Sunday, December 28, 2008

whitebread stomach division

A point of historical interest, from a freelance correspondent:

Walcheren Island in the Netherlands: the Romans called it Vallacra, and there was a temple to Nehalennia there, but towards the end of WW2 it was the scene of the Battle of Walcheren Island. Where, what? I must admit: I am a fan of WW2, battles or otherwise, but, you know, I’d never heard of this battle before. Perhaps it’s because the Canucks were to blame or thank for it ...

Battle of Walcheren Island

The savage fight for Walcheren Island, key to Antwerp, had an almost comic ending when fussy little Lieut. General Wilhelm Daser, commander of the Wehrmacht’s 70th (White Bread) Division, suddenly made up his mind to surrender.

Some 250 British and Canadian troops, ready to drop from battle exhaustion, stumbled into 15th-Century Middelburg to find that Daser had paraded all his available troops—more than 2,500 of them —into the square and ordered them to squat down for the night. Then individualist Daser wrapped himself in a yellow patchwork quilt, retired to his bedroom with quantities of aspirin and Veuve Clicquot champagne, refused to go through with the formal details of surrender before dawn (link).

These quotidian images are disturbing, n’est pas?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

die nazisau

Another missive from a foreign correspondent:

The Mel Brooks video of the previous post reminded me of another contemporary take on the musicality of Adolf, this time hunkering down in his bunker. Walter Moers, a German author, created this great take on the absurdity of Hitler in today’s world.

2B ∨ ¬2B

One of my foreign correspondents sent me the following, and so I quote:

Has it really been a quarter of a century since Mel Brooks re-made Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be Or Not To Be? Here’s a little hip-hop number of the same title with Mel Brooks qua Josef Tura qua Adolf H.

Friday, December 26, 2008


I had intended to discuss the new Tom Cruise epic in terms of its pro-Prussian nationalist blinders and its rather ridiculous implication that Claus von Stauffenberg was some kind of hero to the world for merely coming to the conclusion that, after six years of doing his darnedest for his beloved leader and his beloved leader's inestimable awfulness, that maybe the way things were going wasn't the best for the future of his beloved Deutschland and maybe he and some of his cronies better off the guy in charge before he did any more damage. Not to the world, mind you, but to Germany and especially to its officer corps. But Roger Friedman has already done it for me, better than I could have, in a beautifully lilting and scathing review, from which I quote a choice passage:

... in “Valkyrie” Singer opens the door to a dangerous new thought: that the Holocaust and all the other atrocities could be of secondary important to the cause of German patriotism. Not once in “Valkyrie” do any of there “heroes” mention what’s happening around them, that any of them is appalled by or against what they know is happening or has happened: Hitler has systemically killed millions in the most barbaric ways possible to imagine.

It’s kind of galling to allow now, in 2008, that von Stauffenberg et al were either totally unaware of this, or that they felt their mission superceded it. In “Valkyrie,” at the expense of making a joke, they are almost like Franz Liebkin, author of Mel Brooks’s fictitious “Springtime for Hitler.” His famous line in “The Producers” is: “War? What war? We vas in the back. We didn’t see a thing!”

A good list of Hitler assassination attempts is here, some by people less reprobate. Many involved in the German resistance were less bloody-handed than von Stauffenberg: for example the leader of the anti-anti-Semitic Confessing Church in Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, hanged with piano wire during the post-Valkyrie purges, and the Weisse Rose, all beheaded by the Gestapo in '43.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Nazi exploitation films such as Ilse, She Wolf of the SS fueled my youthful groping endeavors, and similar imagery has tentacles throughout American culture, including the "Men's Adventure" pulp fiction post WWII, but the weirdest and most Freudian-ly complex conjunction is the immense popularity of the Stalag among Israelis of the second generation post Holocaust, a "peculiar Hebrew concoction of Nazism, sex and violence," no doubt bred in large part by the Israeli culture's repression of the horrors of recent past. In these books, the protagonists are typically Allied soldiers who act out a series of power exchange exercises with jackbooted female SS-Helferin, ending in a rape-snuff orgy where evil gets its due.

In reality, of course, female guards and the few women that formally made it into the SS did not wear leather Nazi-chic fetish uniforms and those that were most sadistic, such as the notorious Dorothea Binz, later hanged by the British, were of the typical 'banality of evil' type, enjoying the corruption of power over life and death that affected so many ordinary German maids and ticket-takers and accountants, and existing in a netherworld of horror and brutality and filth, hardly the supervillians of such masturbation fodder. But such tidy sexualization of horror is common, clearly the most common progenitor of the grindhouse genre. The best-selling Hebrew novella House of Dolls, linked by some to the rise of the Stalags, which purports to tell the true story of Jewish women forced into prostitution in the camps is marketed as an exposé, but veers dangerously close to pornography in its explicitness. And, maybe even more dangerous is that fact that such ill-supported notions, carried forward into other cultural objects including the Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Rampling vehicle The Night Porter, tend to blame the survivor of the horrors, villifying them for their toady collaboration with evil.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Feliz Nazi Blog

My literate writing time recently has been spent primarily on the blog I started with my sometimes librettist and always friend Jim Bisso, the explanation for which is somewhat difficult but is revealed by the gestalt of the postings en masse. UPDATE: this blog is no more, but its core has been folded into the E.W. blog hierarchy.

But I'm now in the process of composing a new waltz for Lynne, a companion piece as it were to the old one, both of which will be presented by the orchestra in the most waning day of February. My visit to New York has imbued me with a deep piety for all things artistic and renewed appreciation for hard driving ambition and a work ethic that allows not for fiddle-faddle.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


I met Jesus tonight at a Party.  He offered me a vegan sweet as the body of Christ.  I told him that I had written much music to his glory. He laid his hand on my head and blessed me.


Erling (explaining things to Bruce): I'm not actually pro-Nazi, I'm just fascinated by the Nazis.

Bruce (in simulated conversation, mockingly): voice 1: Oh, I don't actually like chocolate, I'm just fascinated by chocolate. voice 2: Oh, really, what is it that fascinates you? voice 1: The taste!

Erling: point.

Jim (in response): Oh, oh. I think we, and our age cohort, were inoculated with a dirty Axis needle. All those movies, TV shows, cartoons, and other ephemera. But I know what he means, whenever looking into any of this stuff online, I run across both ends of the spectrum (from Holocaust to Neo-Nazi sites), but it's the ones in the middle that usually give me pause. Those U-Boot, Axis military history, Waffen-SS, Iron Cross medal winners, that profess a fascination (phallic gazing) with but protesting an utter horror of Nazis.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Toothbrush with a Smile

The fact that Basil Fawlty can simply put his finger over his upper lip and flick his combover over his brow to evoke the greatest evil of all time shows the intensely iconic nature of these most simple of facial features, notably The Mustache, AKA the Chaplin, the Hitler, the Toothbrush. And in The Great Dictator, Mr. Chaplin exploited his aforementioned painted-on mustache in his excoriating portrayal of the title character, the familiarly fascist and anti-Jewish dictator of Tomainia, made to look so very terrible and ruthless but also somewhat funny and maybe even just a bit understandable, as don't we all just secretly want to be a little bit of a dictator ourselves, and not merely a tinpot one, but the next one up, like way up, because we agree with the following, one of my personal favorite quotes:

"The greatest happiness is to vanquish your enemies, to chase them before you, to rob them of their wealth, to see those dear to them bathed in tears, to clasp to your bosom their wives and daughters."

to quote Genghis Khan, an even greater megalomaniac than our dear and beloved Führer. And the cutesy-ness of the latter terrible and most evil evil brings us to the cutsily evil tees, marked by the infamous toothbrush, of the squeaky but not necessarily clean, but most prepubescent duo above, the notorious Prussian Blue, named after so many things:

Part of our heritage is Prussian German. Also our eyes are blue, and Prussian Blue is just a really pretty color. There is also the discussion of the lack of "Prussian Blue" coloring (Zyklon B residue) in the so-called gas chambers in the concentration camps. We think it might make people question some of the inaccuracies of the "Holocaust" myth.

