aryan removed from positions of power, and, anyway, Hitler had made his plans clear enough in Mein Kampf in the 20s. We can understand Binding, of course, and I am quick to say I too am a scared little boy. If The President or one of his three-letter agencies said sign this thing or we'll shoot you dead I'd say yessiree here we go and I'd maybe even whisper something about whether my friends and lovers who didn't sign were, well, a little bit suspicious. Richard Strauss, who we think of as one who worked to protect his Jewish family members and in his own small way pursue peace, and who is also represented in this concert, himself signed the Aufruf der Kulturschaffenden - the "call to the culture-workers" - expressing his loyalty to Hitler just a few months after Binding's vow.

The way things turned out, Binding's poem's idea that war, however awful, is the measure of a man was used as a recruiting tool for the Nazis, and Binding's ambiguous feelings towards the Nazis - he was engaged to marry a Jewish woman - was not enough to save him from the guilt of that association. But the poem must be read and remembered as part of this important work we must do in our understanding war and the love we have for it.

Battle - our measure

The trembling earth presses close up against us.
The field rises like men from camp.
Crops of soldiers sprout
from invisible seeds
in the trenches.                                
Green-black cauldrons bloom
smoke and poison gases
up into the air everywhere.
Angrily startled
fountains spring from the scorched earth.
Burning and crucified,
bodies go to heaven, 
their faces frozen in a grimace,
a black charred star:
dust and bones.

Waves of smoke roll over us.
A storm of iron rains down.
Lightning slithers towards us.
Thunder strangles us.
A howling abyss rears up
everywhere, and the sun draws
dark manes of our exhaled breath. 

Heaven holds us inescapably
spellbound under its gaze:
Like the evil eye of the basilisk
turning small animals into stone.

We lay desolate in the hell of battle; 
we knew that everyone was utterly alone.
But we also knew this:
Once you stand before the remorseless enemy,
where prayers go unanswered, where pleading to God 
is ridiculous,
where no mother watches over us,
no woman crosses our path, 
where everything is without love,
where only reality rules,
with cruelty and grandeur,
such an experience makes us hardened and proud.
it touches the hearts of men
more deeply than all the love in the world.

And we felt: this was our measure.

† One possible exception: the amazing Come and See.  

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Erdös Number of 4

For many years, I was happy enough that I had an Erdős number of 5. It seemed appropriate given my tangential connection to mathematics, using and sometimes developing, around the edges anyway, but not working on any deep mathematical truths, like how to cut a birthday cake in an ultra-fair way given that your friends are remarkably suspicious and back-biting. But recently, as I’ve gone back to doing a little more math in my day-to-day life, I found myself clicking about in the Erdős graph and, oh joy of joys, discovered a new lower bound, a fellow integer with the previous on that smallest integral right triangle. 

Now, some of my friends might say, Erling, if 5 was good enough, if you were happy in that life, why search for more? Why risk the coconuts that might fall from the shaken tree? Ah, I would say, there is nothing to fear, as when one searches for a shorter path, that search is defined by the shortest path found so far, and a bound that has been discovered can be made better but never worse. 3 and even 2 are now possible, if unlikely, but 5 will never be again. 

As it happens, this new shorter path wends through the same author and colleague as the last, the late Oscar Rothaus, mostly of Cornell University, best known for work on the very useful Hidden Markov Models - you know, that every speech recognition system uses. The paper was Fast Fourier transform processors using Gaussian residue arithmetic by Alvin M. Despain, Allen M. Peterson, Oscar S. Rothaus, and Erling H. Wold [Ed: note the order of names was suggested by Al, one might think in a spirit of bonhomie and all-for-one, but an order most often suggested by those who spend their life in the glow of the beginning of the alphabet, knee to knee with the camp counselor and first across the street holding the teacher’s hand]. Although it was already well known that some computational problems would lend themselves to attack using a residue number system, our technique was a clever combination of Al’s beloved CORDIC rotations along with residue arithmetic using not the regular old primes, but some small complex - aka Gaussian - primes, breaking the problem into very small pieces that could then be computed with tables. 

The paper was supported, like so much work on computation then and now, by the Department of Defense. Oscar and Allen and Al were all up in it, all part of the JASON Defense Advisory Group, a group of people who were tasked with searching through every bit of technology and science to see if there was something in it that speed up the process of killing or of being killed, and who have been favorites of the conspiracy theorists, controlling the weather and magnetizing the children. At the time, the reason that was given for faster and faster transforms was that, in a dogfight, one needs to decode and block the other fellow’s frequency-hopping radar while at the same time hopping your own and detecting the other fellow's attempts to block you and hopefully blowing him out of the sky during that moment of arbitrage when you’ve hopped and he yet hasn’t.  But, unlike the other paper I wrote with Al, Pipeline and Parallel-Pipeline FFT Processors for VLSI Implementations, I don’t believe our clever Gaussian residue approach was ever used in an instrument of death. I don’t know for sure, as I didn’t have the clearances to know, but it never came up again, while I was questioned in some detail about the parallel-pipeline stuff by engineers from Westinghouse, that same Westinghouse who built the radar that detected the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but which wasn’t believed by anyone, a seemingly unbelievable suggestion on a beautifully crisp Hawaiian winter day. 

But, getting back to my happier graph traversal, from there, the next node on the new path is to Further results on p-automorphic p-groups by James R. Boen, Oscar S. Rothaus and John G. Thompson, a paper which tightened some constraints on counterexamples to a conjecture by Boen as to whether certain p-automorphic p-groups are Abelian. Boen, whose conjecture was later proved by Shult, is interesting in a number of ways: very active in mathematics and science, but also an activist quadriplegic for the last fifty or so years of his life. But even more interesting to us here is that, in 2012, Hugh L. Montgomery and the same John G. Thompson above published an article in Acta Arithmetica on Geometric properties of the zeta function. In it, they summarize the state of topographical knowledge of Herr Riemann's delight, and by so doing, laid the extra edge that allowed my number to drop, as Hugh Montgomery had, many years before, published Sums of Numbers with Many Divisors, which looks at representing large integers as sum of highly divisible … oh let’s just quote their abstract in all its poetry: 

Let k be a fixed integer, k2, and suppose that ε>0. We show that every sufficiently large integer n can be expressed in the form n=m1+m2+…+mk where d(mi)>n(log 2−ε)(1−1/k)/log log n for all i. This is best possible, since there are infinitely many exceptional n if the factor log 2−ε is replaced by log 2+ε.

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