Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dying in the Saddle

from the wikipedia article on Louis Vierne:

Vierne suffered a heart attack while giving his 1750th organ recital at Notre-Dame de Paris on the evening of June 2, 1937. He had completed the main concert, which members of the audience said showed him at his full powers - "as well as he has ever played." After the main concert, the closing section was to be two improvisations on submitted themes. He read the first theme in Braille, then selected the stops he would use for the improvisation. He suddenly leaned forward, clutching his chest, and fell off the bench as he hit the low "E" pedal of the organ. He lost consciousness as the single note echoed throughout the church. He had thus fulfilled his oft-stated lifelong dream - to die at the console of the great organ of Notre-Dame.

I've fantasized about two modes of death: one rather like the above, but peacefully in my sleep, the completed but not-yet-fully orchestrated manuscript of my own Requiem Mass slowly spilling off my night table; the other more akin to the death of Nelson Rockefeller.  

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Mordake Visuals, Construction, Music et al

routeI was informed by electronic post late last night that Lynne has been blogging her work for Mordake. As of yesterday morning I finally finished setting the last of Douglas's text, almost just barely too late as we really are in the middle of rehearsals, and Herr Weiß is here only for another week or so, and M. Duykers is back in Florida performing final excruciations on his students. Several would-be assistants had other projects interfere with their participation, but luckily our friend Diana showed up direct from Amersfoort NL, firmly gripped the handle of our construction problems, caused the Jack in the Box to pop out, and has left us all deeply satisfied with her work. 

Mary Ellen Hunt dropped by to interview Frieder and me for a mention in the Chronicle's article about the SFIAF, but we've been corresponding a bit about those people who, like Mordake are double-faced.  She referenced the young Indian girl who is believed by some to be a reincarnation of Ganesh, I countered with Chang Tzu Ping (with a nod to the recent alleged Lakshmi reincarnation), and then on to various other facial tumors and skin ailments and so on. These photos disturb me a bit even though I wish I could just accept them as part of the continuum of human styles and substances.  Like the murder victim we happened across today draped with a cloth and surrounded by police tape and squad cars, they seem to remind me too much of my own fragile physical nature, one step away from worm dirt.

Tune of the day

Angus Dei

Thursday, April 17, 2008


As a milksop, I've been reticent to specify the true nature of some rhythms I use commonly, so I'd like to say here for those of you listening that when the pulse is basically quarters (say) and I write a time signature of 7/8 (say), what I really mean is 3½/4 or 3/4 + 1/8 or 3.5/4.  I've tried to explain this to a number of conductors in the past but they've scowled at me and tossed their hair and brushed me aside and explained that this is simply not possible, that they can't have a dangling ½ a beat andthen  proceed to conduct it as 2 2 3, which really is not the same, now is it? I mean, it's *really* goddang not the same! So why do I allow it? Well, see the definition of namby-pamby in your well-thumbed English-English dictionary.  

Looking back, I was clearly infected with such jumpy skittery rhythms by their common usage in the pop music of my youth, e.g., Led Zeppelin's Ocean, which features an ostinato alternating between 4/4 and 3½/4. My high school was a hotbed of wannabe progressive rock musicians and often featured such at the oral-sex-and-alcohol-fueled parties which I would have attended except for my aforementioned milksopish milquetoastishness, but sometimes, leaving the SQ-encoded recording of Petrushka playing on my quad hifi, I would sneak outside in my bunny footed yellow pajamas to peek in through the window, to hear them playing excerpts from such devil-besotted music, their long locks swaying to the beat, sweat dripping down their bare chests, a slide show of one of them dressed in their SCA finery projected on the walls while their girlfriends (ah, girlfriends!) waited for it all to stop so they could put on their singer-songwriter LPs and make out with their BFs, lost in a romantic fantasy, fingers and lips searching and probing the limits of their young love.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Ode to the Shy Monk

Review of the Missa came out today in the St. Gallen Tagblatt.  Google's automatic translator produces this, which is a bit poetic, viz "Major outbreaks searches in vain."  Listening to the recording from Sunday in the clear but jet-lagged light of day today, which I've put up here, I realize that they did do a beautiful job.  

Worlds in Collision

Was reading my copy of IEEE Spectrum this morning at 5 am and found a description of my friend Frieder's work. Very beautiful.  Looking forward to working with him again in just a few days.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Rhythms, Bells, St Gallus and the Bear

After four years hanging over my head, the Mass finally premiered last night, and hanging over my head was the above: St Gallus in the company of the bear with whom he traded sandwiches for firewood, and, to continue this trope past the point of enjoyment, I woke up hung over after the free-flowing alcohol-laced VIP reception, where, just like Scrappy and his friend, we decided in our stupor to ring the doorbells and wake up the bishop but succeeded in waking only his sister as he was out "on assignment." Thank God for Europe where they still seem to sell out houses - and a mighty big House o' God in this case - for brand spanking new music and where they seem to applaud and applaud and applaud to the point of embarrassment (although this discomfort is one with which my vanitas can well live). Kim Brockman was the soloist and stole the show with her effortless navigation of the 23rd Psalm which, I have to say, is really just more or less in a simple 3/4, but the accompaniment tends to confuse. 