Oh my oh my.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

my german question

From Anonymous Admirer: The historian Peter Gay (né Peter Fröhlich) wrote in the preface of his poignant memoir, My German Question: Growing Up in Nazi Berlin (1998),And so I asked myself, Why didn’t we pack our bags and leave the country the day after Hitler came to power? It was an agonizing question that I am going to ask again and again in these pages. I came to believe that I could appear as a witness as well as taking satisfaction from unsparing self-examination—and, I hope, giving satisfaction as well. Whether I have succeeded is not for me to say. But if I had thought I had failed I would not have published this book. Gay was born and raised in Berlin and lived there until, at age 16 and just after Kristallnacht, he and his family left for the United States via Cuba.


There is quite a wonderful archive of German propaganda from the Nazi years and beyond at the Calvin College website. Propaganda works quite well, and the average person basically accepts it either whole or half heartedly, and so it's worth a look to see something of the point of view of the Germans during the conflict. As an example, the cartoon on the right is quite enlightening. The context is the (from our point of view) accidental bombing of Switzerland, a 'neutral' country (more on that in a later post). The guilty airman is being questioned as to why he made the mistake and his response is that the flags of Switzerland and the Red Cross look so similar. To understand the humor of this cartoon, you have to know that it was a common belief in Germany that the Allies were deliberately bombing hospitals and Red Cross vehicles and facilities. Maybe we were, maybe we weren't. In Chunk Yeager's autobiography, he describes being given an order to go to a particular mile-square grid location in Germany and kill every living thing in it: person, animal, etc. He says he didn't feel too good about it, but he did it because that's what you did when you were given an order, the classic Nürnberg defense. Luckily for him, there are two major requirements for being a war criminal: one is committing the atrocity and the second is losing the war. Victors so write the history books as we know.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The German Problem

In the afterword to The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William Shirer looks back at the unexpectedly overwhelming response to his book, positive in the former Allied countries and decidedly defensive in the former Axis. In recalling the attack on the book by the then-chancellor Konrad Adenauer, he points out that the Germans simply could not face up to their past, i.e., rampant adventurous conquest and slaughter. It is in this context that he discusses, as he calls it, 'The German Problem:"

And now, as the thirtieth-anniversary edition of The Rise and Fall goes to press, the world is suddenly confronted with a new reunification of Germany. Soon, united, Germany will be strong again economically and, if it wishes, militarily, as it was in the time of Wilhelm II and Adolf Hitler. And Europe will be faced again with the German problem. If the past is any guide, the outlook is not very promising for Germany's neighbors, who twice in my lifetime have been invaded by the Teutonic armies. The last time, under Hitler, as the readers of this book are reminded, the German behavior was a horror in its barbarism.

This raises the curious question: is there really something different about the Germans, different from the rest of us? If we say, yes, that there is inherent evil in the German People, then aren't we faced with an issue similar to that hallucinated by the Nazis, i.e., the alleged "Jewish Problem?" Or was Hitler somehow irresistibly charismatic and is there something inherently evil in all of us, although a difficult and bitter cup to drink, possibly true, and, as we face the current descent into economic chaos and the decline of the American Empire, maybe a glimpse into our own future?

I remember, after the wall came down, the raised hands of the nervous peoples of Europe, asking the obvious question, to wit: What are your intentions toward our sons and daughters?" and the hesitation of Germany, just a beat, but a hesitation nonetheless, to promise they wouldn't try to rebuild Grossdeutschland or maybe even just a bit more. As the Wikipedia article says:

To facilitate this process and to reassure other countries, some changes were made to the "Basic Law" (constitution). Article 146 was amended so that Article 23 of the current constitution could be used for reunification. After the five "New Länder" of East Germany had joined, the constitution was amended again to indicate that all parts of Germany are now unified. Article 23 was rewritten as keeping it could be understood as an invitation to e.g. Austria to join. However, the constitution can be amended again at some future date and it still permits the adoption of another constitution by the German people at some time in the future.

The final line is, of course, the kicker, and shows the apprehension of the encyclopedist, but I guess, if I had to choose, gun held to my head, that there is a little German in each of us, that given the proper confluence of economic misery and jingoist propaganda, we could find ourselves swept away, wondering why the bombs are now falling on us. No, wait, I'm wrong, it really is just them - the evil others - and now I may sleep a bit more soundly.

Friday, December 12, 2008

die untertitel sont erronés.

Also from an anonymous admirer: The film Der Untergang (2004) has spawned a slew of viral videos. One scene in particular. Deep in the Führerbunker, Hitler (Bruno Ganz) has realized that his house of cards is about to collapse. While the German soundtrack remains the same, folks have added new subtitles with alternate content. The first one I saw involved Hitler’s car getting jacked. The meme has just about run its course, but recently a sort of meta-meme has arrived on the scene. Quotha: Bad subtitles are sweet. All our base are belong to you. That is the fucking benchmark, not this shit.

take your daughter to work day

From an anonymous admirer, a picture of Heinrich Himmler’s daughter, Gudrun Burwitz, visiting KZ Dachau with her father and SS-Obergruppenführer Karl Wolff. Born in 1929, she’s still alive and the “fickle Nazi Princess” (schillernde Nazi-Prinzessin) of the Stille Hilfe, a relief organization for arrested, condemned and fugitive SS members.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

New Music Theater

Went to The Cell Theater in New York tonight to see a panel discussion of the book on the left.  Eric Salzman also wrote Twentieth Century Music, which many of us read as children, and this latest is coauthored by Thomas Desi, whom I met at NewOp, I think in Amsterdam, which is how I met Eric as well.  Eric and Thomas are both talented composers and impresarios, and the book looks great. It's waiting for a read after The Piano Teacher. Afterwards, dinner with the two authors and Grethe Holby, who danced in Einstein and started American Opera Projects.  Eric doesn't like using "opera" or "chamber opera" for what we all do, as he thinks it carries too much baggage and too much of a connection to the opera singer voice of the 19th century. "Music Theater" is his preferred term, although I think that term is usually confused with American Musical Theater, and I kind of like taking back the Opera word. It sounds highfaluting and pompous but it's all meaningless to the person on the street anyway.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Polish Anti-Nazi Art

I had a lovely visit with my Art History Teacher Aimée Brown Price, whom I hadn't seen in a dog's age, today and noticed some Polish and Polish-Soviet War and Nazi Resistance art sitting about. Created soon after the war, they show a somewhat romanticized view of the Soviet involvement in the liberation.

