Saturday, December 31, 2011

Pointing the way to the future of the medium

The life of the opera composer is a tough life, a life fabricated from raw ambition, of the ruthless climbing of the musical ladder, of finding a dog that will eat the other dog, of game-theoretic cuttings of the cake, delicate in an atmosphere of distrust, where one must watch so that even one's closest friends, smiling across the dinner table, sipping the wine that you will soon be buying for them, might consider, in a moment of inadequate attention, to just slip a knuckle dagger a-rib-glancing into your heart. But even in that dark and Bergmanesque life, sometimes a ray of sunshine breaks through, where for example, we replay the phone call that arrived on my doorstep this morning, transcribed here for your amusement:


looking at the caller ID
Oh is this the San Francisco Opera, oh my oh my, I can't believe it, you're commissioning one of my operas, oh god, oh god, I can't breathe, just a moment, you've made me so happy, give me a moment, while I compose myself, now, oh I'd like to thank my teachers, all those people who made this possible, I am so happy, wait, what's that, what?, I oh you what

and we want to thank you for your past support

oh no, my god no, you just want my money, oh the shame of it all, sniffling, then breaking into sobs, huh huh, chest heaving, why am I such a fool, a stupid fool, a fucking stupid worthless fool, piece of shit, fuck fuck fuck, oh god, fucking shit, that's the last of it, the last, oh god

and this year we plan to bring back Turandot in a new production where Puccini himself appears on stage as a giant ice swan

sobbing uncontrollably, lifts a gun to his head



Weeks after that aforementioned dinner conversation, my good artistic friend and competitor S. Kraft and I spent a pleasant evening in conversation, on display in a privacy booth at the 5M something-or-other-seasonal party. The atmosphere, thickened by the sweat of milling drunken youth, was redolent with sex, and our talk turned naturally to the topic. I told her of my previous as-yet-unrequited attempts to bring sex more strongly into my work, primarily through the vehicle of the long-suffering second Bisso-Wold collaboration 24x7, which, like Sub Pontio Pilato before it, had turned into a sprawling epic, caroming from Jack the Ripper to 120 Days of Sodom and points between. We talked of our shared admiration for San Francisco, a city of wantonness and hedonistic delight, where the fulfilling of one's lightest-felt caprices is the occupation of all. We spoke of the Armory, a beauteous Moorish Revival castle now run as a showcase to hogtying, a former boxing stadium now featuring girl-on-girl wrestling whose prize is the prising domination of the loser, and confessed of our friends who had worked there and throughout the sexual strata of the city.

I hoped, I said, to connect more with that institution, and maybe to perform something in its labyrinth of reconstructed motel rooms and gynecologist offices. I had considered scoring one of their works with a lush and voluptuous and eager composition, but recordings are not experience, and the fourth wall of film is too thick for such profound acts. Sex, I said, should be experienced live, either in the comfort in one's own homes, with one's own partners, or in public where that fourth wall cannot exist, where the distance of an audience member is difficult to maintain. Sex, performed live, is like a music that "sneaks past one's defenses and whose delicate beauty glides in just below the listener's critical consciousness," an act piercing direct to the emotional center, past the intellect, deep down and down and then down a little more.

So, soon, something will come of all this. In the meantime, there are two operas to finish, and one is the commission from the Austrians, appealing to my cupidity as well as my soul. And a commission from someone else, about which I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement, an agreement so tight that I had to agree that if approached by the media, I could in fact say nothing at all, not even "no comment" or "any other non-substantive answer." I list those possibilities now, again, for your enjoyment:

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Mathematics, as it is

Whenever I am asked whether I make a living as a composer and I have to reveal that no, like so many, I have a day job, and then I'm asked what pray tell might that be, and I say I'm a mathematician or whatever category into which I'm dropping my job as Chief Scientist that day, I brace myself for the inevitable insight that well, Music is Mathematics, isn't it now.  Being a Very Nice Fellow, I smile wanly and nod and then try patiently to explain that no, it is nothing like Mathematics, any more than Cooking is Mathematics, Writing is Mathematics, Painting is Mathematics.

But then, they might say, even those Things are in fact Mathematics. Remember the words to the children's song by Tom Lehrer:
Counting sheep
When you're trying to sleep,
Being fair
When there's something to share,
Being neat
When you're folding a sheet,
That's mathematics!
Like most children's songs, there is a great Truth here, which I capitalize to distinguish it from actual truth. Mathematics is a study of abstract objects, and most would understand that in the sense of modern Platonism: points, lines, ideals, manifolds, rings, lattices, graphs, numbers, cardinals, propositions, sets, symbols. Those abstract objects are fun to study in their own right, but the Truths of Mathematics come into their own and touch our lives when they find a life as models of Real Objects, some of which they model well and some of which they don't. Sometimes we work to arrive at those models, but oftentimes our conceptions of real objects are greatly simplified to match a mathematical theory that we happen to have lying about.

So, let's be more precise. What one might say is that those Fields of Study above have attributes that can be modeled more or less accurately by Mathematical Objects and that one might be able to glean certain knowledge of those Fields of Study by manipulating those Mathematical Objects, assuming all of one's assumptions are more or less correct, that the initial mapping is OK, and that those mappings still remain OK even under the effect of whatever manipulations one might make in the abstract realm.

What is really really hard about applying Mathematics to the Arts, is that manipulation of anything in the Arts might yield something interesting artistically, since there is no absolute arbiter of anything, as Good and Dad and Judgement are of the past, and one can find an audience for any jumble of phonons or photons or smell-ons.  This makes the final judgement as to whether one's model is Right or Wrong well nigh impossible.

But still, limiting ourselves to the artistic area in question, one might ask: how well can available mathematical models map to something in Music that will help us compositionally or analytically?  And, like all fields of study, there are some things that work OK: in my other life, the fields of acoustics and signal processing are based on this. In that day job, I may assume that a sound is modeled by a continuous curve and that I can differentiate and integrate and take limits to infinity. This assumption is far from a Truth, but it's OK, it works OK, I can manipulate all day long and at the end of the day discover something in my Platonist Plane of Existence that I can transcribe into software and drop into an iPad app and voila!, it sells to the masses who want Groupon coupons generated by listening to the ads on the TV. And, in my musical life, I may model a musical event as a note, and further reduce that to some parameters, like a pitch, which is then further reduced to a frequency, and that to a number which, in a ratio with other numbers, can inform me as to how to tune my guitar.

