Sunday, February 17, 2013

The night before last

I went to see Opera Parallèle's production of Ainadamar the night before last and, as I was waiting for my lovely wife to freshen up, I ran into Joshua Kosman, who asked me what I was up to and as is often the case when asked that particular question, I fumbled unsuccessfully for an answer, mentioning something about having just come back from the production of Uksus in Austria.  He chided me for not keeping up with the blog, and thus not tipping my hand as to what was coming up in my compositional life, but after thinking about it for a day I realized that the problem is that in general, I really don't know what is going on until it happens. Projects and ideas of projects blink evanescently into being and then blink back out again, like those bigger bosons that appear in the collisions of synchrotron output and then disappear 3×10-25 seconds later, but sometimes one or two projects will, to mix metaphors, snowball into something real. Some even make it to the master list of pieces-to-do, but it can be embarrassing to reveal those to the world or even to friends or lovers as they will invariably say, and I quote: "yes, you told me that list six months ago, and maybe you could just finish one so that I don't have to hear about them over and over." So, I hesitate.

But now, just for the sake of experiment, let me reveal to the world some of what I am working on. I'd like to produce Uksus here in San Francisco. That's a matter of money mostly, and maybe the fact that it is in German, and I like my pieces to be (1) in the language of the people or (2) in a big stew of ancient languages that no one understands. I've also been working on another long-term opera project with Jim Bisso but as it took us 10 years to do the last one, I assume this one will take 20, and that in the meantime I will write another opera or two of my own. I'm working on some songs with Sirje Viise, which may include some of her poems and maybe some of mine, and I've had a plan for ages to do some songs with Jolie Holland, and the other day Laura Bohn asked me to write something that she could perform in the Netherlands, and maybe there's a way to kill all these birds with a lot of stones, or maybe just a lot of songs. These I have actually been working on, and the last few days have been spent communing with the piano under the influence of hangovers and other other-than-normal mental states hoping to stumble across a lost chord or two. I have many processes for working on tunes, this being the most Stravinsky-esque, although I do know in my heart that there are wrong ways and right ways to write music, and the right way is to channel God through the pen on paper, so that I will try as well.

There is something aphoristic about a brief song vs. an large operatic piece. I'm sure that the popularity of the popular song has something to do with this. It is that the song leaves much out that the opera is obliged to fill in, and it is this evocation of the internal history and context of the listener that adds to a song's beauty. The more heartbreak, the more pain and joy and life one has lived, the more injustice one has seen in the world, the better the song can be.

I have a number of instrumentalist friends who have asked me for works and a few that haven't, and in that last category is the organist Michelle Jeanine Horsley, for whom I wrote a piece as I was leaving Vienna at the end of last year, and which I present here:

While you listen, I'll go back to the piano, just as soon as I've finished reading the myriad Wikipedia entries concerning the Filioque controversy.  Even though I have set and before this day spoken only the Roman version, I'm becoming partial to the Orthodox, no doubt due to my preference for the iconoclastic: τὸ ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς ἐκπορευόμενον. 


A week before last Wednesday I participated in a panel at the SPIE's conference on Electronic Imaging on Audio Identification and CopyFraud. Content identification is how I earn my living in general, and Audio Identification in specific, and although the panel veered more toward the technical and commercial questions surrounding Audio ID rather than the issues of hijacked revenue streams and false DMCA notices, even touching on the subject of Copyright in the Digital Age stirred up a thick dark muck which had been crusted over through the years, but which now threatens to break through and spill out over you, my dear reader, an assuredly idiotic act given that too much ink has already been spilt on the topic, but no matter.

My own attitudes toward copyright are idiosyncratic. So much of the discussion in the Slashdots and Boing-boings and EFFs deal with popular culture - songs and T-shirts and national tours - and I come from a distinctly non-popular culture and therein lies some of the difference. I've never cared much whether people copied what I did, and maybe that comes from the exposure at a young age to the endless Variations on a Theme by So-and-So, and maybe the Read/Write culture is the birthright of the Classical Composer. But even more so, almost everything good or bad is sitting on my website: scores and recordings and videos, and I suppose if someone took that as an indication that they could do whatever they wanted with what is there, I suppose it's possible that I wouldn't care, copyright notices or no.

