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Friday, January 1, 2010

Two New Reviews

Of Mordake, not yet released:
The music is convoluted and tumultuous yet well ordered in its own fractal logics, the lyrics sung in English in Duykers' heroic exhortations ever attempting domination of the reedlike insinuations and madnesses of his sister, snakily evoked through Korporate Marionettes' devices to produce a mocking hectoring from Duykers' own vocal chords (remember, this is a solo opera!), the result effecting a personality split and schizophrenias effective on more than one level. On top, to the side, and underneath, Wold crafted a welter of environments leaping from harsh urgency to ambient tranquility shot through with muted echolalia—the bridge from Go Get Our Supper! to What Have You Done? being a great example.

This daring purveyor of far horizons favors nightmare and the disturbing undermatrix of consciousness in his work, and Mordake is his most impressive evocation of that since Taking the Veil, to my mind stunningly high art…
and the Missa, in the online review journal FAME:
The voices are largely female and angelic in the extreme, male counterpoints recessed, with the cathedral's echo providing an expansive golden warmth to the massed encantings, a palpable feel of heavenly dimensions ... There are effulgent passages of Godly sentimentality but also the turbulence of the states between [Him] and man, reminders of our fall from Grace.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

My Sister, My Love

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Dramatic Composer

The book-larnin' study of Composition and its even poorer cousins of Species Counterpoint and ostensible Harmony didn't teach me much of what I needed to know to actually succeed as a soi-disant composer.  Here is an almost surely abridged list of what skills were needed just for Mordake.  I publish this only in the interest of scaring off some young bucks and does and reducing the competition for various grants and whatnot.

First and most important: the skill of gladhanding, the character of the cocktail boy, the flirt, the teller of and listener to jokes, the slightly-too-long buss on the cheek of the executive or artistic director of this and that, the extra squeeze, the reach-around.

Second, Diplomacy, from the lonely-hearts and sex columnist to the divas and self-styled gods and goddesses of the art world, the theater folk who know not where the stage ends, aiding with boyfriend and girlfriend problems, sometimes both at the same time, guiding and cajoling and pandering and smoothing, crying with them, holding their hands, kissing away their tears.

Third, Budgeting, the dismal science, the counting and the recounting and the negotiations with artists and technicians and vendors and theater owners, including the begging, the "ask," the days and days and days frittered away crafting and re-crafting and re-re-crafting the tedious applications and work samples, this 2 minutes of this and this 2 minutes of the other, each of which asks for everything in its own way, assembling them into packages which, like lottery tickets, become so much worthless paper, convincing other organizations to write even more grant proposals and dealing the endless rejections and still doing it more, persuading those more important than me to write letters of recommendation and quid-pro-quo letters written for them, and begging and borrowing and stealing from other theaters and artists and on.

Wait, maybe this is more important: let us not forget all aspects of marketing: designing posters and programs and web sites, convincing the shop owner to allow one in with ink-stained hands and stickum, quickly plastering over another artist's labor of love, to please not forget all the coproducers and granting organizations with their required acknowledgements of sufficient point size, dealing with mailing houses and poster distribution services and printers a click away, and English Communication, writing copy for the posters and programs as well as blogs and web sites and spam.

Ah! The Technical! Extending from the necessity of computers for everything: buying and researching and communicating and making scores and parts and mixes and recording but down to the samples and frames and media files, angry to find other people who think they know more about anything and seem maybe to be more successful, but ignoring that and writing a program to shift the pitch of John's voice so he could play the female rôle, but oh god no not to move the formants quite so much thus guaranteeing that his true womanly nature arises rather than the feared chipmunk within.  And even more troubling, to write a program to deal with the terrible flashing in the documentation video, some aliasing problem between the $50K hidef camers and the DLP projectors that had to be suppressed pixel-by-pixel, replacing those flickering with their more stable and clearheaded temporal neighbors. And then on to the editing.

Finally, and only then, the writing of the music, the consideration of the art, the meaning, how it relates to thou and thine, the prettiness, the beauty, the modernist flair, the rhythms and the notes and the sounds and Thom's prepossessing noises, and plowing over the overestimated difficulties of Orchestration, parts and ranges and rehearsals and recording and the mixing in, days spent laughing over the libretto, shots of vodka and absinthe and tequila and better tequila, time in the hot tub overlooking the garden, grazing through the organic lettuces and cooking the shrimp with so much butter you can't fucking believe it. And this is what we all remember in the end, the joy of creation, the womanly long building climaxes, paroxysms and chills, the manly Vesuvian orgasm of performance, the slow burn & the long tail which follow until, one day, it ceases to be yours, seemingly written by another, becoming something that belongs to all humanity.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Video of the day