We all saw many attempts in the heady days of the post war academy to model musically related parameters like crazy, to manipulate them like crazy, and to come up with maps that we hoped we might follow to some Heavenly Abode where - well, I'm not exactly sure what.  Where we might find the Perfect Music?  Or the next Perfect Musical Publication? The serialists' attempts to construct a set-theoretic world based on a small set of discrete parameters is in my opinion a model-of-a-model far removed from the world of a sound, where it's hard enough to pin down music into discrete anythings, e.g. where a musical event starts and stops, or what its please-pick-one pitch is. If notes had single pitches, Auto-tune wouldn't exist. The funny thing is that there is a lot of fabulous serialist music, but, in my opinion, I don't think the models were helpful in getting there any more than any other kick in the pants.

Of course I know the models, and I use them, in a crafty way, to solve problems that I hit here and there, just like the Painter knows the models and may compute the Golden Ratio from time to time, not knowing whether it really is Good or Bad but whatever. And, if my inquisitor by this point hasn't run for the table with the potato chips, I would then set my hand on her shoulder and explain further that the joy of Music Composition, for me, is the impossible-to-quantify or at least the uninteresting-to-quantify ineffable aspects that I don't really even want to understand: how one writes when one has stayed up all night; how one allows God and his Angels, dark or light or their familiars, to speak through us; how it is that there is that one passage of Boulez's Le soleil des eaux that gives me chills; how I can find my way to a piece of music that, when listened to later, I don't understand in the slightest. There is an aspect of the endless, of eternity here, and I might remind my partner in conversation of the end of the B section of the tune above:
If you could count for a year, would you get to infinity,
Or somewhere in that vicinity?
The answer is no, as Wittgenstein said in his Philosophical Remarks:
Where the nonsense starts is with our habit of thinking of a large number as closer to infinity than a small one. ... The infinite is that whose essence is to exclude nothing finite. 
A model, no matter how finely developed, is, like the runner in Zeno's paradox, no closer to reality than the model before it. Music is not Mathematics, no how and no way. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Celebration of Rejection; or the beautiful Miss Candy Candykins

I'm off to Paris to meet Lynne, check that her paintings match the city, and spread the ashes of our dear beloved friend Evelyn. A bit in the Seine, a bit at Les Deux Magots (sprinkled over the crème de menthe), a little buried outside her favorite pizza place, a little tucked in next to Napoleon in Les Invalides. 

After that, heading to Amsterdam to catch up with Laura Bohn, who is performing in a Monteverdi / Hip-Hop mashup performance, then to Berlin to perform the Shitstorm of Asshattery letter with the lovely and talented Candy (which may not be her real name).  The highlight will almost certainly be my tearful love song to Simon Stockhausen, longing for the tête-à-tête we will now never have, which goes something like:
Dear Simon
How it thrills me
When you sneer
Just a little
Compel me to do 
What you want me to do
I want to be
A forward thinker
Like you
My Simon 
My Simon 
My Simon  
So why I am traveling all the way to Berlin? I am making a big deal of a rejection, something we have to deal with daily, but, Oh what a rejection!  A rejection of epic proportions! 

On that topic, one of my peeviest peeves is as follows. One spends a lot of time working on a proposal asking some foundation for its cash, which, as far as I am concerned they owe you for chrissakes, or similarly on the preparations for a competition or reading, which again takes quite a bit of time and energy and a Benjamin or two for all the copying and postage and whatnot and then in the end, more often than not, you receive a form letter - well, just an email nowadays, akin to being dumped by SMS - which tells you very little, e.g.:

Dear Erling,
I am writing on behalf of Music Director Joana Carneiro to let you know that we have completed the selection for next year’s composers as part of Berkeley Symphony’s Under Construction new music reading series and, unfortunately, we are unable to offer you a position this year.  We very much appreciate the strong quality of this year’s applicants and regret that there are but three positions available in the program.  Thanks again for your interest in our program and we hope you’ll consider reapplying in a future season.
Yours sincerely,
--- so and so ---
Director of Operations
Berkeley Symphony

So should one really reapply?  Or do they think your music sucks so bad that next time it will go into the shredder in its entirety once your return address's postal code is noticed?  Would it be so hard to simply send you a transcript of their discussion so one knows something at least of whether it is worth your time? One applauds their love for all your fellow applicants and their work, at least their love for the average applicant's work, but it's unclear what they thought of one's own work, which one might think is the more important question at hand. 

Work in progress

Working on the new opera, whose title has morphed into Certitude and Joy with various longish subtitles, and which is not to be confused with the orchestral piece of the same name, but which shares some of the same themes, especially the opening.  In playing it for the wife and the director, the favorite section seems to be that whose accompaniment is an arithmetical average between two pieces: Regard du Père (Messiaen) and the introduction to the opera Irma (Gavin Bryars).  It's a sentimental tune, sung by God to us the audience, describing his relationship to his prophets here on Earth.

Some of the words - especially the section about how one wishes to have it all explained at the end - is from my mother. She wants this, she hopes she will get it, but she is absolutely sure that she will meet my father after her death. On his deathbed, my father told me that his greatest wish was that his children had a personal relationship with Christ, a desire he didn't achieve. My mother wishes the same, but has accepted the loss.

Working on setting of the words, I'm reminded of a question put to me by Charles Shere once on stage, during a meet-the-composer moment after a performance of the opening of Sub Pontio Pilato in a two-piano reduction, viz Did you write the words before or after the music?  I fumbled the answer, feeling there was something wrong with the question, that the right answer was something like Oh, they both came to me at the same instant or Oh, they both were developed together, walking hand in hand down the aisle to the perfect consummation of text and sound. I've realized since then that, as with everything else, there are no rules, every process is OK. I often work in all possible ways: music first, words second, vice versa, both together, each running ahead and waiting for the other to catch up, revisions and sketches and quick outlines and everything else.

Please remember this: there are no rules. There is good and bad, but there are no rules as to how to get there.

Tonight's concert

In the first work, a plague-infested chipmunk, a cute little thing, as tiny as can be, with foam at the mouth, was hung in chains from the lighting grid, swinging slowly from side to side which, according to the program notes, was a reference to Reich's Pendulum Music. A small patch of hair on its chest had been shaved away, normally quite difficult to see, except that a small video camera was attached to the chain and the image from the camera was being wirelessly beamed to a large screen overhead. This allowed the audience and the humane society volunteers to monitor the condition of the expiring animal, both emotionally and physically. On the shaved portion of the skin, a small piezo microphone attached, and a long thin wire hung down, looping through some sort of magnetic amplification system, with the resultant enhanced bioacoustic signals - heartbeat, respiration et al - driving a solenoid which, in Rube Goldberg fashion, and, at the end of its extension, struck a percussionist quite hard just below the rib cage. At each bruising blow, the percussionist moved to the next event in the score, which was merely a list, viz:
Hard mallet ff on bass drum, 4 cm from the edge, damped with a cupped hand.
Medium triangle p rolled with beaters. etc
Later, after the show, I went into the lobby to ask John Luther Adams to autograph my copy of the orchestral score to Dark Waves. Skeptical at first, but then happy to find that I had actually purchased the score, rather than stealing from some music library, he sat down and began to work. Asking me whether there was an "H" in my name, I said yes, as there is: Erling Henry Wold, but unfortunately I misunderstood, and the very lovely dedication is now capped off by the name Ehrling Wold, bookending my J.S.G. Boggs Considerate States of America Banknote, whose signed REGISTER reads Earling H. Wold.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Shitstorm of Asshattery