Too Big

My fellow new music blogger Kyle Gann recently wrote a discussion of a discussion of the Nazis and the Republican Party, but the truth is you can't really compare anything to the Nazis. They are just too big. As Godwin's Law implies, they are the super-ultra-end of all comparisons, off the charts. Hollywood and the Video Gaming industries have always plucked them out of the bag when they need some Unrepentant Evil that requires no character development, no softness, no compassion, no other side to the argument that is their malevolence incarnate. I remember reading that Kubrick always wanted to make a film on the Holocaust but decided that it could never be done, that Schindler's List isn't really about the Holocaust, it's actually about the opposite of the Holocaust, hope in the face of hopelessness, but the reality of the Holocaust is really the all-encompassing horror of horror and hopelessness without end, with no escape, an abyss and a void, even the concerted disremembering of its own existence in the fall of the Reich. Even The Producers, which so wonderfully skewers the Prussians, doesn't mention the Shoah; its inconceivable savagery would overwhelm. The Fox News-ites who paint Obama as a Messianic Charismatic Hitlerian figure who will lead us into a Götterdämmerung are simply idiotic, simply haven't read their histories. There is no way to again be as big as he was, as big as they were.

Cold Comfort

I'm having sex in Ron Kuivila's bed, guest bed that is, with one of the other guests here in the house he shares with Bobbi and their young 'un in Middle Haddam, just north of Lower Haddam in the 'fucking Xmas card' that is Connecticut of the Holiday Season.  Ron and I have some connections going way back, having both appeared on Tellus cassettes back in the day (I particularly liked Canon X), and Ron and David Anderson collaborating on the design of FORMULA, a FORth-based Music LAnguage which I've very surprised didn't have broader uptake. It was amazingly well-designed, with a highly-threaded process-based model that seemed remarkably suited for music.  My late and amazingly talented composer buddy Jim Horton used it exclusively near the end, when his arthritis got so bad and his hands so crabbed and swollen that he could only peck at the keyboard, but through the tidy naming of a few very simple processes, could generate huge masses of sound. Dave was a professor at UC Berkeley when I was a grad student there and later was the ex-boyfriend of my now girlfriend: a plaything of We who struggle in the Incestuous Appalachia that is the Life in New Music.

It's so wonderful to be here, to talk about Music and Art with someone who knows more about it than me.  I don't get that much in SF these days.  I need to come back soon to the Methodist-sanctified ground here in the shadow of Wesleyan University.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Die Aktphotographie

I've always been fascinated by the utterly insane and so, toward that end, I present a feast of Scientific Racism, the perfectly sculpted Aryan Master Race Corpus:

Aryan nude

and let's not forget Leni, who tried so hard later in life to find absolution for her early sins, namely and once again, the perfectly sculpted Aryan Athletes in their many and womanly almost-nakedness, putting the shot and throwing the javelin and in general prancing about:

Hey, it's funny

"For the amoral herd that fears boredom above all else, everything becomes entertainment.  Sex and sport, politics and the arts are transformed into entertainment. Even religion will have to become show business if it is to survive. Nothing is immune from the demand that boredom be relieved (but without personal involvement, for mass society is a spectator society). If television does not yet exist in this society, it will have to be invented."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

the rights...

Several times in my life I've been tempted to set a pre-existing bit of lit, something that somehow inspired me language-wise or otherwise. And, in fact, I have from time to time succumbed to this temptation, the whisk of the devil's tail against my ass, and have paid a price for it, a sin confessed through the grill whilst the priest daydreams of beddable young 'uns spurting out wet, white and jam-like decades of the rosary laying recumbent upon the altar.

But let me give the reader a bit of advice. When the itch comes upon you to adapt, first, step into the kitchen, put the kettle on the boil, traipse out into the garden and pick a bit of fresh mint, pack it into a clear glass teapot, pour the water hot over the aromatic plant, pick the pot up and then smash the whole thing hard against your face. And the point of this exercise is to allow you, the reader, to experience a scale model of a simulacrum of the pain that will ensue if you are foolhardy enough to follow this path, a scarring burning pain that never never never ends.

I'm feeling this pain once again as I'm trying to assemble a DVD box set of my operatic legacy (titled Erling, a life in Opera) and once again the pain is beginning to throb deep behind the eyes. Once again I'm on the phone and the email and the written letters with the lawyers, the agents, the holders of rights, the representatives, the money changers and all their ilk, and the wretched torture rises again.

When I first read queer, Burroughs was quite alive and, as I thought of writing an opera based on the novel, I figgered I would just write him and ask him if I could do it, auteur to auteur, assuring myself that he would put his arms around me in a fatherly way and tell me sure, go ahead, I'd like that. But then, like a number of my erstwhile partners, he went and died on me, leaving me in the hands of his estate, a cold institution not so fatherly, unless we consider fatherliness to be the quality of the absent father, the dad that doesn't take you fishing and isn't there for you and turns his back when you say I love you.  I had contacted Burroughs's longtime secretary, James Grauerholz, who was into the project, but the institution and its lawyers were not satisfied.  I wrote many letters and many many emails, pissing into the wind, and the months and years went by and time was running out. The theater calendar had been set, the costumes were on the drawing board, the greasepaint was already being poured into the troughs and I was considering going forward guerilla style when, one day, I mentioned to my colibrettist John Morace that the latest roadblock was that the lawyers had informed me Steve Buscemi had optioned the rights to queer for a movie and all was in limbo while he scared up money for it.  Upon which, John picked up his phone, dialed the number of Steve's brother from memory, and all was taken care of.  As it turned out, John and the brother had been friends since childhood and once the outer defenses of the celebrity fortress had been penetrated, well, Mr Buscemi could give a shit about some small-time chamber opera writer infringing on his option. I rapturously forked over a $1000 to keep the lawyers sunny and all was then right with the world.

But, every time I think how lovely it would be to resurrect the piece, to see Trauma act it again, to put out a DVD, to do any more than think about it, I realize I have to face this all again.  The Buscemi version seems to have never materialized and who knows who has their hands on it now. 

A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil I ran across at Cody's on the remainder table in the early 80s, playing with it for a decade before taking the plunge and setting the whole thing. As this was before the experiences with queer above, I was even more the naif. Permissions were an ephemeral notion that turned solid enough when I ran headlong into them. Unraveling the tentacles of the octopus that is the rightsholder to the Ernst artworks was a process that took over six years from start to finish. The English translation was by Ernst's wife, Dorothea Tanning, pictured above, born 1910 but who was and is still alive and writing and painting. I tracked her down and received permission, I thought, for everything, but the underlying untranslated text was still held by the Artists' Rights Society in New York City, and the images by ADAGP France, facts that took years of investigation.  Like all good rights societies, they slice and dice Ernst's holdings into the smallest pieces possible, and my six years of effort and another $1000 led to the acquisition of the limited rights to print up 1000 copies of the opera CD and perform the piece three times: San Francisco, Klagenfurt, Brühl. Again, happiness at the end of a long road.