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

One more week

My colleague Michael Kaulkin blogged about Mordake, as did Lynne and fellow collaborator Kathleen. And we musn't forget the Chronicle review and the sf360 review too.  These fragments which are to become the desiccated bits of yellow paper detaching from a once precious photo album, fragments crumbling onto my lap, mixing with drooled spittle, brushed away by liver spotted hands, the last forced movements of a dying soul, trying so very hard to remember the life that once was.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Unsolicited testimony

Mordake opened last night.  Everything worked, John was great, Kathleen's costumes were great, Frieder's software and the video and Lynne's rooms meshed with the action and Missy's lights and all.  In the few days before, there were many catastrophes: laptop dying, software that had been working for years crashing horribly in many ways unimagined, but we prayed to as many gods and saints and ancestors that we could bring to mind just before and they led us through.  I hadn't really even experienced the gestalt of the piece until yesterday and it seems to work, following once again the path through hell and redemption that both our Lord and Jim Bisso and my Pontius Pilate followed.

Leslie Isaac was moved to testify on yelp.  And did I mention that I was on the front page of the Chronicle last Sunday?  Maybe I did, but did also mention that the phrase was "plus Erling Wold and Indiana Jones?" As in the top of the bill?

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Freeloading gigolo

I'm quite smug and pleased with myself as seen above in Noah Berger's shot for the Chronicle. I am imagining myself as Erling and also seemingly as a person who has a rod jammed deep into his bowels. Joshua Kosman has written a lovely feature on me and the opera and I am allowing myself a bit of vain rodomantade and narcissism.  In fact, I am going to go outside into my backyard right now and lean over the pond where the Gambusia are leaping through clouds of mosquitos and just stare at my own reflection, possibly falling in love with it and, unlike the love featured in my typical but-I-just-have-so-much-love-to-give story, this love will be a love that excludes all others. In this quiet beautiful space I can't hear Lynne's remonstrations as to how it's her house in Potrero Hill and her Garden and her etc and how I am just a freeloading gigolo and so on and so forth.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Pirate Cat Tonight

Once again on Bunnywhisker's show on Pirate Cat Radio.  John was supposed to come with me to plug the opera, and I pestered him about it, feeding him prawns from my own hand and soaking his gut with alcohol to get him in the mood, but unfortunately this caused in him the opposite reaction, and he crashed bad, limping back to his hovel to sleep off the long hours of rehearsal day after day.  The show has been fun as usual, broadcast booth filled with interesting people, like the stage at a house music concert, or maybe more aptly like the gaggle of oddballs in the Howard Stern studio. 

We talked of Dante and Alexander Theroux and asked questionnaires of Proust and each other and I played a number of recordings featuring John, including Founders came first, then profiteers from Nixon in China, Pilatus Beatus Est from Sub Pontio Pilato, and I'm no murderer from Mordake. Note that I've been filled with regret since John turned down an offer to reprise his role as Mao in Opera Colorado's production of Nixon for some real money. We talked about the fear of fear and plumbing the depths of the psyche. And I couldn't resist playing the Epilogue from Queer featuring Trauma, who is looking utterly lovely in his photo as Honorary Grand Marshall in the Pride Parade, which I have snuck in above. 

John and I are both going to be on Sarah Cahill's show on KALW on Sunday evening. 

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Name in Print

Theatre Bay Area Magazine is featuring Mordake on the cover as part of an article about the SF International Arts Festival.  The article quotes me quite a lot, even going so far as to extemporize a bit beyond what I may have actually said. But what the hey.  

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Monday, April 28, 2008

SFIAF: Discount Tickets


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Mordake Visuals, Construction, Music et al

routeI was informed by electronic post late last night that Lynne has been blogging her work for Mordake. As of yesterday morning I finally finished setting the last of Douglas's text, almost just barely too late as we really are in the middle of rehearsals, and Herr Weiß is here only for another week or so, and M. Duykers is back in Florida performing final excruciations on his students. Several would-be assistants had other projects interfere with their participation, but luckily our friend Diana showed up direct from Amersfoort NL, firmly gripped the handle of our construction problems, caused the Jack in the Box to pop out, and has left us all deeply satisfied with her work. 

Mary Ellen Hunt dropped by to interview Frieder and me for a mention in the Chronicle's article about the SFIAF, but we've been corresponding a bit about those people who, like Mordake are double-faced.  She referenced the young Indian girl who is believed by some to be a reincarnation of Ganesh, I countered with Chang Tzu Ping (with a nod to the recent alleged Lakshmi reincarnation), and then on to various other facial tumors and skin ailments and so on. These photos disturb me a bit even though I wish I could just accept them as part of the continuum of human styles and substances.  Like the murder victim we happened across today draped with a cloth and surrounded by police tape and squad cars, they seem to remind me too much of my own fragile physical nature, one step away from worm dirt.