I recently labored over an opera proposal with a fellow artist, a proposal submitted to a seemingly reputable operatic organization somewhere in a Central European country in response to their call for submissions.  The theme of the call was The New Deal.  We asked them if they meant by this the American New Deal, and they said yes. Our proposal made it through the first round of cuts and we were invited to give a full presentation, an invitation which we treated with all due diligence. We plotted and prepared for that day and, when it came, sent my colleague off to the wars armed with the sheafs of parchment upon which all was carefully lettered. We now join my colleague in her description of what transpired.  As she prefers to remain anonymous, we will give her an appropriate pseudonym, say 'Candy', in the sequel.

Dearest Erling.

You got the short version earlier, which I wrote while I was doing that girl thing where some of us get so angry we have to either start ripping out throats or crying. Now I have perspective. Here is what happened:

About a week ago I started putting together my presentation, in the form of slides. They'd called a few times to ask whether I had any particular technological needs, or would require a piano, or whatever, and to tell me about the hardcore schedule they'd created for a full weekend extravaganza of meal tickets, free seats to see their very hyperactive rock musical with strong accidental homoerotic overtones about a group of lonely people and their relationships to their self-aware online avatars, group presentations, and so on. I'll send you a link to the presentation I eventually used, but it was basically images I found online and sound files and video clips (Chess Game and The Academy of Science) that would help me tell the story of what you do, what the project might be like, and what sort of vision we might be stumbling towards, with a bunch of text that I more or less stuck to. I thought about how to lead them through the thought process, how we interpreted New Deal and so on.

Yesterday we all met for an uncomfortable breakfast of soup bowls filled with coffee in the cafe downstairs from the theater, after which we all filed, 3 people at a time and standing very close together (the German stare, incidentally, is not lessened by proximity, in case you were wondering about that) via elevator up to the strange cluttered attic space upstairs where we would be presenting. We learned there had been 44 submissions this year. I also learned accidentally that at least one group... well, one guy... had been invited just a few days prior, to travel all expenses paid from Czechoslovakia. In fact I was the only local artist, everyone else of the 7 groups in the second round seemed to have come from a variety of exotic places.

1. The first group was 2: a very confident young lady fresh out of German theater school and her Spanish composer friend. Using nothing but mouth words and confidence, they proposed a work which explores the topic of how auditioning is hard, because casting directors have specific ideas and isn't that outrageous?? They proposed to explore this very serious topic onstage in the form of interpretive dance, and the singing (this is an opera, after all) should be done by people who are not only untrained but unsuitable for professional singing. The instrumentation was irrelevant, because the dancer-singers should ideally also play an instrument, which they would bring perhaps if they felt moved to do so, and play using each others notes which are written for other instruments. They therefore don't have a libretto per se, but they have gotten together a few times to see how it feels and they think it feels pretty good, at least the dancing part.

2. The second group was three very shy little boys wearing cardigans, who seemed to basically present the idea that it is possible today to play any midi piece whatsoever in alternate tunings. 12 Tone! 14 Tone! 24 Tone! We heard it all. A Gavotte by someone important, which sounded positively un-Gavotte-like! Asked how this would translate to the stage, they concurred this would need to be discussed. Also staging, and story, and that sort of thing. However, they were certain that singers would absolutely not be involved, because singers already earn far, far too much money singing La Boheme.

3. I was third. I opened with a clip of The Bed You Sleep In before introducing myself, because I thought it was a nice way to get their attention slowly, give them time to look at the key visual I developed for the proposal, and get in the mood. And I thought it would be a great idea to go after two really shitty presentations since, at that time, I still assumed the other ones would probably be better. And the music reminded me a little of the Depression-era thing I'd reference later. It worked. People definitely were rapt, and the presentation went very well. I introduced myself as a singer and played a variety of clips and apologized that I'd be speaking a little on your behalf, but that I'd do my best and give everyone an idea of what we were thinking and what we might do together.  People were with me, they laughed and Hmm'd at the right points. I felt them come along. I talked about the other people who we might like to involve, and why, and what we made of the New Deal theme. What the characters might be, how the story might progress.

But the room was a weird read. I felt a big wave of positivity, but then I received the following questions:

- "So, wait, is there singing in this opera?"
- "Wow, that's really ambitious. Singers, set, music, ideas..."
- "Where is the composer from again?"

I sat back down.

4. Fourth was the Czech guy, a writer who works in a design agency who was presenting on behalf of a composer he'd never met. He opened by playing a couple very bad techno-lite files while he walked over to the piano and stripped, then redressed in a wig, heels, mini skirt, fishnets, and push-up bra. The jury adored it. He presented a list of characters, voice parts, and a description of each act/aria/scene. The music was to take place 40% on mobile phones in the form of ringtones from a variety of well-known pop and classical artists, because, as we all now know, whores all have three mobile phones, one for friends, one for clients, and one for their pimp. The New Deal was the special price the newest whore offers her clientele.

5. Then after the break, we were assaulted by a fascinating monologue by a girl whose grandmother was chinese, so therefore she, too, is chinese, though her face is too pointy, and thus she is a counterfeit chinese person. The notion of which was surprisingly interesting. She would love to get a tattoo of a red star above her heart. She was dressed in a wig and fan (that she confessed later to have picked up on her lunch break) and proclaimed herself an excellent singer but refused to sing for us, even when repeatedly asked by the jury. Instead, she made use of her fan and dramatically recited the lyrics of a popular chinese karaoke song which she'd run through google translator. I liked her boots. She hadn't really thought about what the music in her opera proposal might be like, but, put on the spot, she mused that perhaps she could find some Chinese people to play some traditional chinese instruments. The set would have red couches, though. The jury loved her. I began to be confused.

6. After the non-Chinese monologue, we heard from 2 extremely earnest women who had spent several months or years interviewing people in several countries, and asking them about their earliest recollections of experiences with prayer, and what that meant to them. I have to admit, the project, in a museum, would be very moving. The interviews were all done in the native tongue of the interviewee, and the earnest women translated these to us. One of the two women squinted her right eye extremely tightly when she was stressed, and never stopped smiling with all her teeth. They proposed an opera which consisted of the sound of these interviews being played all at once, while one of the women sings (not the squinting one) in her earnest folk singer way, her repetitive vowel song about prayer, which was something like this: ooo. EEEEE. oooo. eeee. EEEEEEOOOOOO. ooo. EEEE. ooooo. And so on. And this gets layered and repeated in infinite ways. Words are not important to them. Also, audience members would be encouraged to bring their own instruments and join in. It should be a communion, but not about communion, or religion, or ritual, or giving, or taking. The set should not matter, it's not about set, or voice, but it's everything about voice, and what we say, but words are not even needed. So yes and... no. Not at all. Also, the audience should be provided with a half of a piece of clothing, which they must wear during the presentation. Not ritualistic or somehow in any way religious articles of clothing, rather along the lines of a shoulder of a dress, the hip of a skirt. They were not sure how these things could be made to stay in place. It would need to be discussed.

