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.
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