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Sunday, March 9, 2008

Poultice o' my heart

Concert of the SFCCO last night playing Mordake Suite Number 2, the darker one. Edward Mordake hisself was there to see it, as he enjoys a variety of methods of instantiation, in this case in Jennybird's doll form. Here's a recording of it hot off the press:

Also, the San Francisco International Arts Festival 2008 site went live today. The direct link to tickets for the Mordake premiere is here and I've been told there is a significant early bird discount.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Mordake Suite Number Two

Dearest friends, folks and loved ones,

I know you are waiting with bated breath, on the edge of your seat, knuckles white in anticipation for the curtains to rise, the lights to come up, the orchestra to begin, and the full throated roar of the singer to announce the premiere of the latest work from the pen of Der Wold but, please, hold, calm down, be patient; all your desires will be sated so very soon, but first, you must endure one more gol-durned Mordake pre-pre-preview concert. Once again, Mark Alburger takes up the baton and conducts the SFCCO in a suite from Mordake, although this time not the prettiest sections, but those parts most dark and most evil, a stain on the very heart of music itself, a stain that will not wash off no matter how much we scrub and scrub with the latest detergents, oxidizers and antimicrobial agents.

San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra
and Old First Concerts Present:
Saturday March 8, 2007 at 8 pm
Old First Concerts
1751 Sacramento Street/Van Ness, San Francisco, CA 94109
$15 General, $12 Seniors (65 and older), $12 Full Time Students

Tickets are available through the Old First Concerts Box Office at (415) 474-1608, online at and at the door. For more information, please call
Old First Concerts box office or visit SFCCO at

Lunacy. Spaciness. Taking 20 years to write a piece. Thinking that music will save the planet. Having a face in the back of one's head. Suicidal thoughts. Why do we do what we do? Because we can't do otherwise? One thing's for sure: it's a crazy world. So come celebrate the craziness with Alexis Alrich, Michael Cooke, Philip Freihofner, Dan Reiter, Martha Stoddard, Erling Wold, and the San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra as they present "March Madness"!

Michael Cooke's Sun & Moon is a dizzying take on time and place, with members of the orchestra performing spacilly and spatially at the point-and-click discretion of Music Director Mark Alburger. Martha Stoddard, as Guest Conductor, will take the ensemble even farther out in A Little Trip to Outer Space where reality has lost its bearings. The entire orchestra will evaporate in the clangor of metal as Philip Freihofner re-invents sanity in The Bell Field, while Dan Reiter's Toccata and Fugue will send minds reeling under the direction of Associate Conductor John Kendall Bailey toward a reckoning with Johann Sebastian Bach. Farthest afield on earth will be Alexis Alrich's Fragile Forests: II Cambodia, where East and West consciousnesses collide in the loveliest possible manner. And, as a final coup-de-grace Erling Wold will evoke the diabolical in Mordake Suite No. 2, in hint of his mad opera to be premiered later in the year.

Alexis Alrich Fragile Forests: II Cambodia
Michael Cooke Sun & Moon
Philip Freihofner The Bell Field
Lisa Prosek Chain Saw
Dan Reiter Toccata and Fugue
Martha Stoddard A Little Trip to Outer Space
Erling Wold Mordake Suite Number 2

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Torture of the damned

Mother Jones published an interesting object, seen below.  It purports to be the music of the twist and the  screw: our tax dollars payed out for the most genteel of purposes. It reminded me of Gavin Bryars explanation for self-publishing, to keep control over his works so they wouldn't be performed in the then-pariah state of apartheid South Africa.  I can't imagine Rage Against the Machine - especially - being too happy about their inclusion on this list. Music, like any other form of torture, should be applied only to those who request it of you. Even though I, like most right-minded™ folks, believe that information wants to be free, I do think it is a somewhat naive misunderstanding of the value of author's rights, even moral rights, to think that it is all about BitTorrent-ing the latest episode of Project Runway. In fact, the greatest threat could be your government or the big bad corporations stealing your artistic handiwork to use for nefarious purposes, from the selling to unthinking consumers the means of their own destruction to the hired scourgers of our various Ministries of Justice, Peace and Defense using it to destroy some poor schmuck who happened to piss off the wrong tribal elder when the company fellows started doling out greenbacks for information. And I have some fear for my friend Frieder, whose performance previous to my opera this spring will be in Pakistan. Will his Pakistani visa's presence on his Old Europe passport land him a lengthy stay in a Navy brig, with cold iron manacles and cold iron door that even his most earnest magic cannot pass through, listening to the Barney Theme Song until he confesses to a host of misdeeds?