7. The last presenter was a handsome Italian dancer, very nervous and unprepared even by the standards of this group of absolute asshats, who wore his hair an in inexplicably small ponytail at the very top of his head, and whose dance troupe would like to do a piece based on a book about survivors of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. This is because it is very much like Italy, not in that Italy is being invaded by Soviets, or has a desert, but nevertheless the story really spoke to him and this is New Deal. Absolutely. He did not know what sort of music might be involved, and the set was totally unclear. Singing would be done by the dancers, because they don't have singers, they are dancers. But if the dancers sing, that could be interesting. Anyway, they don't think of opera as singing. They think of it as dancing and art, and, naturally, Afghanistan.

After this final presentation, we were fed a dinner of toast, and we could choose to see a production of the aforementioned massively energetic rock musical with accidental homoerotic overtones, which I did. It was absorbing! Major props to the excellent cast. Major. And the band. Each one a total superstar.

Before I crawled to bed last night, and my dog was in overnight sleepaway dog camp by the way so my feet were cold and I was nervous, I thought back over the day's events. There seemed a good chance we'd not advance, based on my gut feeling, and also some other feelings.


Part 2

Today was the day for private meetings with the jury with each presenting team. It was supposed to be a discussion to clarify anything, or explain things we didn't feel we had clearly communicated the day before. But before I had taken off my jacket, they informed me that it was a definite "no" by unanimous discussion last night. I wasn't totally phased by this, but expressed my disappointment and admitted I was very curious as to who they would pick and why, based on their reactions to the presentations the day before. Well, they said. The thing is, the presentation I gave was very good. VERY good. It was very professional, and very clear, and I communicated everything about the concept really well. But that's just it, Candy. It was simply TOO professional, and TOO developed. It was too good.

Well. I replied, trying to spin it, still. "Well, that is truly a pity. Hm. I had planned to start off our discussion today by reminding you that this was still just a concept, and a starting point for discussion. Since the parameters were so vague, we thought it was better to do something, as opposed to doing nothing, which is what most of the other presenters offered."

They replied that the parameters were spontaneous, and were developed over the course of the presentations.

**Here, Erling, I'll inform you that several people approached me after the presentations to pass their compliments on to you for the stunningly beautiful music. They were spellbound. And not for nothing, I got a lot of unsolicited compliments on the concept and my presentation in general.**

Back to the discussion with the jury: at this point the composer on the jury, S___, who specializes, incidentally, in a kind of electronic elevator music and who I am 100% sure was really jealous of your work, informed me that the music was boring, too classical, and not at all edgy, and CERTAINLY not the kind of music that they are looking for. I wrote that down as a note so that I would not actually spit at him, but my face was sufficiently rude as I gazed at him and said "what a fascinating comment." He could not look me in the eye after that. I am quite certain he has problems maintaining erections. He lamely went on to say, as his penis retracted obediently underneath the table, that the concept is too much like Robert Wilson. I really did not know what to say to that, so I chose to be pleased. I actually like Robert Wilson, even though I hear he's an insufferable asshole. But for the constructive value of this feedback, S___ may as well have told me monkeys can't bake banana bread all on their own. I stared.

And so, after an uncomfortable pause, the music critic jumped in and asked, incredibly, whether there was to be any singing, because she really did not understand that yesterday. I could only fix may gaze on her and mildly ask "is there any singing... in the opera?... presented to you by a soprano?...  hmm... yes."  Within my bosom, murder arose. I stabbed her in the eye repeatedly.

She then asked me whether I had misunderstood the 20 minute length of the proposals. I pointed out that the rules said 20 *TO* 30 minutes, that the difference between 20 and 30 minutes is immense, and that if I had mistaken anything, it was that we would actually be clarifying that sort of thing right then and there, as I'd been told we would be doing. She apologized and admitted that was true, the rules did say 20 to 30 minutes. I snorted and wondered whether they had all done drugs together recently.

Another jury member then expressed frustration that I wanted a tractor onstage during the production. This seemed a point of great interest among the entire jury, so I found myself incredulously explaining to them that this was clearly a concept presentation, and I was showing them images that would just give them a mood, a feeling, based on a few images I googled this week, for what we were or I was thinking of as inspiration, not that I was actually proposing that a 20-member chorus silently brings a tractor onstage in the middle of the piece. Someone said well, if you make a really good presentation, which you did, we are going to take it at exact face value. I replied that I at no point whatsoever had even intimated that an actual tractor might have any place whatsoever onstage during this show, and that I had in fact been quite clear when I showed it that the tractor image was simply a visual meant to evoke a mood. I reminded them that if they had wanted to see *exactly* what the work would look like onstage, they would have to pay me first. They did not seem to grasp what I meant by this.

They accused me of having too much information about the New Deal, to which I apologized for having chosen to do something to show my thought process about the theme they themselves had proposed and which I'd taken seriously, rather than having done nothing, which most of the teams opted for. I said this, and they asked me what I meant. I wondered whether I had taken drugs, and forgotten.

They asked why on earth I would have assembled a whole team for the production, "not that there's anything wrong with that." I said that I had been under the impression, perhaps mistakenly, that they were looking for clues that we could actually organize what we set out to do, in case that would be needed. I repeated for the thousandth time that nothing had been set in stone, and that I thought that had been made abundantly obvious. If they had wanted something specific, they could have told me. Oh no, no, they said. We don't want specifics.

Then they told me they had specifically wanted more information about the characters we'd proposed. Why didn't I spend more time on that instead of the concept and theme and music and set and team?

Then they said it would be much too ambitious to include Roosevelt and Sarah Palin in the show. At this point I began to lose my temper, really. I reiterated my sadness at having been so grossly misunderstood, and at not having had an opportunity to correct these rather astounding misunderstandings. They apologized for having made it seem that I would actually need to inform them of the connections between New Deal and our proposals. I said, thank you, I would know next time to bring absolutely nothing to the table, so that I would not have to defend having actually given any thought to the matter. Before death or weeping, someone made let's-end-this-shitstorm-for-the-love-of-god gestures, which I spoke over loudly and emphatically and flounced out of the room. The three little boys waiting their turn outside the room looked at me sadly and totally bewildered as I rushed past. Then they looked scared.



