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?

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Mordake Finances

Since other composers and artists are often curious about the finances of my operas, let's please have a moment of silence here for all the dollars burned to a cinder in my many vanity productions. 


I watched Mr. Deeds goes to Town the other night, a Frank Capra feel-good illusory bit of fluff that seems to imply that good conquers evil and other loads of misinformed gobbledygook, in which there was a moment where Deeds as the newly minted chairman of the opera board is informed that oh my my of course the opera never makes money (see Tit. 1:11) at which point he states the unwelcome obvious: maybe the opera isn't performing things that people want to see. The rest of the stuffed shirts on the board are of course shocked but we as the audience know this to be the simple truth. Opera, and especially modern opera, is a niche of a niche of niche of niche and, if disappeared tomorrow, would sink below the surface of the culture with the barest ripple.

But we modern oddball opera types beg and borrow and sometimes steal and try to convince those with their hand on the spigot of some real money that what we do is important, good for you, like eating your broccoli, and that it makes perfect sense to subsidize us wastrels, bohemians and good-for-nothings to produce fashionable nonsense that will assuage their robber-baron guilt-ness.

And here's the bottom line: Mordake was in about the middle of the expense range of my past productions, not too hot nor too cold, just in the middle, and I was able to wheedle about $35K in grant-based funding (requiring about twenty-five actual filings) to help cover those costs. In addition, there was about $1K in box office earnings and, as usual, about $10K of my own money.  I have noticed that, hard as I try to contain things, and whether or not the production is at the high side or the low side of the expense compass, this last figure is always about the same, a small bit of hair shirt that penances me for my folly. 

I have been led to believe that there are some people who don't lose money on their productions.  I believe there are people whose artistic and theatrical works are actually sought out and remunerated generously, like the recently minted PhD in Astrophysics and erstwhile guitar hero Brian May.  But I seem to have failed quite miserably in this particular aspect of my musical career and mayhap I do need to accept the unwanted and unwelcome obvious.
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