Saturday, December 22, 2007

One too many speedballs

Duykers and I have been sneaking coke and aspirin out from under the watchful eye of Melissa, our dear director. She seems to think it a symptom of unhealthfulness, and doth not accept our need of it for our creativological inventionity. But I say more and more and more and to follow it up with shots of icy cold Belvedere, poured down my open throat by a young lesbian, hand on my throat, an unseen assailant yanking back my hair. But this is the way we artists must move our world forward, innit?

The Mordake story has become more personal for me as we have proceeded. Mordake has a problem integrating a perceived feminine shadow-self; a typical Victorian who represses all his imperfections, his vices, sexuality, etc, and who wants his nature blocked off in neat gardens whose borders are at right angles. Is there a modern connection between us and him, that his faults come from this difference between who he really is and the image that he presents to the world? I know that I have struggled with integrating the so-called darker aspects of myself with those images carefully chosen, and as well integrating the masculine and feminine, qua engineer and artist (which is which is left as an exercise for the reader).

It's been great to see the piece come together. It's wonderful to hear Duykers sing it - so much better than hearing me sing it, even though I do like the sensation physique of the vibrations passing through my body, the Navier-Stokesian eddies forming about my glottis, like The Eternal Syllable of the Hindu. Matt Jones leaps up to satisfy each of our whims, cutting bits of paper dolls when we require it, tearing apart circuits and speakers, rigging floating gramophones and of course subversively continuing to prepare the way for our robot overlords.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Queer Filler

Fred Dodsworth: Why "Queer"?
Erling Wold: I loved this book when I read it 15 years ago. I just
identified with the character. I identified with the unrequited love in
I was really taken with the language and the feeling of it, the emotion of
Q: Tell me about the emotion.
A: It's an autobiographical novel. The character William Lee is
Burroughs, and he falls for this younger guy named Eugene Allerton who
it's a little unclear what he is. He's either closeted or indifferent or a
hustler or something. He responds to Lee but he doesn't... kind of...
(Nervous chuckle.) He responds but not completely. Basically it's a
sad, unrequited love story. This is probably the best description of that
I've ever read, either in gay or straight or whatever literature. This is
actually one of my favorite kinds of stories.
Q: Why?
A: I like that emotion, that feeling where you're really drawn to
somebody and you just can't have them. (Nervous laughter.) I'm very
attracted to that kind of story and that kind of feeling. It's a very
romantic story.
In fact, Queer, the character, is a hopeless romantic. That's a big
part of the way it's done. Lee sings. Allerton only speaks. It's very
much Lee's story. The whole story is told from Lee's point of view. All
the characters are only there in as much as they are a reflection of what
Lee is feeling for that person at that moment. They're never presented in
any kind of three-dimensional way. He's kind of a boorish guy in some
He's kind of racist. He's an ugly American in Mexico City...
Q: Isn't this when Burroughs "accidentally" killed his wife?
A: He killed his wife and then became a writer. Allen Ginsberg
thinks she was committing suicide. They were playing William Tell with a
shot glass. Who knows? They were both drunk. He was an excellent shot.
It's unclear what was going on. Burroughs and his wife had a very
interesting relationship. They were very close. They were like soulmates,
but he was a pretty gay guy. This is a time when people didn't tend to
identify themselves as being gay, but he does. He's very outspoken about
it. He's very open about it and, in fact, he's angry with the world
it interferes with all the things that are important to him -- being gay,
being a junkie. The world gets in the way of that.
Q: Gay? Married?
A: Early in his life he was a big ladies man. He also liked men
from early on. At this time he's living in Mexico City with his wife but
he's totally going after all the Mexican boys he sees, plus this Allerton
guy, and he has this little circle of queer friends that hang around in
ex-patriot [sic: expatriate] bar community. I don't know what that all
means. Later in life he became a misogynist. He decided that women were
Q: Do you assume any responsibility when you promote this work?
A: I don't know if I take responsibility for every single thing but
I do like certain things about his worldview. They do connect with me. I
understand this idea that the world is in your way... that there're a lot
people who disapprove of what you're doing. That's VERY annoying.
Q: What is the responsibility of an artist?
A: I've come to believe you do it as a philanthropic gesture to the
world. You're not in it for yourself -- not doing the kind of thing that I
do -- that's not commercial. The only kind of reason I can see that makes
sense is that you're driven to do it, but also, hopefully, you're giving
people some cultural experiences that will be important to them. I think
there's a certain amount of social responsibility, but I think that just
comes from yourself. You just do things that are true to what you believe,
and that's as much as you do.
Q: Are you trying to teach social lessons?
A: I'm not -- except in the fact that the things I pick are what I
believe in. "I believe in this, but you can take it or leave it."
(Laughter.) I don't know that I'm trying to convince people. I know that
if you "touch" people, you tend to convince them of something that you
believe. I like that.
I think there's a place for social art. Some people who do it
transcend it. You have to have something to get you started. For some
people that's a social concept and for some people it's a theoretical
Q: Is this show audience-specific?
A: No, it's not.
Q: Even with a title like "Queer"?
A: It's an interesting title. In a way his use of the word "queer"
is more like "odd." He's an odd person. He's outside of whatever. More
than being queer like it is now, which is a political word. This is all
before that. It's weird. Oddball guy. It obviously means gay or fag or
whatever but... I think there's a universal aspect to the story. It's a
love story. It's also a crazy Burroughs' story. He goes on these large
flights of fantasy. Those are enjoyable.
But this piece is the first time I've ever had someone send me a
nasty note back from an e-mail announcement, saying, "Take me off your
mailing list," and sending a Bible verse along with it. I've done things
that were loaded in the past, that were questionable, but this is still a
topic that people get upset about.
Q: Do you think our local community still is homophobic?
A: Obviously. I think it's very strong. We're lucky we live in a
part of the world that's much more reasonable about these things. Outside
of this geographical area it's... very intense. Everybody knows this.
Q: I don't think everybody knows this. Let's go back to unrequited
love, is that the natural state of love?
A: Noooooo. This is not every aspect of my life, this is one
aspect. I think what attracted me is the strength of that emotion.
Emotions like jealousy, unrequited love, desire, longing, in some ways
are even stronger than when you settle in. I think those emotions are
stronger. I think I feel them more strongly. Since I come from a very
emotional place when I write music, I think the stronger emotions even
me more.
Q: Are you trying to shock?
A: There's a certain appeal to shocking people, to saying there's
this aspect of life outside of what you normally think about. There are
aspects of living that are not discussed a great deal. I do like pieces
that touch on those things. Sometimes it's fun to shock people, just to
shock people. That doesn't interest me so much, although sometimes it's
fun. I like those certain aspects of life that are on the edge and I've
always had things that interest me a lot -- sexuality, dreams, religion.
It probably has something to do with the way I was raised. I was
raised in a Lutheran family. My father was a minister and my mother worked
in the church. Sometimes when you say to people you were raised in a
Christian family that seems like some horrible thing. It was actually very
pleasant. My parents were very considerate. In some ways they were more
liberal than I was when I was growing up. I remember coming home from
college and finding out they were active in some gay-lesbian community
inside the Lutheran Church.
Q: Did you come out then?
A: Actually... well... here's an interesting thing. I am not gay.
I'm not necessarily not a gay person but... I don't necessarily know how
much of this I want published.
Q: You're the one that's producing an opera titled "Queer"
A: Well... I...
Q: ... and you're not even gay.
A: That's an interesting thing, isn't it?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Andrew Imbrie