I've already prepared my submission for next year. It goes like this: 20 blank pages, bound, and a DVD of myself sitting on the floor facing a wall, eating candy and farting light bulbs, for 20 minutes. I'll invite my friend Anya to contribute a thought-dance, which is more a process about doing nothing, and of non-physicality, than of actual dance.

Erling. We failed miserably. Rather, I did. I apologize. I dearly wanted to work with you, and to bring your work to them, because I think it is simply gorgeous, gorgeous, beautiful art. The process was interesting, but I should have known, maybe, that it was bound to be a ridiculous clusterfuck of incompetence, idiocy and clownery. I'm glad I tried, though. I hope there will be another chance sometime.

With love,

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bedtime Stories

While spending the morning in bed duly reading, to be followed by an afternoon duly avoiding duty, followed by an evening spent again in the avoidance of the aforementioned duties, I am filled with guilt, but then I remember Ned Rorem's maxim "Nothing is waste that makes a memory" and I think, from what of this will memories come? And this question leads me to a reverie, where I remember how, in part of this morning's reading, I came across Madhu Kaza's Here Is Where We Meet.  I wonder, how is Kaza's service different from my own, that Bedtime Story Reading Service which I have offered for so many years to all who would stop to listen, pressing my sweaty calling card into their palm as they giggled, nervous but excited at the possibilities of such an intimate event? Or the services, offered by upscale hotels, for those who would not wish to be labeled literary callboys?

In fact, the differences are subtle, yet simple, and separate what one might think of as an interesting diversion from those same actions labeled as Art. 

The first is that her version comes with a far more detailed set of rules than mine, in six categories, spelling out times and locked doors and who is OK and not OK. My service  has had no such rules. I have always been willing to show up whenever and wherever the client wanted me, regardless of their schedule or lack thereof, regardless of geographical location, allowing them to define bedtime in their own way, acceding to all their demands, no matter how far outside my normal experience, my comfort zone. If they wanted me to choose, I was willing to pick the story or the book, and, if I did, I would work to find a literary portrait appropriate for them, or at least as close as I could come given my experiences of them, or if they wished, they could choose the text, and I had no problem with 'bedmates' or children or adults or personal safety or demands violating my chastity.

Let's take an example: just yesterday, Lynne mentioned my services to a friend of hers, Ms. C__, a friend who is worried about the troubles that might arise - and this is speculation on her part - as her sixteen year old daughter comes of age and meets headlong that world we know is full of dangers, some which threaten to take that which can never be regained, an innocence, and, this friend, who, although purportedly a wild child during her own coming of age, wishes her daughter would wait to discover the world of romance and the aforementioned loss of innocence until the arrival of a more settled adulthood, say approximately thirty years of age, matching the lengthened adolescence of Cicero's Pro Caelio, from which we remember he said, and taking the trouble to swap some boy words for more neutral language:
By general consent we concede a youth a few wild oats. Nature showers adolescence with a veritable spate of desires. If the dam bursts without endangering anyone's life or breaking up anyone's home, we put up with it easily and cheerfully. 
Although this quote seems to have punctured my argument, as it advocates a boys/girls will be boys/girls attitude, the exact question at debate to which Lynne's friend was unwilling to accede, my point is that the youth that Cicero was defending was 29 at the time of the incident, and Cicero seemed quite happy to stretch his forgiveness of youthful vigor to whatever age necessary to make the legal argument forgiving the defendant for whatever. C__'s desire to bring me into this mêlée was in the role of a highbrow truant officer, a teenage curfew enforcer, there to make sure the lass was actually in bed, going to sleep, not slipping out the window after plumping up the bed with pillows stuffed under the coverlet, shaped into the shape of a young woman's body.  Although it was clear to me that there could be no other person more right, meet and suitable for such a job, that of reading the blossoming young girl to a most restful sleep, night after night, and guaranteeing her virtue against all dangers, Lynne demurred, fearing nothing save that which has felled so many Georgian literary heroines, handkerchiefs unable to catch the tears, clutching poisoned letters to their Empire waists: the appearance of impropriety.

The second difference is the presence of the Artistic Statement.  Here I have to say: if I were a religious man, I would pray every day that this scourge, that of the Artistic Statement, would one day be banished from this Earth. I've discussed before the hives that break out spontaneously, covering my skin, the shortness of breath, the coughing up, all of the above at the presence of the word 'explore' in the description of a piece of art. And here we find it again, along with the other terror, that of the 'series', as no artwork can stand on its own in the current world, but must exist only in context, a context of the artist's own making, part of his or her own path through the world, giving all utmost importance:
This project is part of the artist’s ongoing Hospitality series, which includes projects that explore social conventions, rituals of domestic and daily life, relations between strangers, hosts and guests, and boundaries of public and intimate space. Here is Where We Meet is particularly concerned with the transitional state between wakefulness and sleep (including the drift from the world of stories to the world of dreams), a re-engagement of voice in our experience of texts, and the possibility of trust.
I wonder sometimes if any of us actually ever live our lives, or have lived; or if it is necessary that a life, an event, a happening, truly exists only if there is such a communiqué presented alongside it.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Bulgarian Logbook

In a manner inimitable, Lynne has covered the visual aspects of our Bulgarian adventure recently completed, striking to its heart, flaying the bleached skin from the stern flesh beneath. It is left to me, shivering here, exposed, these many days later, to relate matters aural, those phantom vibrations, ephemeral, barely remembered, and those matters left unspoken.

After a moderately long flight, by way of the City of Light, we arrived at the Sofia Airport on Bulgaria Air, the National Carrier, and cabbed it to the Hotel Arte on Alexander Dondukov, our bags following behind by a few days. In the morning, we darted between the speeding cars, finding safety in numbers, to arrive at the nondescript entrance of the Zala Bulgaria, locked up tight, the only way in through the servants' entrance, aka the musicians' or possibly the smokers' entrance, and wandered into the Sanctuary of the Hall itself, nervous with excitement. The first rehearsal began in a shaky and workmanlike fashion. I found my nervousness turning to dread, but gods be praised, in the end, through the remonstrations of Alexei Kornienko and the skill of the First Rate Classical Musicians, the performance was lovely.  And after the dress rehearsal, the very talented Elena Denisova, who had been watching from above, pronounced the piece perfect; diamond perfect; which thrilled me to my toes.

I'm sure I have mentioned before how gorgeous the Ives' 4th Sympony is, and it was, even wearing its Bulgarian accent, and my piece was performed between it and the Bernstein Symphonic Dances from West Side Story (see poster above). "Sandwiched between two old dead white guys" says Jim Cave, with a twinkle in his eye.

The Bulgarian Radio was to have broadcast the concert, which fell through, but luckily I had secreted a few low-res recording devices (to wit, an iPad and an iPhone) about the place and was able to reconstruct with some fancy footwork a mix heard here.