But, once again, every time I dream of reviving the piece, of hearing the music come to life, of finishing the DVD, the familiar weight comes upon me and drags me down into the mud, where I struggle in vain, lungs filling with muck.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The secret of success in New Music

Lou Harrison's Music Primer was one of many very influential and important books in my musical development.  At the time I read it, I was rediscovering a certain melodic simplicity in my own work. His ideas shaped some of mine, but I was especially taken with one particular passage, somewhat outside of the world of music composition per se, but dealing with that which is most important to a career in the arts, namely that a pure career in the arts is an essential impossibility:

If you really have to be a composer and are attractive and uninhibited, then try and get yourself “kept” – whether by woman or man.  This might be easier than undertaking a whole second career in order to be able to afford composing, and you might get a little restorative affection as well.

Unfortunately, I was stupid enough, and probably too inhibited at the time - my late teens, not to follow his advice, to try to make a go of the 'second career' path, to give up sleep, and not to take the high road: to flatback and think of England, to become a good wife, flipping my hair and asking on my knees for a bit more pin money from my loving husband.

But later in life I did figure out that the judicious - or injudicious - placement of my unit in a number of compromising positions could in fact be helpful to the bit of musical career that I eked out on the side.  In the late-mid 80s I started working with choreographer and dancer Miss W_ on an extended series of pieces. The first and maybe the best was Crash, an hallucination on the already hallucinatory J.G. Ballard novel.  My pal Henry Kaiser had recently purchased a Synclavier and a few of the local classical avant types were thrusting their bowls in his face and asking for a bit of the corn gruel drippings off its gleaming steel and black plastic but I had a key, haha!, since Hank and I were working on Secrets and Mysteries (aka Secrets of the Unknown) with Edward Mulhare, using the early sampler to write as much music as quickly as possible. I stole into his beautiful little studio and worked all night every night coaxing as many floating microtonal lushnesses as I could for Crash and Hagalaz and the others. And why, may one inquire, would I work my little ears to the ossicles to find the perfect romantic musical moment, the perfect twist of pitch ratios adding a glint of a knife to a pretty harmony? Because I was in love. And, when Miss W_ came to hear it for the first time, sitting in the dark of the studio late at night, the fullness of my gift fell upon her, parting her lips, spreading her legs ever so slightly. Later, at a restaurant far away, she looked into my eyes and told me of her most favored venereal pleasure, something so near and dear to my heart that my pulse quickened at the thought, and I flipped through a number of scenarios and possibly near-term advantages and pleasures, but, like everyone else who desires and desires so strongly, I hadn't quite thought through the rest of the story: the pain, the recriminations, the crying and the destruction and the loss, but, before that all came to pass, we spent ourselves through a burst of creativity that produced some of my still favorite works, and some of my still favorite memories: risky sweaty writhings under soft sheets, towels put down to catch the blood; hot tubs overfilled of naked lissome dancers, their supple fingers probing under the foaming jets; furtive quasi-couplings in cars, backstage before a performance, in the corner of a darkened gay bar; sweet shared conspiracies.

And at one of our performances at the Lab in San Francisco was a young choreographer named Robert Wechsler, just beginning to develop a new language of sinuous dances based on groups, canons and symmetries, where the dancers moved quickly through each other in seemingly impossible ways, who took a liking to me (and I'm sure Miss W_), and he kept in touch, asking me from time to time to contribute short soundtracks to dances, e.g. Modules and Loops. Not long after, Robert developed some financial complexities in the US, and moved to Nürnberg to allow things to cool. By the mid 90s I had forgotten all the lessons learned with Miss W_ and was embarking on another long walk off a short pier with Ms. A_. Once again, I enjoyed a burst of creativity, my pen pouring out one inspired score after another, intending to woo and succeeding again beyond my expectations and beyond my ability to deal with it. Once again, I found myself pressed against a lithe body, this time straddling me, allowing my hands to wander over her prepubescently boyish frame, a suggestion of immodest nature whispered to me, hot breath on my ear, kisses on my face. Once again, I was caught up in clandestine plans, this time of a global nature, a vast intrigue tapping into a worldwide network of co-conspirators. I accepted an offer from Robert to come to Europe to work with his company, Palindrome, on an evening of dance and music using a set of interactive technologies: a MIDI controlled pipe organ, dancer-tracking software, heartbeat monitors, the very new and pre-browser Internet. And surprise, it so happened that Ms. A_ was working on a project in Prague, a short train ride away, and so came to visit, pleasantly insinuating herself in the company and, after I left, performing on tour with them through Austria.

While performing with Palindrome in Klagenfurt in the south of the Austrian republic, Ms. A_ left a tape with the theater of my first chamber opera, A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil. Although they didn't care much for the production, a reflection I believe on the cultural divide between the Old and New World, they found themselves drawn back to the music a number of years later and asked me if would be willing to have them perform it and, if possible, to develop a version in German. Although, by the time this came about, my life had plummeted into chaos and into an even more complex sexual by-now-quadrangle including another Ms. A_, a young woman of great vigor and blondness who evinced in me a before unknown tendency for obsessive stalking behavior, one of the high points of my life came while descending into the Klagenfurt airport, a Tyrolean Air flight attendant in an absurdly sexy dirndl leaning over me, noticing a photograph of a woman's mouth covered in blood in the newspaper of the passenger in front of me, seeing my name in the caption of that gory image, landing a few moments later and being greeted as Maestro by the theater director, sweeping me into the dress rehearsal and a magical otherworld, jetlagged and fagged and fashed. The first Ms. A_, who was again performing in the Easter bloc, once again came to meet me, but this scene quickly descended into the by now familiar recrimination, tears, anger, drama and worse and worse. As Ali Tabatabai once told me, we theater folk know not where the stage ends. But, just possibly, do the means justify the terrible endings?  

And this now reminds me: a dream-like trip to Amsterdam with a friend to live out one of her fantasies: that of having two young Dutch boys simultaneously. We tripped and traipsed and shagged our way through the red-light district looking for connections to these ultimate striplings, the perfect combination of enthusiasm and ability and fresh-faced boyishness. In one of these fact-finding encounters of flat-backing fieldwork, the two of us were huffing and puffing and panting over a quite amazingly beautiful and busty Dutch fille de joie who, hearing of our desires, gave us her mobile number and invited her to her wedding in Rotterdam the next week, assuring us that her soon-to-be husband and one of his friends would without doubt fill the bill and that having some other artistic & libertine types there would surely be of benefit to all.

And so, after Klagenfurt and the collapse of the entire quadrangle in flaming death, and as a period of even more intense sluttiness and my relationship with Lynne "die Zweite" began, the Max Ernst museum in Brühl and I planned to have the Little Girl opera performed as part of the dedication of an Ernst sculpture, newly installed. I showed up in town with my freshly blue hair, gathering some curious stares from the locals, overseeing the installation of an outdoor stage for the production, the arrival of the ensemble and all the rest. Also, at this time, Sub Pontio Pilato, also recently translated into German, was heading for its quirky premiere in Austria where a certain Miss B_ was starring, who wanted to come up to Brühl to meet me and see something of what I do. I was feeling my oats, as virility comes with success, and something happened which my gentlemanly upbringing does not allow me to divulge. Even though, with some familiarity, this led to some drama back home with the Empress, Miss B_ and I cemented a personal and artistic connection so that, after the Pilate premiere, she went back to St. Gallen and played the Credo from the opera for the musical director at the Abbey. After an Austrian review of Pilate claimed that the Credo must have come from a pre-existing Mass, I wanted to create such a thing: a crucifix of pieces overlaid, a pre-existing piece from an alternate youth, a time of innocence and faith, before the devil grabbed hold of my soul and I made that Faustian bargain, taking the path of sin, the path of success.