Dealing with the shock of the death of Karlheinz Stockhausen, whose Deutsche Grammophon LPs I reduced to dust by playing them incessantly on my pitiful portable picnic player, I somehow missed the fact that Andrew Imbrie had died, my last remaining composition teacher. I'm quite saddened by this. I met him through my first teacher, Robert Gross at Occidental, who had premiered his violin concerto back in 1958, just a few months after I was born, in the heady days of the space age. From the Time magazine review, entitled "New Star:"

Slim, tweedy Composer Imbrie worked intermittently on his concerto for four years, completed it in 1954. As performed last week by the San Francisco Symphony, with Robert Gross as violin soloist, it proved to be a propulsive, clamorous virtuoso work in both twelve-tone and traditional diatonic idioms, with its limber solo line woven through the big sonorities of the orchestra in a stirringly unfolding tapestry of sound. The first movement, in alternating slow and fast tempi, built to its main climax by echoing the solo violin nights with orchestral figurations set at closer and closer intervals. By turns, the second movement was complex and agitated, waltzlike and melodic, with muted violins and then muted trumpets repeating the soloist's refrainlike theme. The third movement opened with rich orchestral tone clusters, built to a brilliantly frenzied solo violin flight near the close. The 700 concertgoers called Conductor Enrique Jordá and Soloist Gross back for half a dozen bows, twice drew Imbrie from his seat in the audience.

Both of them were wonderful teachers, both masters of insight, not gurus pushing their package of answers to all questions, but mentors, able to peer into the mind of the student and guide them to a better version of their work. I remember a class with Professor Gross (yes, don't forget the 'Professor' - both of these men wore suits and ties every day) where he first helped me achieve a proper discordant cacophony and arrhythmic nonsimultaneity in a section of my setting of The Waste Land (have I burned that score yet?) and then immediately turned to help the next student achieve the ultimate in sentimental maudlin kitschiness by adding just the right bass note to his three-hanky oversugared stack of thirds. And all this even though he had accepted the serialist way and maybe even the dogma of its historical inevitability.

But dear Dr. Imbrie could do the same. At the time I met him - in late 1978 - I had reached my pinnacle of unlistenability: a concerto for contrabass playing in 8th tones accompanied by a trombone quartet in 6th tones and chorus singing slowed-down IPA transcriptions of the screams of the insane. He dug into the score, somehow sight-reading an approximation of it at the piano (which I had never even attempted), pointing out some structural imperfections along the way, noticing a bare fifth in the score (Heavens to Betsy!), talked to me - seriously - about who might be able to perform this unperformable piece and so on, never questioning why I would be wasting perfectly good staff paper on such a horrid odious slag heap of nonsense.

But I think that's what a real composition teacher should do, especially since the twentieth century destroyed any notion of right or wrongness or direction or mainstream or anything. We've all become pioneers in our own fable of the Wild West, especially those of us who actually live here on the left coast. To meet someone along the way who can read the signs and help us find our way - this is quite special. To have been attended by two such special people - well, this simply makes me embarrassed that I haven't done more with what they gave me.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Not a review of The Rest is Noise

I'm absolutely enjoying Alex Ross's new history of music in the 20th century, viz., The Rest is Noise. It's hitting me at just the right time to be sure: a time of reevaluation of my musical existence and a time of casting back to the composer-idolatry of my youth. But can I quote a bit here without fire and brimstone raining down on me from the Farrar, Straus and Giroux legal department? Not sure, but here goes. In writing of Shostakovich's seventh, we find that:

Besieged Leningrad heard the symphony on August 9, 1942, under the most dramatic circumstances imaginable. The score was flown in by military aircraft in June, and a severely depleted Leningrad Radio Orchestra began learning it. After a mere fifteen musicians showed up for the initial rehearsal, the commanding general ordered all competent musicians to report from the front lines. The players would break from the rehearsals to return to their duties, which sometimes included the digging of mass graves for victims of the siege. Three members of the orchestra died of starvation before the premiere took place. The opposing German general heard about the performance in advance and planned to disrupt it, but the Soviets preempted him by launching a bombardment of German positions--Operation Squall, it was called. An array of loudspeakers then broadcast the Leningrad into the silence of no-man's-land. Never in history had a musical composition entered the thick of battle in quite this way: the symphony become a tactical strike against German morale.

Ach du lieber, how can a petty and petite bourgeoisie composer like yours truly even begin to compete in this real world? To have both the Germans and the Soviets planning their artillery bombardments around the premiere of one's next composition! Obviously life is too easy for me. I need to have a freeway fall on me or have my family die of the plague or something. But the book is rejuvenating me, thrilling me, giving at least for the moment a reason to go on.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Bed You Sleep In: A Warning

A favorite moment from The Bed You Sleep In, where Thomas Morris as the oracle has just hinted at Ray's impending doom. He recites a bit of Revelation 14 and we head off on one of Jon's landscape love-ins. Jon told me that the location of a story was as important to him as plot or character and deserved equal time. The music that starts about one minute into the clip is almost entirely derived from field recordings that Josh Rosen and I made of the local sawmill in Toledo, Oregon, now closed down because, as they discuss in the movie, you can't get any of the big trees anymore. (And why not, you ask? Because they really did clearcut the whole state and ship the uncut trees off to Japan.) But the sawmill was a beautiful aural environment. Walking through it was like listening to a futurist symphony and the raw recordings were beautiful, but of course I felt like I had to prettify it all a bit, and I think I was successful in that. I've bumped up the volume of the music in the clip so that it is a bit more intense, but you can hear the original music here or on the full soundtrack recording here.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Poetry of the Masculine Corset

I can't resist tooting my own horn and licking my own boot and linking to my couturière Kathleen Crowley's mention of my sartorial splendor. I work hard to be a fop, a dandy and a trendoid hipster, a poseur and a coxcomb, and I have gained some small success in this endeavor. Unfortunately such vanity takes a tremendous amount of time, stealing away from my reason-for-living, the music, the productions, the networking cocktail parties and my great 9th symphony, whereafter I die happy. But Kathleen is the best of the best, and she has supplied me with a steady stream of frock coats and corsets and jabots and high waisted pants and other frills and follies. Obviously I was born far too late and into the wrong class anyway but we can please dream of a different life can we not?

Monday, November 19, 2007

undertaking, similitude to painting

Many Western classical composers have became enamored with their scores but, although scores are sometimes very pretty, they aren't really the thing itself, are they? I happened to run across this old and somewhat embarrassing program note of mine in one of my many self-googling expeditions:

"I worry constantly about something Gerard Grisey said to me: 'Our ancestors confused the map for the territory.' Although he was speaking of the way Classical and Romantic composers confused notes for sound, this complaint could just as easily be leveled at composers who are more interested in concept or structure than sound. In fact, I would say that even the sound is less important than the effect, the representation of the work which exists in the listener's mind and body. To gain control over this, one must use the entire language of music available, be very aware of the feelings which develop in one's own body, use systems which give you complete control over all aspects of the sound, and, maybe most importantly, play at high enough volume to shut out all other effects." E.W.