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Once there was a boy

Saturday, January 19, 2008

You great big beautiful doll

Jennybird's doll, based on the Mordake story.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Theological, phrenological, surgical

John Duykers performing I'm no murderer from Mordake at Intersection for the Arts, San Francisco, 10th of January 2008. Libretto by Douglas Kearney, directed by Melissa Weaver, production by matt:matt, costume by Kathleen Crowley, with some buzzy extra sounds from Thom Blum, filming by James Bisso, with a backdrop of an altered photo taken by Lynne of a bedroom of the Reutlinger House.

I wrote the gender changing software used at the end - a phase vocoder with formant shifting - for Korporate Marionettes. In this aria, Edvard Mordake tries to shuffle off responsibility for beating his man onto The Other, his shadow, his sister. The text setting in this opera is turning out to be a bit different for me, less driven by the prosody and with more common meters instead of the different-meter-on-every-bar or melodies floating in their own rhythmic world above more regular but still less common meters. Maybe this is because Douglas's words are more poetic and less prose-like than my usual texts. One unintended but happy result is that there is much less need for a conductor.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

akin to that of Antinous

Since the diminution of the Jesuit educational system, we artists can no longer count on the average audience understanding many Western cultural references that used to be taken for granted: the Classical, Mythological, Biblical, Shakespearean former pillars of cultural literacy. However, our librettist, in his bull-headedness, has chosen to ignore this fact, to eschew the requisite references to pop song lyrics and celebrity couplings and instead to rely on some of those very allusions, those facts unavailable to all of us whose education consisted merely of smoking dope in the girl's restroom and leaving thumbtacks on the teacher's chair until that sad day when social promotions pushed us out into the real world, woefully unprepared for highbrow operas. So, to remedy that, I will give a brief rundown of one that appears in the abridgement of Mordake which we are about to witness.

In the introduction, in reference to Edward Mordake himself, we find that "his face was that of Antinous." We ask: who is this Antinous? I say to you that he was a beautiful boy who, around about age 11, become the lover of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, in the fashion of the day, following the Greek tradition of the eromenos, to wit, the idealized pederastic relationship between an adolescent boy and an adult man, both best friends forever and pure lovers, seen to be part of aristocratic moral and educational development, military training, and, of course, Intercrural Sex, which you can look up for yourself in any accurate biography of Honest Abe Lincoln. At around age 18, possibly in an attempt to save his beloved emperor, Antinous drowned in the Nile. Hadrian's grief was unbounded and, following in the footsteps of the great Alexander, had Antinous proclaimed a god. Worship was widespread throughout the empire. There were cities named after him, temples built for his worship, festivals in his honor, a constellation named after him (until the regularization of the constellations by the International Astronomical Union in the 1930s), and many many statues and coins and busts and gems bearing his likeness, all recording his famous pouting lips, considered his most distinctive feature.

My favorite quote about Antinous (although unrelated to the story at hand) is this homophobic number from Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:

The deification of Antinous, his medals, statues, city, oracles, and constellation, are well known, and still dishonor the memory of Hadrian. Yet we may remark, that of the first fifteen emperors, Claudius was the only one whose taste in love was entirely correct.

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Mordake Appears

Our teaser presentation of the Mordake opera took place Thursday night to hoots and hollers from a pretty friendly audience. Note: I can recommend such an audience to all budding theater folk. Plus we got the audience good and liquored up beforehand (which I also endorse). The production came together well and it looked good in the Intersection space. John moved me to tears in one spot; he can work it when he needs to. The technology all functioned, from the formant-shifting gender changing to the video to the wireless speakers and everything. I'll be putting up a video or two but for now I've included a short clip from the Making of where I prompt John for the courage to go forward.

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Tuesday, January 1, 2008

My New Year's Resolution

is to survive from now till a week from Thursday: the Teaser showing of Mordake at the Intersection. It's a homecoming of sorts; I presented my very first chamber opera at the Intersection back in 1995. The Intersection is a beautiful intimate space and it's going to be great fun to put up a section of the piece there, also following the very important plan of getting everyone drunk enough beforehand to appreciate it all properly. But the survival issue comes from having a day job as well as a night job or maybe two lives in two parallel universes. Like Mordake, I can't seem to integrate both in healthy way. So far I've done it by stressing myself to the point of near death, working from morning until night on one and then from night to the week hours on the other, catching a bit of sleep and proceeding again.

The piece seems to be getting darker as we go further in. Maybe it's finding the horror tale it always was, that in our delight at working together we lost sight. I am seduced by the sounds and the music and the look and feel of it all, but it's been pulling me apart as well to face my dark self, waking up in a sweat in the night, just as children tremble and fear all
in the viewless dark.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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, ...

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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