Monday, October 20, 2008

On the Sanctity of Stage Directions

Finally picked up the latest issue of Opera America's rag and betwixt its covers are the usual snaps of Grand Opera productions featuring Giulio Cesare's Divine Julius (as in Gaius Ceasar) in a vaguely fascistic 20th century uniform or Wagner's Das Liebesverbot in a 50s disco setting.  The cover displays a Tales of Hoffman which seems to include robots of a breed I believe unknown in Offenbach's time as well as a white-lab-coat-frocked doctor with steampunk gizmos on his head.  I was drawn back to a jet-lagged endurance-fest in some sunken Dutch city trying to make heads or tails of a Peter Sellars "contemporary staging" of a Rake's Progress which seemed to have been rethunk as a anti-prison-industry diatribe. And there is my friend of a friend Roy Rallo too (although I do have to say I loved the bit in his Finta Giardiniera where, in one of those comedies of misidentification so belovéd of our artistic forebears, the lady who has just mistakenly given a blow job to the wrong fellow in some sort of 70s high-school auditorium or something rises as the lights come on, fades away and draws the back of her hand across her check in a lovely post-head gesture.)

Yes, I know, I know, in our remix culture® we all love the vegematic mish-mosh and hotch-potch of low and high and black and white where blending usurps creating and simple-minded novelty wrests the crown of achievement from laborious toil.  And I accept all that.  I myself have manipulated, slowed down, processed and otherwise pissed on pieces of high art and then called them my own. But why, beseechest me of thou, is it OK to totally ignore the stage directions of the opera libretto, the settings and characters and motions and decor that provide some context for the piece, but it is somehow not OK to touch the music or the words? Why don't these postpostmodern reimaginings apply themselves to the notes and rhythms and other composerist bits as well? Well, we know why: stage directions are second-class citizens, not at the level of the real art.

We see the same abominations in the non-music-theater world as well. The fact that the following anonymously authored entry is considered a point even deserving of empathy is somewhat shocking to me:

Since Beckett's death, all rights for performance of his plays are handled by the Beckett estate, currently managed by Edward Beckett, the author's nephew. The estate has a controversial reputation for maintaining firm control over how Beckett's plays are performed and does not grant licences to productions that do not strictly adhere to the writer's stage directions. (from Wikipedia)

Would there be such gumption if the evil estate made vain protestations against those productions that ignored all the other words appearing on the page?  I mean, sure, do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law, so go ahead: blend, chop and liquefy it all, but why, after one is done changing all the author's words that just happen not to be actually spoken, do you, yes you, the one with bloody hands churning the grinder handle demand that the poor and probably dead author's name be kept on the marquee?  

When the director of my own opera Mordake worked with the libretto - a beautiful object written by the young, gifted & macabre Douglas Kearney - the sung words were changed hardly a bit and only after careful consultation with the writer, whereas the stage directions were ignored from the get-go, and my mild remonstrations in favor of at least considering their value were met with an awkward silence, some quiet coughs, knowing glances in the direction of the cast member and then quietly ignored.

So, the libretto for St Cecilia, the new twinkle in my eye, is being written only as stage directions, no dialog at all, no escape from the handcuffs for the poor director assigned to the task. I'm doing this out of a certain cantankerousness of course, but goddamn it my rage must be assuaged; and I pray that the wails of anguish that rise from the theater soothe the now-avenged souls of the dramatists so cruelly wronged.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Jolie Holland!

Saw my old friend Jolie at Bimbo's tonight.  Over the many years I've seen her perform, from the olden days at the Rite Spot to her vaunted entry into the seraphic heights crowned with the pop music diadem, it was the best of them all. 

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Kathy Acker

Stravinsky and Dylan Thomas were to write an opera together but Thomas drank himself to death before they could begin. Stravinsky wrote that this was "a terrible blow to me as well as to all those who knew Dylan Thomas's genius."  Stories of creations unmade, like this one, always seem so insufferably sad to me.  Even though we did receive In Memoriam Dylan Thomas out of the tragedy, what might have come? 

I have my own story along these lines, an opera unborn, hardly at the same culture-defining level and probably not even a real possibility, but important to me OK, goddamn it, and such a source of regret.  Unknown to me, Carla Harryman invited her buddy Kathy Acker to the original production of Little Girl back in '95.  I didn't see her until the end of the performance, at which point I ran up to her. Erling: Ms. Acker, I'm a huge fan of yours (quoting from Blood and Guts in High School) "Her father's touch is cold, he doesn't want to touch her mostly 'cause he's confused. Janey fucks him even though it hurts her like hell 'cause of her Pelvic Inflammatory Disease." I'm so happy you came. Kathy: (doe-eyed) I'm a big fan of yours too. 

Well, maybe the doe-eyed bit is an exaggeration, but I told her I wanted to work on something together and she said yes in the way people do when they are invited to go to Budapest for the May-December wedding of The Accordionist, the National Hero, and they say yes, sure, knowing that they aren't really going to go but, at that moment, really wanting to go, imagining it, thinking that it could actually happen.  For months after, the thought rattled around in my head without ceasing and, a number of times, I picked up the phone to get her number from Carla but then put it off, partially because my possessive mistress at the time didn't trust Ms Acker, saying she had stolen someone-or-other's husband or boyfriend or whatever but, all the time, not knowing that the cancer that would kill her was already growing in her breast - and then she died.  A terrible blow to me. What would have come from it?

Friday, September 19, 2008

RIP Lou Teicher

Last month and somehow I missed it.  The confluence of sentimentality and John Cage, kitsch and Henry Cowell.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Towards a Libretto for an Opera on St Cecilia

Early evening, an apartment in Bethnal Green, garishly decorated, St Cecilia in her early 30s, hair in curlers, slouched on a couch. She sleeps, lightly dozing and, touching her body, stirs. The television is on, turned very low, with music playing, and the blue TV light is on her, adding to the soft evening twilight filtering through an uncovered window.

She turns, then sleeps a bit longer, rolling over on her side, head on her arm, one foot crossed back on the other, hand under her chin. She wears a blue kimono with a crane pattern in gold. She turns again, now with her back to us, the crane pattern bold across it, the bottoms of her feet dirty, and then she sleeps again, her side rising and falling in rhythm with her breath and with the music.

Shortly, she wakes, turns partially back to us, brushes the hair from her face, and drags a finger across her eyes.  Still sitting on the couch, she stretches, cat-like, and begins to sing. When she sings, it is not with a human voice, but rather with a full ensemble of instruments, the sound issuing from her mouth but with a supernatural presence.

She rises from the couch, continuing to sing. As she walks to the stage left, each step she takes, each object she touches - the arm of the couch, a lamp, a chair - makes a beautiful sound in perfect counterpoint to the music. 