I think most of the music I have written has been more-or-less front-to-back, at least conceived of as a linear structure in time rather than as an object, even if there is some attention to the architecture or foreshadowing of what is to come. Morton Feldman has talked about the influence of his painter friends on his composition and how he approaches a score like a painting, putting up a large gridded paper and skipping about to fill in the details here and there. My friend Craig Harris has pushed for tools to facilitate this kind of work. I'm finding myself doing the same with the latest opera. I've set up a huge timeline inside of Digital Performer and I'm filling it in with orchestral and noisy recordings and electronic this and that as well as synthesized lines. A libretto gives a structure and I'm not sure I could write a large instrumental piece this way; it just isn't the way I think. But as I've been working on this piece I've been expressly thinking of painterly analogies, maybe because I live with a painter and I seem to have more and more painter buddies. Like Lynne, I have been blocking out some sections very roughly just to get an idea of the whole, then going back and refining and painting in the details. Like Amy, I am painting on layer after layer, the final color and rhythmic texture being a rich mix of bubbled up sound. In my electronic works at least, I seem to like a lot of layers, foregrounds and backgrounds and in between.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Touched by greatness

I finally met my internet friend Amy Crehore in the flesh at the Green exhibition in Santa Monica last night. Her very erotic and luscious layered painting Deja Vu Waltz (detail to the right) was featured in the show, and by *featured* I mean that it was without a doubt the feature attraction. We tried to find the afterparty at Zanzibar afterwards, but it didn't seem that anyone else showed up and, after being told by four ebullient and somewhat scantily clad young women that the club was, well, cough, and sotto voce a bit more for 'younger people' meaning not us, I ended up taking her out to dinner as a postpartum celebration. Let me take an aside here to point out that I had been stricken with a bit of the Irish flu all that day since dear Lynne's dear mother had been attempting to afflict me with alcohol poisoning the night previous, but all indisposition was dispelled as the first cool and healing touch of the hosted artshow bar's Skyy Vodka - which I had sensed from across the parking lot - touched the back of my throat. Not my usual brand as I am a bit of a snoot and supercilious snob when it comes to vodkas but still deserving of the appelation aqua vitae, ever blessed and most pure holy water. Anywho, Amy is a lovely, passionate, talented and unassuming person, deserving of her recent fame and her rôle as the next big thing.

But being here in Malibu helping Lynne with an installation reminded me to call an older and dearer friend Lady Lisa Lyon, one of those people in my life that I can call and and our conversation immediately takes up where we left off even if we haven't talked in ages. I'm so fond of this Mapplethorpe photo of her, which is how we met, receiving a fan postcard from her fronted with the image just a few days after I had stood, tumescing, gazing at a large print of her emerging from the foam like Aphrodite. Her adoptive father John Lilly and I shared an Alma Mater as well as an interest in the edges of experience (and, I suppose, a household full of beautiful women if I had been so fortunate) and he queried me after an isolation tank experience as to whether I had been able to communicate with some of the beings who control our very lives.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Compositional Process

In the afterword to Revenge, Stephen Fry discusses how the author, upon the arrival of the new book, is asked the only questions that matter to the reader:

"Do you write in longhand or on a computer?" If longhand: "Pencil, ballpoint, or old-fashioned ink pen?" If computer: "PC or Mac? Which font do you prefer?" No doubt if you were to reveal that you dictated your work, there would come a fresh slew of questions: "Into a machine or to a secretary?" "Sony or Panasonic?" "Male or Female?"

I'm guilty of this as well, having read in his blog with some delight of his Mac addiction, and I've faced myself this desire for knowledge of the process, the software used, whether one improvises, writes at the piano or on the plane, what you read or listen to, the view out the window while you were writing or composing or painting, the current boyfriend or girlfriend, the day job, the music paper, the scratching out and revising or the acceptance of the first draft. Is it, as Fry suggests, the questioner's desire to find the secret the getting that one novel or symphony or film that everyone has in them out into the world? If one just had the right pen or automatic screenplay formatting program or instrument library, the 36 weeks of gestation would suddenly be up and the great work would appear? I think that, for me, as a creatrix myself, it may be a desire to be normal, to know how to behave, to find the correct religion of artistic production, like the endless letters to sex columnists that start with a confession about one's particular kink, and end by asking whether this is OK, natural, normal but please not ordinary.

My fellow blogger Amy Crehore has been covering the production of one of her new paintings step by step and I have been thinking of doing the same for the new opera, but she can easily take a snapshot of her work and I'm not sure the parallel for music. I believe her motivation really is pedagogic, and I'm not sure of mine and I'm not sure it would be helpful to anyone. But some have complained about the disaster awaiting graduate students of the future due to the computerized lack of compositional notebooks and drafts and tearstained letters to scrutinize, e.g. this lovely examination of fingering in Stravinsky, so maybe we owe it to the future to make the attempt to leave behind a trail of crumbs. And that should be it, I think, just the trail and not the self-examination. On the Kalvos and Damien site, Jacques Baihé has a beautiful rant which captures the compositional process in detail and I quote:

When I write, I sit at the keyboard and hit the keys. If it sounds good, I write it down. Then I go back to make it better -- brilliant even -- and inevitably make a horrid, inscrutable mess. Can’t remember why I ever thought these plinks and diddles and screeching would ever make a piece of music. It’s late at night, yet again, so I keep tinkering. Kids are asleep, wife gave up on me long ago, so they don’t mind. I scribble and hum to myself, and try to remember important clues to the mystery of music I stored away while reading Rameau, Piston, Berlioz, and other wizards. I guess I don’t read accurately cause when I do what I remember they said it sounds absolutely awful. "Place the sixth tone over the ninth and balance two horns in F with obligations of contrabass." Something like that, but it never works, and they never tell me how to get this fizz sound I’m after.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Or we will all die

I've been meaning to mention Jarod DCamp's new microtonal radio station 81/80, aptly named after the comma of Didymus, one of my most favorit-est intervals, appearing in a melody in Tune for Lynn Murdock #2, at least as I remember. The radio station is a great source of serendipitous discovery, a very eclectic set of tunes showcasing a wide variety of styles, putting paid to the oft-said notion of the microtonal 'style.' The station features a number of people I've met over the years, plus all those who came after I stopped paying as much attention, and the web site seems to have an old picture of me by Debra St John. Note that Kyle Gann has blogged the station and we would all do well to search in this entry for the current blog title and read the surrounding paragraph. I myself have promised to do a little tuning up of the Mordake opera.

And, by the way, changed the color scheme on my website to match a newfound interest in truth, honor and transparency.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Gerard Grisey changes a tire

I went to see Alex Ross speak tonight at Wheeler Auditorium on the campus of my nourishing and most bounteous mother the University of California at Berkeley. The talk was a brief overview of twentieth century music and the Bay Area's contributions, especially those of the more famous of the minimalists, since many of them had their early careers here. He's on a combined book tour (The Rest is Noise) and trip to see the premiere of Appomattox by Philip Glass at the San Francisco Opera. Lynne and I saw it on Tuesday and I was weeping unconsolably afterwards for the loss of one of my heroes, drinking one Baileys after another sitting in the Biergarten at Zeitgeist. I should have given up after Galileo Galilei, for which we also made the mistake of making an effort to see the premiere (at the Goodman Theater in Chicago in the hot midsummer of 2002). John Duykers asked me to go to the latter since he was starring as the mature GG, but some terrible truths are better left unknown.