Case in point: during one of the performances of Sub Pontio Pilato, I noticed the sound guy had hooked up a recorder to the sound board and when I asked him about it later he said he really liked that one chord progression - and yes, I liked that one chord progression too - so he decided to just record it so he could use it in his next electronica something-or-other. Although imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I suppose there is something just the slightest bit odd about someone absconding outright with a section of a work that took you 10 years to write and many years of fundraising to produce, walking off with it at the press of a button. But really, what can one do?  Once a bit of art is out in the world, it's really out in the world, no longer yours no matter how many F-16s are sold to unfriendly countries to convince them to prop up all the Dumbo and Bambi and Steamboat Willie protection treaties crafted by the Disney corporation.

But, on the other hand, why couldn't he have just taken the time to have written an equally good chord progression himself? Yes, I'm aware of the fact that I couldn't have conceived of that progression without standing on the shoulders of giants from Pythagorus on up, and we all borrow or steal from others at some fundamental linguistic level, but there is something uniquely mine about that bit of music, yes? Something special that caught his eye? I doubt he is going to give me attribution when he spins it in some after hours nightclub, looking good, while some sweet young cis or trans boy or girl on the latest designer sex-enhancing drug rubs him or herself against him in the dark. And didn't I work hard to give that bit some context, a context born of 10 years of sweat and toil, only to have it be cast alone and unprotected against the dangers of the world in which it now finds itself, its morality and its virtue unguarded? What if, in that moment of exposure, underpants stripped off while it attempts to cover itself with its hands it is laughed at, bullied, made fun of?  Or what if it is taken up at a political rally in a sweaty and fecund chant, a chant in support of someone who doesn't share my libertine sensibilities? What if a group of greatly evil corporate thugs steal it to sell more genetically modified soap, soap that contains compounds that don't register as date-rape drugs on the local police officer's field test kit?  As with all things, it takes years to create and minutes to destroy, and my little work, a feast for the ears, my child and my hope, can be so easily abused and raped and tossed onto the slag heap with all the rest churned through the great capitalist commercial music threshing machine.

I remember when one of my first LPs was mastered by Phil Brown and he told us the story of working just a few years before on Stairway to Gilligan's Island aka Gilligan's Island (Stairway), a tune consisting of the lyrics to the Gilligan's Island theme song over the instrumental bits of Stairway to Heaven. Even though quite clearly a parody and even though hard to imagine how it would negatively affect the sales of the Led Zeppelin composition, it seems the Led Zeppelin lawyers had no sense of humor whatsoever, and I remember reading later that, in the court documents, they referred to the original work as something akin to a national treasure, an untouchable aspect of our common heritage, a masterwork to be protected at all costs.

Saturday, February 9, 2013


I remember only fragments, entering a ruined building with an automatic weapon, putrid water pooling inside a room with stark lighting, a feeling of importance, shooting through the wall of the next room before entering, stumbling across another, smaller room where three children sit, again in harsh light, strange catatonic children staring ahead, feeling detached, just an observer. Entered the first room again, feeling like it was all starting again, the putrid pool, the stark light. 
Thanks for posting your dream. I hope you don’t mind my interpreting it:
Your dream seems to revolve around healing past emotional issues, perhaps via comparing them to similar issues belonging to another person (two rooms). 
Something may have happened when you were three (3 children), or perhaps you are trying to save someone else who was three. Whoever it was, you think this thing that happened has rendered you/them unable even to feel or react (catatonic), and therefore locked here in this state (they don’t leave). 
There might be a sexual relationship involved (gun), and/or you are using sex to do the saving (shooting through the walls). Everything is clear to you about the situation (harsh light) but you are powerless to help it (detached observer) even though you feel vital to the process (feeling important). 
You think this situation- or your trying to intervene- is the ruin of a person or relationship (ruined building), a person or relationship which is presently suffering from extreme emotional and/or spiritual limitation and negativity (putrid water). This relationship or person is not necessarily the same as that represented by the three children to whom something happened, but it could be.
You wish to thoroughly obliterate your enemy (automatic weapon), but there does not seem to be one. You are trapped in this feeling of frustration for the moment, though you seem to understand its origins, which is positive. Overall, the dream, though perhaps reflecting a very frustrating situation, is in my opinion positive, because you take action (shooting walls) and are willing to destroy the barriers to love in a grand sense (walls). 

Related Posts with Thumbnails