The romance of St Cecilia begins with Cecilia as a young girl, born into a noble Roman family, promising her virginity to God. Her family, against her wishes, arranges for her to be married to a Roman nobleman by the name of Valerian. During the wedding banquet she sings a song to God, quietly, to herself, and is provided an angel, a guardian to preserve her chastity. This very angel appears to her and her husband, hastening his conversion to the faith and his respect for her continence. Unfortunately for them, the husband's faith is an active and proselytizing faith, bringing him and his brother to the attention of the prefect, Turcius Almachius, who orders the two men to be executed. The power of their convictions converts the first executioner sent, but not the second, who dispatches all three. When Cecilia buries the three men, in a Christian manner, she herself is condemned, locked into a sealed sweat room, the fires stoked to maximum intensity, and is left to die. As we might expect knowing her exalted state, when the chamber is opened she is found quite alive, in aspect of prayer, with nary a bead of sweat to mark her brow. As is typical in these stories, such supernatural events serve only to anger the brutish prefect, who orders her head removed from her body. After three blows are attempted, the maximum the law allows, Cecilia, although bloodied, still lives, sending the executioner fleeing in fear in the consideration of his brazen act against the divine, and Cecilia is left, praying and teaching to her fellow Christians until her death three days later. Over the centuries, her relics are exhumed and reinterred on a great number of occasions, each time found to be incorrupt and with, on one hand, three fingers outstretched and, on the other, one finger, denoting her belief, even in death, of the mystery of the Trinity.

Tony Kushner, best known for his lovely play Angels in America, was commissioned by the San Francisco Opera in the late 90s to write a libretto for an opera by Bobby McFerrin. He chose to adapt Heinrich von Kleist's St Cecilia.  When I first heard of the project, I was quite upset. I hadn't been asked to do this music for this project even though I was an actual opera composer, not merely a famous person brought in to boost ticket sales, and in fact had made copious notes for an opera on this subject.  Unfortunately, it put me off the whole deal, which is too bad since, in the end, Kushner finished the adaptation but McFerrin bailed on the project. 

[A somewhat less related but maybe informative story: Years later, when I was part of the Oakland East Bay Symphony's Words and Music project, Ishmael Reed came and told us a story about a similar event in the early 90s, where he was commissioned to write a libretto entitled Gethsemane to be the basis of an opera, as it turns out, to be completed by the same celebrity. In his story, the celebrity showed up in his stretch limo plus entourage, breezed into Mr. Reed's house, proceeded to demonstrate his lack of ability to carry this project through, and left, never to be seen again.]

Friday, September 12, 2008


fognozzle and I are collaborating on a something-or-other to be premiered next June with the San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra.  Too early now to say what it will be except of course fabulous and full of beauty.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Lynne's latest

Her recent absence from Society has been due to a number of majorly lovely projects, including the one above, with before and after pix on her blog.  I was involved in some of the measurements and higher mathematics of the project (but not her use of Sphenic Numbers) using various steam-powered approximates to what we probably could have achieved in an instant with the right laser interferometric sextant or astrolabe or whatever.  Suffice it to say that small errors in rise can lead to large errors in surface area, the basis of estimation in the decorative painting biz.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

l'homme en flammes

Best things burning, as I recall them: trampoline, ice cold Budweiser (the American kind), dust storms, apples, gingerbread people!, pin-drop quiet for 20 minutes during the temple burn, the spectacle, big fire, handheld flamethrowers, showers, whipped cream makings, dressing up and then dressing up some more, ridicule of boot covers, underpants that advertise their sexiness, fresh food, trendspotting, Death Guild DJ, my campmate, the word scrot, stories around the campfire, escape from the tendrils of the day-to-day, jewelry massive and jewelry hand-made, sandwiches among the smoldering ruins, Coca-Cola, empathy, TB303 through a million dollar sound system from a mile away, the beautiful smart and bad girl Momo raiding and sniffing, running into Adam and Tara, the blood bags hanging from the ceiling of Spike's bar, the stripper pole, HOME, the sunrises, the sunsets, the mauve-orange-gold rain, Fuck Hippies, old and young hippies, Playa Love, uniform = radical self expression, shirtcocking, Tania spraypainting 'my mother should have swallowed' on the backs of unsuspecting thunderdome fighters, aromatic heterocyclic organic compounds of the monoamine alkaloid family, uninterrupted happiness, the hugs, oxidizers drunk from a beautiful golden chalice, cigarettes, blowing flames out the ends of cigarettes.

Lynne often tells me that, when she dumps me for her next boyfriend, she will be the pretty one, as she believes that I eclipse her with my sartorial elegance but, on the streets of Black Rock City, I was the one made plain, hardly visible in the shadow of the gorgeous Miss Erika, glowing without the need for chemo- or electro-luminescence.

My boy

My son Duncan, pictured above with the "Game Over" t-shirt & playing the part of Beausoleil, has hooked up with PianoFight to put on a series of scatological sketch comedy riots, viz., The Shit Show, starting this Friday and Saturday at Off-Market Theaters, tix here.  I am pleased and proud and I highly recommend it. Their description:

Premiering September 12-13 in the black box of Studio 250 at Off-Market, the ever-humble PianoFight proudly presents the first installment of the "Stop Hating Imagination Time" Show (which could very well be turned into an appropriate acronym). The S.H.I. Time Show was conceptualized by a few recent Berkeley grads / imaginative but immature man-childs (men-children?), whose overwhelming need for attention led to the creation of a somewhat offensive and vaguely illegal sketch comedy show. This fast paced comedy riot, and follow up to PianoFights smash hit ShortLived, is sure to enlighten and entertain.

Come see why SF Weekly called PianoFight "Better than SNL"!

The show is loosely tied together by a simple premise: a production company has lost a bunch of money in a "deal" and is running out of time to save their theater.  The theater boss has deftly trapped 4 writers in his basement, and forced them to come up with the best show they can. The resulting hilarity runs the gamut from coherent to absurd, and will be topped off with an amazing performance from the piano/vocalist tandem Toby Dick'.

And, as always, brown bags encouraged ...

NOTE: No-one under 16 years old will be admitted.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Polluting the Global Name Space

We, those suffering from the disease of ambition, whose names are almost Globally Unique IDentifiers, live with the fear that another of the same name will appear and displace us, rolling us down from the hilltop on which we reside. For this reason, I have enlisted a legion of friends 'round the world who keep one ear to the railroad tracks and one wet finger on the telegraph lines, and another legion, not so friendly, waiting to remove those that stray onto my appellative territory, politely at first, then with ever increasing prejudice. It is a rarely used but most important part of the infrastructure of my career, not covered by the average business consultant, but necessary nonetheless. 

Recently, my friend Nicole, perusing the Norse business pages, found this shocking reference.  Immediately, a call was made (not by me, as my manicured hands must float above such earthly deeds), resources were inventoried, strings were pulled, and after a deliberate but immediate decision, certain highly placed members of the Kriminalpolitisentralen were called upon, reminded of their duties, and this usurper, this moniker-expropriator, was (1) found to be in possession of certain strategic government documents, (2) outed as an egregious pederast who used chloroform, toluene and other disabling agents to render his victims insensate and (3) a victim of a ghastly failure of the banking system which left him penniless. To some, these sanctions may appear harsh, but I have learned to harden my heart in such matters, those concerns that transcend weak and typical morality. 