Even though Jim Bisso stood me up for Berlin - Ecke Schoenhauser, I did finally meet Richard Friedman in the flesh, and Paul Dresher was there. In 1990 I was in Japan for Yamaha demos and I went into an enormous music store in Tokyo - don't remember the name - where I picked up a tremendously beautiful edition of the complete scores of Satie. But the small heart lifting experience was finding the 'west coast composer' section which contained only two CDs, Paul's and mine, proving that from a very great distance two people of such markedly different stature can look almost the same size.

Speaking of heroes and those of great stature, I've been thinking about Gérard Grisey a lot lately. Partiels is a tremendous work and he died way too young and neither he nor I could change the tire on my old yellow VW bug when it blew out on the way back from Stanford.

Friday, October 5, 2007

In my country I have coat of dog

While I was drinking my way through Old Europe last week the Mordake Suite #1 was played on Music from Other Minds, the radio arm of the Other Minds Festival, hosted by Jim Bisso's friend and former colleague at Sun Microsystems Richard Friedman. Jim was in fact 'riffed' from his job last week and has once more taken the reigns of the gelded stallions of the Leisure Class, giving him more time to work on our sex comedy libretto. Oh, how I wish for such a forced retirement, the placing in the lock of my golden handcuffs the sacred key of freedom, to write the next in the series of my great works. After my trip I'm so in the mood to get back to it all, having had my arms loaded up with inspirational moments, visiting old friends in the arts and the technologies of art. I went to see my drinking buddy Alexei Kornienko conduct the piece of high modernism Evocation (1968) by Dieter Kaufmann, a Carinthian composer, in the Konzerthaus Wien with Elena Denisova as the violin soloist. The piece thrilled me like I haven't been thrilled for while, the sound of 40 strings and voices playing in a divisi cacophony of dramatic gestures, the members of the chorus frantically covering their ears and listening oh so closely to their tuning forks to get the next entrance, the soprano leaping from one unsupported frequency to one as far away as possible. I'm inspired to try to reach that level of dramatic height with my own poor fumblings through my own quite different approach. But I went because Alexei has conducted all my European opera performances, including the German versions of both Sub Pontio Pilato and A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil, and Elena's 13 Capricen is an incredible virtuosic firework of violinism. Lynne was there as well, tolerating the din as she has not quite the acquired taste for it, but taking some lovely photos of the cramped stage. She's blogged a bit about the trip included some pics of me here. And, speaking of the blogging illness, filmmaker and colleague Sierra Choi seems to be now hacking up a bit of phlegm as well, writing anecdotes about me and also using our home in the pilot for her latest TV show. Some of Lynne's lovely works appear as well as my recent li'l waltz.

Right, the title. We met up with Erika and Pete on their belated honeymoon in Vienna. Erika works at Torso Vintages here in town and related following incident: Russian woman fingers vintage mink, a hard edge of disdain apparent, turns to her and says with that accent, ...

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

soleil d'or

Since Jesus was assumed bodily into heaven, there aren't many bits of him available to venerate, but a lovely umbilical cord reliquary is just a block up from our Paris Apartment at the Cluny (see to the right: De Umbilico Domini Jesu Christi) and of course there are the many pretenders to the præputium scattered about Europe.

Yesterday's adventure was being allowed into the atelier and other sancta sanctorum of the Chateau de Versailles by Lynne's friend Laurent, a peintre décoratif who has the magical key that lets you through any door at the place. And, as a sign of special affection and respect, our friend Emily the gilder was given a large and faintly odorous piece of rabbit skin glue by one of the master gilders there, a two year supply for and a necessity for the lengthy but infinitely superior water gilding process. Whillikers, they use a ton of the stuff there to coat most every surface with gold and more gold, dogs of gold, arrows of gold, shields of gold, helmets of gold, and especially the golden rays of the sun to glorify the sainted King Louis, Le Roi Soleil.

And today, took a pilgrimage to IRCAM to visit Michael Fingerhut to talk about digital libraries and music information retrieval and life and death and get the ten dollar tour of the place, a place of my dreams for so many years, underneath the Place Igor Stravinsky, imagined as a place with stone steps worn by so many knees. Discovered today that Gérard Pape is director of CCMIX (Xenakis's UPIC) and have tried to get in touch but no luck yet. We corresponded a few years back when we found we had both written operas on Max Ernst's A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil. I haven't heard it and I don't believe he has heard mine. Ah well. In trying to find Gérard's address, discovered that Matt Heckert had also considered an opera on the same book.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

le baptème du sade

In Saint-Sulpice, where my dear friend and mentor Donatien Alphonse-François de Sade Marquis was christened on a balmy summer day early in the month of June (Prairial for my Republican readers) 1740 and where Marcel Dupré was the organist for many years. The Paris Meridian runs through the church and also through the gaggle of Dan Brown fans tapping the floor to find the secrets to the Sanct Grael hidden below. Went to ISMIR in Vienna last week. A lot of people using MFCCs for similarity just like the old Muscle Fish patent. Had dinner with my good friend Mariko Wakita who played the Marceline-Marie rôle in die Nacht wird kommen... in Klagenfurt and Brühl and the singing Jenny in Blinde Liebe. Richard Friedman is going to play the Mordake Suite #1 on Music from Other Minds on the weekend. Talked to Mrs. Childs about how "Freddy" Hundertwasser used to hang around her dining room window to see if they were eating so he could seem to be serendipitously stopping by and, oh, are you eating, why yes, I'll just have some bread with butter. Has anyone else noticed how most artists are poor during their life and are capitalized on after their death? Yes, of course, we all know.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Hot off the presses

The San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra played the Mordake Suite #1 on Saturday. After a bit of studio magic I have a pretty good recording of it here. I was originally supposed to be in Europe for the premiere of the Notker Balbulus Mass on Saturday, but sadly it was delayed until next year, the cruelest month of next year that is. Fortunately my friend Robert Wechsler had the foresight to call the Kappelmeister before heading on the train to St Gallen. And, in related news, several key collaborations for the San Francisco Arts Festival next year have been announced and note my name in print. Smallish print maybe but ah, for this we live.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Fashion Victim

We have a personal seamstress we keep chained in the basement, our own Irish indentured servant, whom we picked up in Montserrat from a white slave trader in 1655, our dear friend Kathleen Crowley, who just blogged about one of your humble narrator's many items of clothing which she has produced for him, fingers bleeding, legs cramping up from the cold and damp. She had recently escaped from a hareem where she learned the tribal ways. I highly recommend having your own, especially if you are into local and sustainable and handmade fashion. My ex-wife used to call me a clothes horse which I always took as a compliment but I just looked it up to find the following definition: informal often derogatory a determinedly fashionable person. Yes, that's me, determined and resolute in my achievement of slavish fashionhood.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

anecdotes rhythmiques

Several past posts by Kyle Gann (also here) reminded me about how much I've given up rhythmically to make my pieces playable by the performers available to me and how much I've allowed myself to be constrained by what others thought. I have to say that reading his blog in general has both shamed and inspired me and so I'm going to repeat and extend my comments here.