Speaking of confusion, even though over in Kyle Gann's heaven of stratospheric beauty, present concerns are partial tuplets and non-power-of-two-denominator time signatures, down here wallowing in the mud of the temporal world, I would be just a little bit happier in my insignificant existence if I could be assured of accurate non-partial tuplets and power-of-two-denominator time signatures and reliable groupings of 8ths and 16ths at moderate tempi that don't quite hit the downbeats. But the performance was lovely, and the circle of communication from composer to performer to audience and back again was closed very nicely, and I was overjoyed just to experience it all in such an over-the-top goopy-rococo environment. 

The performance was in the choir - which you can see here - using one of the two mechanically connected baroque organs. The stiff action necessitated a simplification of the faster parts of the Credo. I wrote a quick Postlude as a bit of espresso or maybe dolce to wake up the audience after a long period of contemplation of our insignificance and the certain oncoming freight train of death, etc, but it turned out that even my delightful insouciance was a bit beyond the very limited rehearsal time for Willibald, so we had to cut the (as I call it) Terry Riley section, that with one meter for each limb (although really two are in the right hand and one is split between the feet), but as to the remainder, as Duncan put it, Willibald hit it.

The best part of performing in the Dom Kathedral is that, every fifteen minutes, there is a small but very clear bell part added to the piece, almost always in just the perfect place, so much better than the added ambulance sirens of my mostly urban performances, and in fact I herewith formally add the instruction to the score: play a clock chime or two or maybe even a few more every fifteen minutes starting at a random time offset (well, actually at five minutes before the quarter hour marks as we need to give the brothers time to dust off the knees of their robes and get themselves to tend the radish garden or whatever) and please don't be stopped by the fact that the soprano is just now putting herself in the proper mood for her emotive solo or the fact that the music is really really really quiet, OK?

(photo by Lynne)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Lake Como

Looking over Lake Como from our room at the Bellavista in Valmedrera at the town of Lecco in the distance, where my filmmaker friend Ilaria lives. Lynne says the bell tower is typical Lombardy.  Bellagio, the real one, is just north of here, famous in my circles for the Rockefeller study center. Ron Kuivila told us that his residency there consisted of one unbroken cocktail hour. The hoteliers speak Western Lombard, not sure which dialect.

Tomorrow we take the trip over the alps in the opposite direction of Hannibal, sans war elephants, but with pillaging, conquest and victory on my mind at least, into the land of Schweizerdeutsch.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Ruth's Kosher Vegetarian Restaurant

Image:Synagogue di Firenze.jpg
We had several great meals in Florence. First was a traditional Bistecca alla Fiorentina and the second was just around the corner from the synagogue (above) at Ruth's Kosher Vegetarian Restaurant.  The former because of the enormity both in mass and taste and the second because the owner regaled us with stories of his days in Prague in the bad old days of the Soviet repression: how he hung out with Vaclav Havel (he had a book of photos of the two of them and various other hippie types), about the Plastic People of the Universe (including where they all are now), about the Velvet Underground (and how the Velvet Revolution was named after them), about the importance of Frank Zappa to their culture, about how they carried copies of the White Album with a label peeled off a Smetana LP, and how the best Milos Forman film is Taking Off.  

Friday, April 4, 2008

More devils than birds in the sky

A great number of demons in the Vatican, some quite voluptuous, some rakish, some horrific, but all kinda appealing. While we all hope for an eternity spent in quiet contemplation of the Celestial Visage, the fires of Hell and the activities of its residents make a far more winsome subject for the visual arts.  

Luigi Dallapiccola

My son said yesterday that it would be expedient for me career-wise to spend a bit of time in prison, especially for a political crime. Maybe that's more likely currently, here in the land of Mussolini and Berlusconi than back in the sun soaked bliss of whatever San Francisco. In Roma my thoughts have turned to the various Italians I have known and loved: Nono and Berio and Dallapiccola. The budding latter young Luigi did spend some career enhancing time with his family in a camp for subversives in Graz, the hometown of our own favorite California National Socialist and Führer, but the connection today is a mention of myself in a discussion here on whether Dallapiccola may have wanted to have his music played in JI or some other non-equal tuning system. I felt compelled to correct a small error. A statement on the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory: I often need to correct others' mistakes, answer yes. JI and tuning history in general is still so misunderstood, and the recentness of the God-given nature of 12 equal so little known, that I do feel I need to say something from time to time just to rail against the darkness etc. Once again I feel the need to retune my life and music a bit.
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