Friday, August 22, 2008


I've been reading the freshest and most au courant tome of misogynist literature, the newest perambulation of Alexander Theroux, namely Laura Warholic: Or, The Sexual Intellectual. It's a bit slow going only because it is such a mammoth object that it hurts my arms to hold it up in bed: the only place I seem to get a chance to read these days due to my Interweb addiction. While the current literary apple of or twinkle in my eye is naturally intriguing in itself, what is more enchanting is the synchronism between Monsieur Theroux and My Dear Friend Ms. Bunnywhiskers. (In the beautiful Violet Carson photo on the left, she is the bunny hunted by the merciless trapper.)

But first, we need to take a flashback here to my youth, where I first happened across one of the author's other books, D'Arconville's Cat.  I loved this book just so so much that I scoured used bookstores across the country for years to find a second copy just in case something happened to the first. I was completely enraptured during my first read of it, gasping with delight, my heart racing as I burned through the pages.  In my second and more leisurely read, I laughed out loud at the main character's Yankee chauvinism, his marvelous ingenuousness as his heart is ripped out and stomped on.  And I see my error: I thought the misogynist Dr Crucifer was intended as funny, a ridiculous straw persona. It slowly dawned on me over the years that, no, he was not only meant to be a mentor to D'Arconville, but to me the reader as well, and that his hatred of women was intended by the author to be the correct point of view. This has caused a bit of cognitive dissonance in an old skool feminist like myself, having been raised through Simone de Beauvoir & Germaine Greer, the gender neutralization of the Lutheran Church, a mother who told me at the tender age of ten that women "might have to take up arms against men," and who was caught in the middle of the feminist controversies between those of the somewhat inaccurately named sex-negative (e.g. Andrea Dworkin) and sex-positive (e.g. Susie Bright) persuasions due to his love for porn and suchlike.

However, even with my proclivity to label the book evil, its language - the beautiful busty overweening rush of language - still captivated me. I considered an opera around it, but it seemed too massive and the author too alive and, from his output, to be someone who held on to resentment, especially with regard to women and since I am, well, a bit foppish, even effeminate (see: Lake of Fire), maybe gentle, as in the opposite of those butch and virile, motorcycle-riding, selfish and domineering, rakes and assholes that my women friends seem to adore so much, I thought that maybe I should be careul. Through Bunnywhiskers's personal stories about women in His life, from the erudite anger of Theroux Metaphrastes, and from my favorite book itself, I've come to realize the danger of getting His dander up, of His irascibility, and have decided - for once in my life - to avoid the possible drama. Yes, I've tried to develop a bit of wisdom over the years and have come to prefer my drama in the confines of the theater and the picture frame. 

We close with a pleasantry from Giordano Bruno, a bon mot, whose statue I sat below, inebriated, eating some of the best gelato of my life. Was that the same warm evening I cried with Lynne in a 10th century chapel and then we stumbled outside, drunk-dialing our various crushes back in the States? Maybe it was.

... for that bosom, for that white, for that crimson, for that tongue, for that tooth, for that lip, for that hair, that dress, that mantle, that glove, that slipper, that high heel, that avarice, that giggle, that scorn, that empty window, that eclipse of the sun, that throbbing, that disgust, that stench, that sepulcher, that cesspit, that menstruation, that carrion, that malaria, that uttermost insult and lapse of nature? *


Monday, August 18, 2008

Favorite mentions of mentions

Kathleen posted one of my tainted angel photos but the above is even more so. The dear late lamented boyish boy.  And I like the work of Majena Mafe, who seems to have tangentially linked to me by her copying of Alex Ross's longish enumeration; and isn't that a lovely bit of psychosis-engendering at the top of her blog?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Dramatic Composer

The book-larnin' study of Composition and its even poorer cousins of Species Counterpoint and ostensible Harmony didn't teach me much of what I needed to know to actually succeed as a soi-disant composer.  Here is an almost surely abridged list of what skills were needed just for Mordake.  I publish this only in the interest of scaring off some young bucks and does and reducing the competition for various grants and whatnot.

First and most important: the skill of gladhanding, the character of the cocktail boy, the flirt, the teller of and listener to jokes, the slightly-too-long buss on the cheek of the executive or artistic director of this and that, the extra squeeze, the reach-around.

Second, Diplomacy, from the lonely-hearts and sex columnist to the divas and self-styled gods and goddesses of the art world, the theater folk who know not where the stage ends, aiding with boyfriend and girlfriend problems, sometimes both at the same time, guiding and cajoling and pandering and smoothing, crying with them, holding their hands, kissing away their tears.

Third, Budgeting, the dismal science, the counting and the recounting and the negotiations with artists and technicians and vendors and theater owners, including the begging, the "ask," the days and days and days frittered away crafting and re-crafting and re-re-crafting the tedious applications and work samples, this 2 minutes of this and this 2 minutes of the other, each of which asks for everything in its own way, assembling them into packages which, like lottery tickets, become so much worthless paper, convincing other organizations to write even more grant proposals and dealing the endless rejections and still doing it more, persuading those more important than me to write letters of recommendation and quid-pro-quo letters written for them, and begging and borrowing and stealing from other theaters and artists and on.

Wait, maybe this is more important: let us not forget all aspects of marketing: designing posters and programs and web sites, convincing the shop owner to allow one in with ink-stained hands and stickum, quickly plastering over another artist's labor of love, to please not forget all the coproducers and granting organizations with their required acknowledgements of sufficient point size, dealing with mailing houses and poster distribution services and printers a click away, and English Communication, writing copy for the posters and programs as well as blogs and web sites and spam.

Ah! The Technical! Extending from the necessity of computers for everything: buying and researching and communicating and making scores and parts and mixes and recording but down to the samples and frames and media files, angry to find other people who think they know more about anything and seem maybe to be more successful, but ignoring that and writing a program to shift the pitch of John's voice so he could play the female rôle, but oh god no not to move the formants quite so much thus guaranteeing that his true womanly nature arises rather than the feared chipmunk within.  And even more troubling, to write a program to deal with the terrible flashing in the documentation video, some aliasing problem between the $50K hidef camers and the DLP projectors that had to be suppressed pixel-by-pixel, replacing those flickering with their more stable and clearheaded temporal neighbors. And then on to the editing.

Finally, and only then, the writing of the music, the consideration of the art, the meaning, how it relates to thou and thine, the prettiness, the beauty, the modernist flair, the rhythms and the notes and the sounds and Thom's prepossessing noises, and plowing over the overestimated difficulties of Orchestration, parts and ranges and rehearsals and recording and the mixing in, days spent laughing over the libretto, shots of vodka and absinthe and tequila and better tequila, time in the hot tub overlooking the garden, grazing through the organic lettuces and cooking the shrimp with so much butter you can't fucking believe it. And this is what we all remember in the end, the joy of creation, the womanly long building climaxes, paroxysms and chills, the manly Vesuvian orgasm of performance, the slow burn & the long tail which follow until, one day, it ceases to be yours, seemingly written by another, becoming something that belongs to all humanity.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Laura Bohn

My friend Laura (pictured) and Lynne and I went to The North Beach Restaurant tonight where she reprised her unrestrained performance of a few years ago, singing some aria chestnuts and bringing all the wait & kitchen staff out from their hideaways to enjoy her lovely maturing voice.  La Bohème mixed with Andrea Bocelli singing Return to Sorrento et al, a poor South Asian tourist family pressed into their seats, made somewhat uncomfortable at the absolute operatic decibel firepower aimed in their general direction. A delightful mix that reduced the headwaiter to sweats, chills and tears. As it should have!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

23rd Psalm

In the very glorious baroque Cathedral of St Gallen. 