The piece is scored for a large but not too large ensemble, heavy on the brass, heavy on the crescendi, and topped off with a pretty solo in the middle.

explaining a fine point to Alexei
I do have one regret from my time in Sofia: that I didn't visit the Union of Bulgarian Composers, lining up and elbowing up too many vodka shots. That dream of overdrinking would have to wait until the Austrian side trip, with my friend Gerhard Lehner who emailed me whilst we were traipsing about the Bulgarian countryside to say that the Daniil Kharms opera was finally on after 7 years of discussion, and could I please come talk about it. So yes, we hightailed it to land of the Lindwurm, where I met with the librettist Max Afchatz, Schauspieler und Regisseur, while drinking and drinking until the migraine set in and a day was lost at the door of death. We say we will do it, in Fall 2012, at the Klagenfurter Ensemble's new theater in the old Messe, a mix of Kharms' life and work, exact anything to be determined, but hopefully covering his starvation at the joined hand of the Soviets and Nazis together.

Waiting overnight for our plane in a quick revisit to Sofia we had dinner with Dimitar Moskovsky, the bass clarinetist for the orchestra, serenaded by the fast 2+2+3 rhythms of the restaurant band where, as Dimitar pointed out, the threes and the twos don't quite share a common denominator. This feel is explained some here, and is referred to as a metric time bend in the wikipedia article:

For example, the Bulgarian tune Eleno Mome is written as 7=2+2+1+2, 13=4+4+2+3, 12=3+4+2+3, but an actual performance (e.g., Smithsonian Eleno Mome) may be closer to 4+4+2+3.5. 

The feel of Western Art Music is measured and gridded, formed of a steel that is difficult to bend, the swings of jazz and the quintuplet-y versions of the double-dotted funk of the 70s untaught in the conservatory.

But, before, inside the very small fourteenth century chapel dedicated to St Petka of the Saddlers, we were killing time, exuding a musical vibration that led us to a fellow tourist, the young American organist Michelle Horsley studying in Frieburg, fresh from performing John Cage, and with her came a sense of home, of the aspects of American that I love, there, in that faraway place. 

But, before that, there was the visit to the Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak, notable for the beauty of the tomb itself, and notable for the three-way party that stumbled out of the broom closet when we rang the front doorbell, the middle-aged gothic transwoman unlocking the door as she fixed herself, while the other two giggled. I wanted so much to find the words required to ask exactly what had been going on in that closet, but the moment passed, and the ticket taker took her seat while the other two walked off arm in arm.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Winding down, winding up

Lynne and I are off to Bulgaria to see the premiere of Certitude and Joy and to place wreathes of remembrance on the tombs of the Thracian kings and to investigate the painting techniques of their National Awakening. Queer is just about wrapped up, adjudicated most positively by the expectantly swollen audiences of the last weekend.  It was lovely as always to see old friends come out, and lovely to make some new connections as well. 

All the performers and crew were fantastic, Joe Wicht lighting up the stage even more brightly this time than last, the person on whose shoulders the piece rests, whose jersey number should be retired along with the show. Ken Berry flew in from Australia to reprise his roles, even more endearing and funny this time than last. And those who were new to cast – James Graham and the regally named pair of Diana Consuelo Hopping Rais and Jorge Rodolfo De Hoyos Jr. – were riveting to watch as they threaded their way through the landscape. It was great to work with Bryan Nies from the Oakland East-Bay Symphony and all the other musicians – Jab and Marja Mutru and Michele Walther and David Sullivan – all the musicians yours truly, who seemed to think that he could play the guitar again after a 10 year hiatus, even though he used the same guitar and strings, lovingly preserved by Thom Blum in a special place, under glass in the crypt below the laundry room leading out to Franklin Street.  And who can forget Jim Cave, my main man, who has helped make all of the operas he has touched into something real, making them into the thing that I remember them to be after the greasepaint has dried and the last playbill is swept up?  Clyde Sheets once again has made some art, as he has done so often, and Laura Hazlett arrived at a costume design that I myself wish I could be transported into, flicking the ash from my Gitanes to the dusty street. Cid Pearlman, who fixed so many small motions, focusing in, adding beauty. I am the producer of this work, and not just the composer, the one who picks up the music stands and rolls the piano out of the way each night, and, as such, I can't tell you how important it is to have a crew on whom to rely: Catherine Reser the stage manager and gun handler, who, after a misfire one night, took it upon herself to check the load of each blank, to inspect the crimping, to check the smell of the black powder for its correct bouquet, and Will McCandless and Dylan McMillen. And thanks to Greg Kuhn, who didn't sleep for weeks before, during and after. 

The work is OK. I've decided this now after seeing and hearing and playing it again. I originally thought that it was a quick bit of flummery knocked off while waiting for the funding to come through for Sub Pontio Pilato, but in playing it again, I hear things I didn't hear before, and once again I am shown that the quickly-written piece allows the channeling of the music-god-all-one-faith-spirit to guide one's hand, while the labored work suffers from too much from mere human frailties. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The details

Queer opera opens this Friday
and continues May 20th through 29th at the Southside Theater, Building D, Fort Mason

The Opera Queer is happening, with Joe Wicht (a.k.a.Trauma Flintstone) in the narcotics-fueled role of William Lee, obsessed with the young Allerton in the expatriate-filled Mexico City of the 1940s. Based on William Burroughs' landmark autobiographical novella, Queer follows Lee and the object of his lust and love on a search through the jungle for the mystical and mythified Ayahuasca.

Tickets are available at Brown Paper Tickets. Shows are in the evenings - watch out for the varying times! - 20th through the 29th of May, 2011, at the Southside Theater, Fort Mason, San Francisco.

There will be a panel discussion on Burroughs in the theater on Saturday May 21st from 3pm to 5pm, featuring Robert Glück, V. Vale and Kevin Killian, free to all.

a chamber opera by Erling Wold
based on the book by William S. Burroughs
directed by Jim Cave
conducted by Bryan Nies
starring Joe Wicht, Ken Berry, James Graham, Jorge Rodolfo de Hoyos Jr, Diana Consuelo Hopping Rais 
design Clyde Sheets  
choreography Cid Pearlman
costumes Laura Hazlett
the orchestra JAB, Erling Wold, Marja Mutru, Michele Walther, Dave

Southside Theater, Fort Mason, San Francisco

Friday May 20 9pm
Saturday May 21 9pm
Sunday May 22 7pm
Friday May 27 8pm
Saturday May 28 8pm
Sunday May 29 7pm