I was in an art rock band in the early 80s where a few of the tunes had multiple riffs of different, usually relatively prime, lengths played by different instruments. In fact, one number consisted only of a set of ostinati, one per part, and was titled 4.7 x 10^6 (pronounced 4.7 million), which referred to the approximate overall period of the whole mess in beats. I didn't use the technique that much in my own music, even though I may have wanted to, mostly - and I'm a little embarrassed to admit this - because I had read the annotation of example 35 in Messiaen's Technique de mon language musical where he describes "Our first essay in polyrhythm, the simplest, the most childish, will be the superposition of two rhythms of unequal length, repeated until the return of the combination of departure." The added emphasis is my own. There was something about that 'childish' comment that put me off the whole thing. Ach Gott in Himmel why do I listen to other people?

I was working for Yamaha back in the late 80s when the Finale notation program came out. Both Guy Garnett and I tried it and both had problems with the very first things we tried, and both for the same reason - its inability to handle partial tuplets, i.e., a tuplet which doesn't last for the entire length of time implied by its denominator, e.g., a single triplet quarter note. I was using such things in my postminimalist numbers and he was using them in his Stefan Wolpe inspired tunes. However, I didn't learn the obvious lesson from this: using this program is evil and will simplify the music you write. And so it goes...

I used to write a lot of meters with fractional bits, e.g., 4 1/2 beats of 4, which was clearly the correct notation. The music was supposed to sound like a little bit was dropped off the end - of a normal 5/4 measure in the above case - but I couldn't get conductors to beat it that way, even though it seemed really straightforward to me. They all wanted to make it 2/8 + 2/8 + 2/8 + 3/8, which is of course the same length but hardly the same feel. I think the hiccuping rhythms in the Concord Sonata may have been the first thing to make me think about using such things, but didn't Led Zeppelin take these kind of rhythms to the masses in the 70s? In what universe do classical players grow up? And why have I allowed them to browbeat me into their way of thinking?

I first started writing electronic music in the late 70s. I built with my own hands a small MIDI interface for a North Star S-100 bus computer as well as an 8-bit D/A and I wrote both a small polyrhythmically-oriented score description language to MIDI converter and a MUSIC-N like programming language for it in UCSB Pascal. It was unbearably slow to run but it allowed me to do the rhythmic experiments I wanted to do at the time, mostly high-order tuplety things and pieces with multiple simultaneous tempi. But I quickly learned (as did so many others) that simple and complex rhythms alike sound quite bad when played perfectly. I found myself very quickly editing all the microrhythms by hand, moving events a few milliseconds this way and that. I did gain some intuition about what seemed to work, and I did see that such small changes - as really any performer knows either intuitively or consciously - make all the difference in the world. After a while I tired of all this detail work and went back to having people play the music, which is easier but I suppose a way of avoiding a commitment or responsibility.

But my new opera, Mordake, is an electronic piece and thus unconstrained by some of the limitations I have lived with for a while. Also, I've gained a certain self-awareness over my personal half century that will hopefully allow me to forage for myself without worrying about phantoms peering over my shoulder. So I look forward to Nancarrow-like improbabilities, irrational tempi, manipulations and retrogrades and unplayable parts of all kinds. Amen.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Mordake at SFCCO

I've orchestrated some of my favorite bits from the Mordake work-in-progress and the SFCCO is presenting them next month, the 15th of September 2007, at Old First Concerts. It will be a primarily instrumental suite from the piece, but it does use a bit of a cylinder recording of the Prologo from Pagliacci by Antonio Scotti and also a manipulated recording of a snippet of the text by my friend Diana Pray. In the eventual production, it is believed that the Edvard Mordake character will listen to opera cylinder recordings from time to time, sometimes old and sometimes new. One thing nice about the old recordings is that the mix is so extreme in the direction of the voice that it's pretty easy to drown out the original orchestration and replace it with one's own.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

My friend Trauma

Please may I be so bold as to call him my friend? He was the absolute best performer who could ever have taken on the starring role - and that is 'starring' as in the goldest star on the brightest reddest dressing room door - in Queer. He made the piece into something that was so much better than my little scribblings. From the opera:

and in a woefully too short snippet from a performance at bijou.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

oh to be young again

Michael Fiday invited me up to the Headlands Art Center to see his Dharma Pops for violin duo last night. The music was absolutely gorgeous and the performance divinely captivating - as expected - as it featured the very talented stylings of Carla Kihlstedt and Graeme Jennings. I found myself enraptured, sweetly envying Michael's sure compositional hand. The tunes were very short and succinct, spiced with Charlie-Parkeresque bebop, interleaved with Jack Kerouac's haiku as read by Matthius Bossi. Each musical section commented on the haiku to come, sometimes word-painting or imitating the sounds evoked by the poem and sometimes being merely a beautiful perfect accompaniment. The last piece was a simple and sublime spiritual statement. Michael is planning to record the work in October with this group and I'm looking forward to hearing the result.

Both Carla and Matthius are in Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, an impressive arty rock and a bit industrial gothy and sometimes Art-Bearsy progressive band who coincidentally are starting their tour in Petaluma tonight. Carla says to wear earplugs. Which reminds me: I've noticed recently in bars that serve loud music a number of young hipsters stuffing their ears with shreds of bar napkins and toilet paper. This prophylactic tendency intrigues me. Is it now hip to protect yourself? Has there been a loss of the traditional youthful sense of immortality and invincibility? When I was young, there was a to hell with the lily-ears, a bravado and bold daring in exposing your malleus, incus and staples to the fearsome intensity of the onslaught of guitars and drums and noisy screaming distortion. I remember looking out over a sea of eager faces in my youth, happily entranced with the chaos of the seven guitars of Name, some wincing in pain, some holding their fingers in their ears to staunch the flow of blood, but all bravely withstanding the expected torments of their chosen entertainment. But maybe, like the misspent dissonance of my youth, those vibrations are calming now, losing their ecstatic grip, giving way to some possibly wiser, but slighter and waif-like feminine-in-music, Minerva replacing Ares in the aural pantheon.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Mordake visuals

We just finished a week and a half in the Paul Dresher studio working on the Mordake project with everyone. It's very very preliminary but we did come up with some interesting looks. Who knows if any of it will make it into the final piece, but below are a couple of videos, the first consisting of various clips of interest set to an instrumental version of some of the music, and the second consisting of the opening narration and music with a sketch of some visuals. Sorry for the noisy sound in the first half - it's just from the camera microphone. Melissa Weaver directed, John Duykers performed, visuals by Frieder Weiss, camera mostly by Matt Jones, the room sketch by Lynne Rutter (after Renzo Mongiardino) and music written by me. The gender changing of John's voice was performed by the Korporate Marionettes software, written in the spectral domain by yours truly with help from my dear colleague Thom Blum. It is always a treat to hear John sing and his voice is beautiful when left unencumbered by technology but, just like theatrical blood poured over the body of a beautiful woman, there is something quite excitingly creepy about the altered sound. And I do like the moment where the celesta comes in in a slowed-down stretto retrograde of the tune. Why yes ma'am, I am quite fond of them there irrational rhythms.