Monday, August 4, 2008

Oscar Aszer Zelig Leneman

Even time has passed such that we, the belowmentioned, have gone on to our final remuneration or, as it were, our final judgement and, sitting at the hopefully rightmost hand of our omniscient and omnipresent maker, we will have to explain and make right to the throngéd celestial multitudes. Let us further note that the following is absolutely a work of fiction and that any similarities to persons living or dead is purely coincidental, etc.

Anywho, back in graduate school I fell in love (and let us be absolutely clear that this was a higher love - a chaste and perfect love) with a young man who, for want of a better sobriquet, we shall call Mark and who, one day many years later called me to attend the opening of Spawn, whereupon I waited in front of the Kabuki theater with the other unwashed until his limo arrived, spilling him, an assemblage of beautiful young things and a quantity of white powder onto the sidewalk, at which I, his heartbroken friend, was pushed into the gutter by his handlers and so onwards.

But, in my nervous and naive youth, Mark was a dream lover (platonic) and, while he was surely an harbinger of the many evil things to come, I drank deeply, ferociously, from the cup he offered.  We were inseparable, sharing everything, making plans for our life together. 

Mark was writing a thesis on antialiasing in computer graphics, at the time a fledgling field of study. He came to me one day after reading a paper by Yellot on the Poisson disk distribution of receptors in the eye and wondered if this seemingly haphazard array might have something to do with the lack of aliasing in the human visual system.  We thought about it a bit; it made sense, since spectral aliases come from convolution in the frequency domain of the regularly spaced delta functions which are the transform of a regular sampling function. An irregular sampling function would clearly do something quite different, but what exactly?  We fretted and suggested and made some mathematical attempts but Mark came across a paper by our savior, our Messiah, the Alpha and Omega man whose name fills the title of this entry: Oscar Aszer Zelig Leneman. Ah, what words, what ideas. We let them flow across us like new buttered honey over a sweet biscuit.  In this paper, he laid it all out, a clear approach to determining the spectral noise of a wide variety of stochastic sampling patterns, including the Poisson disk but also many others. We saw how, by engineering the density function, one could improve the results, to spread the noise optimally to areas of minimal sensitivity of the eye, a clear indication of the Gnostic program, the mediocrity of the flawed Demiurgical God of the Old Testament compared to the higher consciousness of man. We found that a simple uniform jitter of the sampling point process by 50% of the mean sampling interval did extremely well. We thereupon danced an ecstatic gambol and wrote our first paper, Antialiasing through Stochastic Sampling, to be published and presented in SIGGRAPH '85 and Mark, in honor and gratitude, changed his middle name to that of our god.

However, as it turned out, another group at Pixar led by Rob Cook had been working on something similar and, as it also turned out, predated us but also, as it happened, had been in communication with Brian Barsky, Mark's ostensible research advisor who had advised them not to publish in SIGGRAPH '85 but rather in his journal, the Association for Computer Machinery's Transactions on Graphics which, he hoped, would replace SIGGRAPH as the Journal Of Record for the field, possibly detracting a bit from the brio and vivacity of the rough and tumble conference scene but lending the field a bit more of the staid orderliness that comes with a proper science. Unfortunately, the staid orderliness of TOG (as it was known to its friends) was chastened by the fact that its production was about a year behind schedule, meaning that their paper would come out so much later than ours as to be embarrassing. When the Pixar folks discovered our paper's imminent arrival - maybe because they were asked to referee, they 'smelled a rat' and assumed that Dr Barsky was 'fucking them over' to favor the advancement of his own soon-to-be newly minted PhD, a possibly not totally unreasonable position given the well-known dog-eat-dog nature of the academy, and they called him and may-or-may-not have explicitly accused him of said conspiracy.  Mark and I, obviously, were delighted by the turn of events.  A scrap, a brawl, a rumble between our society of distinguished scholars and the korporate brutes outside its containment shield.  Hop la!  And they were so concerned with it all! While we just saw it as a pleasant diversion. A bit of fun mathematics, a bit of fun programming, a chance to put little animal heads with exposed Brains into the text of our paper and our usual fantastic acknowledgement section with occult holocaust references and fake bibliography (e.g., Crash by J. G. Ballard), tickling the powers above.

And, oh my oh my, those powers above censored one of the brains!  To wit, the most beautiful cat brain on page 77 of the proceedings, our coup de théâtre, that which would launch us into the Pantheon of the great minds of our generation.  Happy to have our own reason to be incensed, we prepared a volley and launched it against the ACM's so-called Special Interest Group.  We printed up a great number of errata sheets, like so:

and passed them out amongst the multitudes of attendees, who dutifully took them and, ah joy of joys, dutifully looked up page 77 and placed them carefully inside, like the great Stalin's replacement of Beria in the Soviet encyclopedias with extended articles on the Bering Sea. We presented our paper to great acclaim, took our bows, and soon the Cook paper, Stochastic sampling in computer graphics, arrived in due course in the January '86 issue of TOG, his feathers having been smoothed by a contrite and ignorance-claiming (the simple truth) Dr "Brain" Barsky.

La la la. That could have been it, but we, suckled as we were on the sweet cream of de Sade, Survival Research Laboratories and the Kipper Kids dancing on broken glass, well, we couldn't just leave it alone, could we? And of course, we had in fact been asked, as the putative experts in the field, to referee the Cook paper, written before ours but oh so joyously presented for publication after, and maybe, just maybe, cleaned up a tiny tad. And we found problems with it. Hoo boy did we. It was hardly up to our fetishistic notions of proper academic-ness. How could it be? In our self-love and self-admiration, we had achieved the pinnacle and the rest of the world lay far below. While our phony bibliography was a work of the highest art, Cook's bibliography had the audacity to reference a Benjamin Franklin paper on magic squares, which they used as stochastic generators with no foundation, none of the mathematical underpinnings of our masterwork, only pictures which "looked good" (and they did look good at that.) We demanded that they reference our paper, being a seminal publication in the field, and we criticized and criticized and gave them low marks as we knew the paper would be published anyway. And wen it finally was a-borned, would we, could we, allow the dead horse to lie unbeaten? No, absolutely not, and we fired off an angry reply to the editor, a brilliantly worded rejoinder which led to a another rebuttal and the fun continued until we finally, our last bit of sperm spent across the face, fell back and slept, the deep and well-deserved sleep of the just and right and meek.

In the end, both papers have been cited quite a bit. We discovered quite happily that Oscar Leneman was a bit of a worldly fellow, having left the engineering profession after publishing the above pictured erotic illustrated fairy tale to deal in South Asian artifacts. Pixar got the patent on stochastic sampling, now expired, which we were once asked to help challenge in court, but declined, having gone on to better things: girls and drugs and Hollywood and the exciting world of The Opera and its ins and outs. Our math was used in textbooks as it was actually correct, but the weird Judeo-Islamo-Christian preoccupation with the one true God and the way He and His angels designed the eye in all its glory still seems to fascinate and lead people to the Poisson disk distribution even though it doesn't work so well and is in general harder to compute. Going up against God and His angels is of course difficult for mortal men, as hard as fighting City Hall, and doesn't really get one girls and drugs so in the end who cares?

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