SAN FRANCISCO International ARTS Festival

Dead end. And Puyo can serve as a model for the Place of Dead Roads: a dead, meaningless conglomerate of tin-roofed houses under a continual downpour of rain. Shell has pulled out, leaving prefabricated bungalows and rusting machinery behind. And Lee has reached the end of his line, an end implicit in the beginning. He is left with the impact of unbridgeable distances, the defeat and weariness of a long, painful journey made for nothing, wrong turnings, the track lost, a bus waiting in the rain . . .

funded in part by the Zellerbach Family Foundation and the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation    

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Queer queer queer

There's something terrifying about doing an opera for the second time, especially one that was successful in its first incarnation: a weight of expectation, a fear of the pieces falling together not quite as expected. When the journey begins, this terror is all one has, but, as we approach our destination, traveling together, we notice the sights along the way, so pretty to the eyes, and the fates now seem to favor the risks we have taken. We settle back into the warm delights of artistic camaraderie and look forward to the joy of performance. The music is good, done by someone else, not me at all, someone whose ideas and expectations I can no longer remember. When Bryan Nies, our conductor, asks me how a passage should go, I don't know the answer.  All I know is the way it was back then, the sounds and realizations that I love.  He is angry that I can't make decisions, so I merely make them, saying yes, treat it like rock and roll, yes, I want every note of that very quick run individually bowed, slower, louder, faster, legato, conduct it like this, not that. But there are too many options and I like them all.  Fortunately, Jim Cave, our leader and director, sees a clear path forward.  I believe he has the map to get us to where we are going and so I merely sit to the side, leaping up to let someone in who is late, caught in the Muni catacombs, just as the line curves around the ossuary on the left, or rearranging the fruit I have bought to keep the performers happy, practicing the guitar quietly with ten year older fingers, sitting back, in the corner, just far enough back to not be seen, but to see enough to know it is beautiful. I can hear from here, thank you, and it all sounds beautiful. Maybe it should be a little louder or softer here.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Certitude and Joy, for orchestra

The score is done, the parts are printing, soon all will be on the wing, fluttering into the hands of the Bulgarians who will instantiate my poor sonic mutterings. 

The words of the title come from Blaise Pascal’s Memorial, his description of an irrational moment that shaped his life: a burst of insanity, an experience of love, an overwhelming affection. The piece is sentimental in terms of sentience, defining humanity’s intelligence in its capability to feel.  As a mathematician, Pascal is famous for many things, not the least of which is his triangle, an arrangement of the binomial coefficients, some sequences of which are used as structural elements in the piece.  This musical work is a companion piece to two others, the opera Chosen and the piano duet walking along the Embarcadero past pier 7 and the flowers, both of which dance along the razor’s edge between religious certainty and fanatical madness.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Berlin Diary (2011)

A few days ago, I returned from Berlin and environs with my newlywed wife visiting friends and touristing. Being who I am, it is difficult to cruise the area without thinking of those things that were, and, given the touristic elements of the city that cater to such thoughts, this difficulty must in fact be common among those of a certain age. The Reichstag, famous for the fire that helped to launch the Thousand Year Reich, Checkpoint Charlie, which, when I last saw it, was a junkpile, the checkpoint itself knocked over amidst a scatter of fragments of the wall and MIG fuselage.

Monday 28 February
Spent the day watching Irving Berlin videos, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, the Star Trek TOS episode about the Nazis, rereading bits of Shirer's Rise and Fall and the Stasi Archives, plus studying the Werner Klemperer accent in Hogan's Heroes in preparation for the trip.

Tuesday 1 March
Spread chemtrails agents responsible for delusional parasitosis, matchbox sign, and increased boron concentrations over Northern Canada. Increased carbon footprint for the year severalfold.  Rough flight over the North Atlantic.  Fantasized about bombing runs coming in over Rotterdam, heading into the heart of Germany.

Wednesday 2 March
Cab driver accepted credit card driving us to Charlottenburg, arriving late at Ron Kuivila's sabbatical home, where, for 7 days and 7 nights, we are fed and pampered and entertained. An amazing meal by Bobbi Tsumagari, Ron's wife. Waddling after. Blog-o-media back home filled with old news, recently rediscovered due to John Galliano's pro-Hitler anti-Jew declarations, of Françoise Dior's Nazi sympathies.

Thursday 3 March
First tourist stop, Sans, Souci, in Potsdam. Why is there a comma between the two words?  Pictures of decorative painting, much gilding. Golden Chinese house. Ron's calimari specialty in the evening.

Friday 4 March
Breakfast made by Bobbi. Charlottenburg, more photos of decorative painting. Fell in love with the little Ostalgie DDR car models in the gift shop. Seeing pictures of the dome blown to bits, fantasized again about bombsights and the poor civilians below. Met with the director Stefan of the Opera Video and the singer Jennifer Lindshield.

Saturday 5 March
Breakfast again by Bobbi, fried Turkish bread, man! Back to Charlottenburg castle for more photos, as it goes on and on. Bought postcards showing the bombed out Reichstag, the visit of JFK (Ich bin ein berliner), the East German guards. Wrote pithy comments on the back, began a long search for a post office. Multichoir walkthrough installation consisting of popsong fragments, just down the street from checkpoint Charlie, then dinner across the street at the Italian restaurant, another of the Axis powers.

Sunday 6 March
8 am call for the video shoot. Stefan speaks a different language to everyone there it seems, a mix of German, Swedish, English, maybe some others. I am confused as not an actor, but editing can work magic. Sometimes I am told to start walking, but to where and how far I am not sure. In the video, I give the attractive bathroom attendant a 100 euro tip and then offer another, for sex I assume, but she, being a chaste and virtuous lady, refuses. Puh. I am forced to go back to my table of sycophants and drink champagne. Although promised much making out, none occurs. I complain about this with Sirje Viise, one of the other singers and find that she was promised this as well, and was also left without. Considered offering her some making out right then and there but worried about the almost sure rejection to follow.

Monday 7 March
Bobbi breakfast. Lazy day. Lynne and Bobbi shopped while I worked and imagined myself as a citizen of the world, telecommuting from my garret. Dinner with Stephanie Kaiser, Frieder's helpmeet and housemate. Frieder unfortunately was in Long Beach working on the production of Akhnaten by the Long Beach Opera. See entry on 14 March.