For those that care, gender change is typically done by shifting the formant structure of the voice independently of the pitch. In the KM software, the pitch change is accomplished through the use of a phase vocoder, but the smoothed spectral envelope is removed first and reapplied after. We've found that, in general, it's not enough to do the mathematical operation and it's most helpful to have the singer affect their voice just a bit. Women and men tend to sing a little differently stylistically and those cues need to be generated to aid in the suspension of disbelief.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


To Melpomene, as the muse of the tragic descent and the nightmare of addiction, I now give dominion over the adornment and engineering of drug paraphernalia; the detailing of the LSD blotter; the spidery small microcosmic worlds of the speed freak, lathering up a fever at four in the morning at All Star donuts, unable to eat but unable to move, pens laid out in neat rectangles; the shiny polished chrome of the espresso machine; the long lathed ivory cigarette holder and its companion death's head Zippo lighter; the carved meerschaum pipe direct from Turkey with resin screen but (if sold in California) please only for tobacco. But I reserve for the one of many hymns, the muse of the sacred song, the beautification of musical instruments, a sacred musical task if there ever were, sweet lovely but most serious Polyhymnia, a finger held to her mouth to keep us quiet as we look upon the adornment with awe.

Oft-blogged Amy Crehore's very beautiful and hopefully first-in-a-series Tickler ukelele is above. Ooooh I want it. I just discovered that my son Duncan can play most all of the Hank Williams catalog and proved it to me at my mother's home using the same plastic-necked department store uke on which I first learned to play Little Brown Jug. And my favorite of Adrian Card's harpsichords is below. I want that too. I can't play the harpsichord so well and they are surprisingly quiet for those of us raised on 'lectric guitars and synthesizers but lovely as a dream when played well.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Friedrich der Große

My old friend Frieder Weiss tootled over the cold Arctic wastelands on a barbarously early flight out of Nürnberg to come to the barren industrial wastelands of West Oakland to work on the Mordake opera. Or whatever we are calling it. There doesn't seem to be a good equivalent to the German word for musiktheater in English. It's either Opera, with all its connotational baggage of heavy breasted women caterwauling dying words of lament, lungs ravaged by tubercles, or it's the milksop of Musical Theater, prancing and skipping its way in to the listener's heartstrings by any means necessary.

threatens to be a radical departure for me in a number of ways, a primarily electronic piece with actual improvisational development, prying just the smallest iota of control from my cold dead fingers both socially and electronically. Plans call for visual and aural interactivity abounding throughout, controlled through John's movement and vocal pitch and spectrum and who knows what else. I'm feeling to be in my element this next week, parading with a cavalcade of the best and brightest, fingers on the keyboards, constructing something from nothing by the force of our will.

Monday, July 9, 2007

It is with such baubles that men are led

The powers that be, in their capricious omniscience, have bestowed an honor on my dear love Lynne Rutter, who has now joined the decorative painting ionosphere. Unfortunately it comes with no estate nor servant, but 'tis a joy nonetheless.

Friday, June 29, 2007

If love be the food of music

John Duykers and I were on the radio last Sunday on KRCB, the local NPR station near his home in Sebastopol. He's a farmer as well as an internationally renowned opera singer, so he was the one invited onto what was ostensibly a food show, to wit Mouthful. A direct link to the podcast is here but it's also on iTunes. John brought in a lovely dish consisting of multiple potato species, kale, collards, and a buttery spicy drizzle. I would say that, if one wants to work in opera, one should make sure that the artists with which one works should provide at least one of your other basic human needs besides artistic fulfillment, e.g. companionship, fresh organic produce, sex, laughter, knowledge, linguistics, and so on. Maybe in a future post I will present a bipartite graph where the one of the two disjoint sets consists of my artistic partners and the other my basic human needs and the readers will be invited to draw in their guesses as to the graph edges. But I was on the show to provide some musical interludes (the quite lovely numbers brightness 2 and Casus Tertius) But work on Mordake is heating up in preparation for Frieder Weiss to come and give the visuals the Frieder touch. Light, but persuasive.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Bad poetry

Once again Jim Bisso and I found ourselves on DJ Bunnywhiskers, this time reading our favorite bad poetry, some badly written, some badly or baldly sentimental, some bad by its very nature. The show is here, good and bad mystical unicorn poetry is here, and some pro-war poetry of the Axis and the Central Powers and the Allies of both world wars is here.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Just fucking figure it out already

In the olden days, artists had the ability to actually do something, to complete something, to present a work complete, like Athena born whole from the head of Zeus. This is no longer a possibility. Now it seems that artists must only explore, consider, collaborate, engage in dialog, but please to never actually conclude, to state, to stand firm. I, for one, have little interest in seeing an artist's process, or knowing from whencesoever they came. Rather, I would prefer for them to go away, to leave me alone while they scrive their small efforts, staving off that time of the reaping of their souls, and then, when they have finished exploring and considering and collaborating, to share their destination with me, Lake Victoria in all its glory, and to skip the slide show, the home movies of their long and difficult trip up the Nile.

But, before I go, let me share just a few examples of what is raising my pique. OK? Yes. Here we go:

... will explore the ambiguous and changing nature of our relationship to living in a post-private society, where personal electronic information ...

The play will explore the rise in America of new white male empowerment in relation to a diversifying American culture.

The overall intention of the work is to explore the nature of communion with the infinite, and the opening of--the soaring of--the human heart. ...

The work will explore architecture as a fundamental, subliminal force intervening in the human narrative, braiding artistic exigencies, topical dramas and ...

...will explore the historical origins and the complex identity issues faced by conversos while speaking to the larger question of ...

In our sex comedy, we have outlined the following scene:

Arts Commision: banker, bishop, duc and judge, done as a scene from 120 days of Sodom. Old whore reads from the proposals typing notes on a laptop while the work samples are played and the four discuss. The four on the jury take off on tangents about fucking boys in chambers, shitting on the host, stuffing cash up the cunt of a prostitute. The old whore tells a story inspired by at least one of these. My work sample could be a setting of jet of blood. Jim’s lyric poem on the first 15 seconds after a consecrated host (at what point does it transubstantiate?) enters a whore’s vagina (pushed in by the black priest’s cock (editor's note: black as in black mass, not black as in African American)). The latter is what triggers the cash in cunt of prostitute story. They don’t like our proposal. It is clear they do not understand it. The second proposal The SHEro of the Warsaw Ghetto is an uplifting story about the Jewish uprising told entirely by shadow puppets viz the Platonic shadows on the cave wall, stolen by Plato from an older matriarchal tale. Use the following words: depucelate, cuntishly, sapphotizings, friggeresses.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Amy Crehore

Let's take a moment to consider one of my favorite paintings. In the collection of the artist. I have a few of Amy's prints above my piano just below Vera where I meditate on them while I work. In a quid pro quo, she at times listens to The Bed You Sleep In in between the blues and the hokum when she is working. It makes me happy to think that, possibly, I've left a small impression. Maybe a brush stroke that took a small turn to reflect a particularly lovely note on the viola, maybe a color that ended up a slightly darker hue as a static sad sawmill loop sounded.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Not for dancing

Lynne Rutter had been asking me to write something for her, and I knew she was very fond of the Shostakovich Jazz Suite waltzes, so I wrote her a short waltz. It's a slow listening waltz more than a dancing waltz, and maybe could be orchestrated as an appropriate dirge for my New Orleans funeral. No recording, but the score is on my works page, direct link here. I did play it at our annual party/salon last Saturday and was later forced to play it again, the second time being a bit more difficult due to the ongoing drinking of the Nerve Center Punch, but probably a little more heartfelt too in a sad crying-in-your-punch kind of way. I've thought we should do a salon more often given that we seem to have a lot of "creative, smart, and funny friends" as one of the thank-you notes said. But maybe the rarity is a plus. Dresher was there and seemed to enjoy himself and we went to see his Tyrant opera last night. Duykers as usual did a great job. He seems to be talking a number of us West Coast composer types into writing him solo operas and paying him for the opportunity.

Just after posting this, I received a DVD from M. Mara-Ann, who unknown to me secreted a video recording device into the party and captured my drunken stumbling through the piece, so there is actually more to love than I thought there was. Lynne told me that, when her friend Rich Kraft once did an imitation of me playing the piano, he started with a bold flourish, stopped and grunted and then started over, and this truth about me is what we see here.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Tuning Troubles

When I first started playing in a Javanese gamelan, it was difficult for me to get past the tuning, the unfamiliarity of which got in the way of understanding the music. In fact, it was so difficult for me in those first few days that that I didn't even get that I wasn't understanding the music. This was a little unexpected for me, as I was already very familiar with tuning experiments in modern classical music. For example, I had listened to a lot of quarter tone music and, at that time, I was working on a somewhat ridiculous piece, a concerto for contrabass accompanied by a trombone quartet and choir, where each section of the ensemble used a different fixed-pitch equal-temperament, e.g., chromatic scales of 1/8th tones and 1/6th tones and so on. The chorus was used like an orchestra, singing various IPA-notated phonetic abstractions. But I was raised on the serial music of the world of the post second Viennese school, was intimately familiar with the sound of it, had an intuitive grasp of it and this just seemed like a logical way to go forward. But the gamelan was different.

My music at the time was not really harmonic, essentially percussion music with a pitch veneer slathered on top, disguising its true nature. I mean, it was harmonic in the sense that pitches were sounding at the same time as each other, and sometimes the harmonies were exciting and beautiful, but it wasn't really part of the overall architecture of the piece. So when I was confronted by music where the tuning was different but the music was straightforward - in the sense that it was not intended to be difficult to understand and was supposed to have an immediate emotional impact and leave you humming the tunes - the tuning was a wall that took a few days to get past. However, once I did, I fell in love with it, could sing along and could find the pitches easily and felt that they were, in fact, quite "correct." I wanted to comprehend this feeling and apply it in my own playground of pitches. I felt that I was missing something important and possibly following the wrong path.

The next surprise came, though, when I found that the gamelan pitches were not systematic. Each gamelan, while following some general guidelines about large and small intervals, was tuned quite differently. Bill Alves has a lovely set of graphs of tunings of some of the well-known gamelan from Central Java. The somewhat mythic story that was given to me by my teachers at the time was to the effect that, before a new gamelan was built, the builder would go sit on a mountaintop until the tuning came to them in an epiphanic moment, at which point they would build the first instrument and then copy the tuning of it for the others. I realized that my own experiments in tuning had been extremely constrained, in addition to having failed to arrive at any type of real "truth," whatever that might be. So my friends and I started building a lot of instruments with random tunings, cutting pieces of wood and metal to random shapes, laying them out in xylo/vibraphone-like arrangements in pitch-sorted order and then writing music using these pitches. It was amazed how quickly these random tunings sounded 'OK' and how they seemed intuitively to yield an appropriate music.

But, at the same time, I was discovering that the American gamelan builders were basically all using Just Intonation. Why exactly, given that the intuitive tunings of the Southeast Asian gamelan seemed like a possibly critical aspect of the whole music? Didn't this miss the point? I wasn't sure, but JI scratched my analytical mind's itch, that which was demanding some sort of organizational scheme for all the possible pitches. I had a little familiarity with it already. I had heard Harry Partch's music in my youth and I knew from my history of mathematics that solving the "problems" of JI had been a major preoccupation among the intellectual elite for a long time. I read Partch's book and I hooked up with the Just Intonation Network and this did help me get a handle on my pitch universe, or maybe I should say my interval universe. But, being an old dissonance guy and a sensation slut in general, I didn't get caught up in the pseudo-mystical nervousness about purity of intervals and the monotony of beatlessness. I liked the wolf tones, the odd intervals, the sweet edges of schismas and commas. And it didn't really deal with all my pitch issues anyway, e.g., glissandi and vibrato and the three strings on each key of the piano. (My JI friends' response to these issues? Don't use vibrato, don't use glissandi, don't etc etc.) (My noise music friends' response to everything I've been talking about? Who cares about pitches?)

The funny thing that happened on the way to this perfect universe of pitch complexity is that I started writing more and more tonal music. Thinking about intervals has a poisoning effect that way. It makes one think about roots and centers of intervallic grids. And then, in the end, I dropped the tunings and just found myself back in the usual world of more-or-less equal temperament. In the end, tunings were too socially isolating, too difficult given limited rehearsal times, too off-putting to the casual listener. My new opera, Mordake, is an all electronic piece and I could use any pitches I want, but I'm still shying away, fearing the impediment to the listener. It's hard enough to get people to listen; I don't want to make it more difficult for them. But then, maybe I should.

Musique Arabo-Andalouse

A friend of mine gave me the album above just as I was beginning to write the music for The Islamic Republic of Las Vegas. I imitated the style in The Dance of the Testifiers, an early microtonal piece of mine which can be heard here and is also on my Music of Love CD. I was especially enamored of the fact that one of the musicians was playing a jet d'eau, and I imitated that as well. The tune was interesting in the way it handled the use of Just Intonation, as it modulated through a series of key centers and a series of corresponding tunings. However, when I later repurposed the music for the Celestial Bridegroom section of Little Girl, I gave up on the tuning and let the musicians fall back on their familiar quasi-equal-temperament training. I wrote a few new melodies and purloined one in the Arabo-Andalusian style for that piece as well, my favorite being one in The Knife, in the section that sounds a bit like Rimsky-Korsakov.

Thinking of the jet of water reminded me of an aborted project to write an opera based on Artaud's Jet of Blood, causing me to stumble across this lovely Australian production of this unproduceable piece.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Flag of Appenzell

Faithful readers know that my Mass is premiering this fall in St Gallen, Switzerland. But they may not know that to the south of the city is the canton of Appenzell, represented by the flag above. In heraldry-speak: Argent, a bear rampant sable, armed langued and priapic in his virility gules. Translated: on a silvery white field, a bear is represented standing on one hind foot with its forefeet in the air, in profile, facing the dexter side, with right hind foot raised, in black, with red claws and erect penis of red tincture.

The bear on the flag is in fact that same bear previously discussed, shown in the above bas-relief befriending Gallus. Appenzell was a vassal state of the Abbot of St Gallen until 1403 when it threw off the yoke of the bear-loving abbey, retaining however a fondness for the bear, putting it in their flag but adding the bold red erection as a touch of defiance. The story goes that, in 1579, a printer in St Gallen removed the bear's hard-on from a collectible calendar, almost plunging the two sides into war until he toadied to the Appenzellers and the city agreed to destroy every copy it could find.