Tuesday 8 March
Breakfast again. First, Sigmar Polke show at the Berliner Akademie der Künste, saw the machine to revolve a potato around another potato, great political posters. My favorite (see above): "Deutsche Arbeiter! Die SPD will euch eure Villen im Tessin wegnehmen" (German workers! The SPD wants to take you your villa in Ticino!)  Wondering why we don't spend our family home evenings making political posters that we glue to banks and corporate headquarters so that we can be arrested and beaten and held in company-run underground jails for months and months, starved, kept from sleeping, cold water poured over us. Then, wandering through the embassies, the Brandenburg Gate, cleaned of its shrapnel and bullet marks, into the holocaust memorial, where Ron and I, fresh from the Polke, reminiscing on fluxus, came up with a horribly incorrect image of bathing beauties in bikinis, one each perched on each monolith of the memorial. Please shoot us so these thoughts do not infect our youth. Continuing on, to the symphony hall, remembering our favorite Nazi conductor, von Karajan, who gender integrated the orchestra only because he was fucking someone he wanted close by, or something like that anyway. In the evening, went to Radialsystem 5 to see Solistenensemble Kaleidoskop. Their artistic work did involve making out, with messy extra lipstick, see entry on 6 March. And they performed La Monte Young's Poem for Chairs, Tables, Benches, etc, reinforcing the fluxus thoughts earlier, along with Cage, the Bach Children, Purcell, others. They are very tight players, a joy to watch. The acting in between the pieces, although charming, needs more rehearsal or maybe will just never be as good as their playing.

Wednesday 9 March
Train to Dresden, rebuilt, thought of Slaughterhouse 5. The rebuilt sections are so new, beautiful, but like cartoons or matte paintings when seen in the distance against the portions of the city that still remain. Beautiful view of the city and the river as the sun is setting.  Train to Prague. Next to our hotel, American style table dancing. Never went in although wanted to, as I am a whoremonger.

Thursday 10 March
Prague sightseeing. Stopped in to the tourist center of the chamber of deputies and was pounced on by the woman working there who clearly gets no tourists.  Wanted to show us everything, kept asking why we were there. Backed out slowly, kept hands visible, ran up the hill to the Prague castle, got there too late, resolved to come back in the morning.

Friday 11 March
Taxi back up the hill as we are wimps, Prague castle very fine, clearly we need a larger house, and a chapel and pipe organ, and a family symbol / icon / crest - the whole branding package. Then, the Jewish synagogues. Lynne fuming over no-photography policy in the Spanish Synagogue, which was awe-inspiring. Back to Berlin, moved in with Tracy and Eric and Vigo.

Saturday 12 March
Vigo's birthday, so thrown out of the apartment, sat in the Пастерна́к cafe watching the lights change over the wasserturm across the street all afternoon, hot chocolates and then food and then more food and then more chocolate. While walking there, found several post-automats, but couldn't get them to work.

Sunday 13 March
Lynne helped Tracy and Eric priming the new apartment while I worked, then visiting Stefan for his birthday and Jennifer and all, watching the rushes of the video. Oh my. See entry 6 March re Erling not an actor. On the way, found a post office, but closed Sunday.

14 March
Neues Museum, Nefertiti in her beautiful room, Akhnaten. Remembering the end of the opera: the monotheist and his failed city (see entry 7 March) which Bisso and I emulated at the end of Sub Pontio Pilato. The painting on the bust of Nefertiti is really beautiful. So much painting lost: Egypt, Greece, the columns of cathedrals. Everyone thinks that the ancient world was devoid of decoration but in reality it was as loud and gaudy as a Peter Max poster.  More walls riddled with holes. Not as many as '93.  They've done a great job rebuilding the museum. It was fabulously painted from top to bottom, then blown up during The War, and the rebuilding treats it like an archeological site, preserving the bits that survived with minimal restoration, then filling in the holes with modern construction, keeping out the rain. Walked across the river to the Neue Wache war memorial, searching for the Tajikistan tearoom, then finding it only to discover that it had been reserved for a women businessperson's inspirational lecture or somesuch.

15 March
Worked during the day, as franticness increasing with approaching deadlines. Met all our hosts at Schlögls in the Mitte for one last German food blowout, Schnitzel's all around.

16 March
Up at 4 to catch flight to Heathrow, then on to SFO. Finally mailed postcards in the postbox around the corner.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

An explanation of me

This is the published abstract to a paper written by my analyst. I am the first analysand below, the one who fears death and seeks the sexual.

Failed Seduction/Optimum Seduction: Lost in Translation

Failures of seduction may be considered another translation of Freud’s first sexual theory associated with hysteria and trauma. Seduction was the controversy that introduced Freud to the discovery of the sexual unconscious and its expression in fantasy. Lost in translation, and confounded with actual sexual abuse, infant seduction is now being reinserted into psychoanalysis as a primary requisite for the initiation of desire.

Failures of seduction in the clinical cases presented are associated with a repudiation of the feminine, which is located within maternal desire. Thus, maternal desire is impregnated with horror linked to “the internal void, without space, place or time.” Horrors associated with seduction in an analysis act to dissociate or foreclose the necessary seduction for infant life to begin and go on being. What constitutes an ethical seduction that optimizes the potential to be?

“Be aware of what we say in the name of the mother” (Bollas) because we are and are not aware of all that we have ascribed to the mother, the maternal order, her figure and functions in the beginning of life. Bollas as well as Green alert us to the significance of the erotized absence and the absence of erotics in the maternal/infant emotional experience not currently addressed in the analytic encounter. Two clinical cases will be elaborated to re-consider the sexual address within the analytic exchange at primitive levels of emotional experience. If death or dying is part of sexuality, it is not surprising to find both analysands are as obsessed in fantasy with sexuality as with death: one fears death and seeks the sexual, the other fears sexuality and seeks death.

Sunday, February 27, 2011


As with many composers of my generation, the first sentence of Vincent Persichetti's Twentieth Century Harmony has stuck with me over the years:
ANY TONE can succeed any other tone, any tone can sound simultaneously with any other tone or tones, and any group of tones can be followed by any other group of tones, just as any degree of tension or nuance can occur in any medium under any kind of stress or duration. 
'Tone' is itself a limiting term. I think it means some sort of pitched musical event, even a relatively stable pitched musical event with a more-or-less clearly demarcated beginning and ending. Such a limitation might be reasonable in a book on harmony, 'harmony' itself a charming notion, something to the effect that such overlapping tone-events cleave and become something greater than themselves, like a damp shirt clinging to a freshly minted bosom, something that propels the drama forward, that functions in a non-Aristotelian manner, in a musical context, rather than pitches that happen to pass by each other, maybe or maybe not interacting, maybe functioning or maybe not, maybe carrying an emotional weight, but maybe an emotional weight that exists only in ironic reference to some past meeting, some subconsciously remembered sentimental moment from some tearjerking potboiler.

When I was young, I thought that the above should be rewritten in terms of 'sound' rather than 'tone,' but, as with infinities, adding sound to sound results merely in sound, gestalts accreting other gestalts to become bigger gestalts, and at some point aren't we simply saying 'do what thou wilt is the whole of the law' which is to say, nothing at all?

But the sentence that follows clears up this particular difficulty:
Successful projection will depend upon the contextual and formal conditions that prevail, and upon the skill and the soul of the composer.
to which I might add the requirement of a having a good public relations firm, who can develop a clear and easily presented summarizing pitch, plus a level of attractiveness, physical and spiritual. 
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