After writing the ordinary of the Mass, I decided to add an organ postlude. The Dom Cathedral has three organs, including two smaller baroque instruments in the choir, but the large organ is very beautiful, visually and aurally. It's a typical postlude, with a flamboyant opening, a memory from my youth listening to Norberto Guinaldo's florid improvisations, my own attempt a poor imitation. In the middle, it ventures into a more static territory, another poor imitation, this time reminiscent of Terry Riley's Shri Camel. Let's part with just a glimpse of it.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


I first read about Edward Mordake in Re/Search Magazine, which quoted the original story from Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine by George M. Gould and Walter L. Pyle, online here about halfway down the page. At the time, I assumed the story to be apocryphal, but over the years I've realized that it might be true, except for the voice (obviously), which no one else could hear. There are modern examples, as in this video of a Chinese man:

Our developing operatic version may be real or not real. It doesn't really matter. In Douglas Kearney's libretto, the other face is presented as an example of chimerism, a son that devours his sister in the womb, which is biologically unlikely. More probable is that Mordake was a variant of a conjoined twin, like the slave owners, stars and truly 'Siamese' twins Chang and Eng Bunker, whose commingled liver is on display at the Mütter Museum, a prime tourist spot for all those intrigued by the fringes of permutation of us, we featherless bipeds with broad, flat nails.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


I ran into Dan Becker last night at a performance of David Conte's opera America Tropical, a tale of very comfortable liberalism set in Los Angeles across the 20th century, centering on the anti-imperalist Olvera street mural of the 30s by David Alfaro Siqueiros and the videotaping of the Rodney King beating. The quality of the performance itself was high and made an effective use of the space - Thick House on Potrero Hill - just down the street from where I'm sitting - and the theater at which my opera Mordake is intended to premiere next year, God willing.

Dan and I got to talking about Kyle Gann's discussion of his beautiful Disklavier works that were recently choreographed by Mark Morris. Having known Kyle's works for a long time I can't help but be very happy for him. Like so many of us, he's underappreciated, and the few that make it out to the wider world blaze a trail for us all and I'm thankful. Dan's been working with the instrument too for a while, and tells me that the new ones still can't play the densest of the Nancarrow studies without a bit of hiccoughing, fuse-blowing, and lights-dimming, and that's sad to me. I had just taken a job with Yamaha Music Technologies back in 1987 when the first models came out and, like a lot of composers, was filled with lust for this device. Unfortunately, that initial New-Relationship-Energy was tempered when I found that one couldn't play more than 16 notes at a time, that there was a sizable delay from input to output and, if even a 10 note chord was played too long, the power supply might blow. The robots have attained more facility over the years, but still haven't quite achieved the raw power of their pianola ancestors with their pneumatic action and rolls punched by the sure hands of Conlon, frail when I once met him over dinner at Shin Shin restaurant just across the bay. I'm afraid I was too in awe to converse with him with much confidence, but - as usual for me - ended up talking with his wife while letting Henry K. and Charles A. take up the slack.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Missa Beati Notkeri Balbuli Sancti Galli Monachi

My Missa Beati Notkeri Balbuli Sancti Galli Monachi will be performed at the beautiful Abbey of St Gall in Switzerland on the Day of Repentance and Prayer (15 September). The Abbey was the commissioner of the piece, and it is thus named after one of their most famous, the musician and poet Notker Balbulus, aka Notker the Stammerer (840-912, beatified 1512). He is known as the first ethnically German composer of music and for publishing the first collection of Sequences, mnemonic poems for remembering the series of pitches sung during a melisma in plainchant, many composed by him. The stammering little monk "was so much loved by the monks of his abbey that for a long time after his death, they could not speak of him without shedding tears."

Some selections from the Mass were performed last Summer by the SFCCO and Schola Cantorum San Francisco. Here's a bit of it.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Psychopathia Sexualis

As DJ Bunnywhiskers loved our last tête-à-tête, she has invited me back on her show this evening from 6-8 PDT where we, that is, James Bisso, Suzanna Shubeck, and other of my dear friends, will read our favorite episodes from the Krafft-Ebing classic. Listening to the show in realtime is theoretically possible, either at or at 87.9 FM in San Francisco. However, as sometimes the chewing gum and bailing wire holding the antenna fails, and sometimes the hamsters that power the generators that run the server get a wee bit dispirited by the meaninglessness of their lives and sulk in the corner of their damp and dark cage, it may be easiest to listen to the podcast here tomorrow.

update: here's the actual podcast link.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Laundry Room

After a hard day scrivening my meager attempts to add to our shared culture, I've found there is no better way to relax than to take the servants' stair down to the laundry room and spend a lazy late afternoon in languorous contemplation of the lacy underthings scattered about like autumn leaves after a blustery day. Sometimes, a particularly lovely article will catch my eye, a red chemise, a black garter, a soft night-cap, and an intense impulse will rise in me, and I will find myself secreting it away, finding it later amid my tousled bedcovers, an evening lost.

photo by David Papas

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Baron Ochs

I've put up the scores and recent recordings of the orchestral suite from Baron Ochs on my website here, just the rather beautiful music from the piece, lovingly reorchestrated for the San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra, without the text, which was an odd little story that Everett Shock and I wrote back in the early 80's from some notes on 3x5 cards that he picked up off the ground. We didn't know it at the time, and it reflected a certain gap in my youthful cultural education, but the notes on the cards were from a study of Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss. However, the notes were quite sketchy and thus, even though my piece and the late Herr Strauss's share a few characters (e.g. the Baron himself) and settings, they are in all other ways quite different from each other, my work touching on several esoteric issues, such as the separation of date palms by gender, which mostly likely would not have interested the other aforementioned composer.

My friend Earnest A. Z. Feathermouth graciously agreed to write program notes for the piece. As they are explicative, I have included an excerpt:

Ersatz opera con vivo; a pluralistic demonstration composed of a myriad of animistic elements: the puffy attractions of a porcine cockalorum surrounded by the greased trumpets of his sycophantic catamites, the naifish masochism of a vestal-skinned ward replete with bubbling womb, the soft squire whose tumescent lips add a wounded crimson to his otherwise pallid exterior, the dark servant with the dominating maw that feels so warm and reassuring, and the sublime Valzaccho whose turgid gasps and leering hands seem to add a certain beauty to the inexorable violence of this psychosexual drama. The ROSE BEARER provides an unctuously feral setting for this exploration of sexual confusion and its relation to religious conviction. Rather than presenting the basic theme in a simple diachronic form, it is unfolded in a synchronic fashion. At the same time, a wide variety of compositional techniques (linguistic, sonic, and theatrical) are used to produce a vibrant, if not scatological, environment certain to stimulate the most senseless of participants. While the vertiginously careening pace may upset the perineal appendages of meek and obese listeners, the spiritual confrontation that results amply justifies the risks. Questions of secular-sexual transgression (does god have a penis?) are universal and form an integral part of the personal experience of all salacious individuals in modern society. Nonetheless Baron Ochs does not go far enough into the psychoanalytic structures that support the occidental predisposition to hide or ratiocinate sexual misidentification with religious inculcation. Rather than destroying the baggage of Luther and the Calvinists, modern European society has added a shiny new patina, a hip-hop patois with tight pants. It is this preposterous "disco of the church" that continues to promulgate a false sense of procreative correctness. Despite this failing, Baron Ochs is an important and uplifting work, one that is certain to remain vivid, ominous, and as reckless as the brazen youth whose speeding motorcycle is moments from impact.
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