30 April 2018

Domesticated monster

We kept (so I dreamt) a fare-breathing dragon. Although covered in iridescent scales, his hide was warm and cozy to the touch. We hand-fed him (red) pistachios, and his forked tongue tickled rather. I led him on a leash whenever I took the T, and when we approached the turnstile, he exhaled, and we would enter the system.

The conductors considered him a service animal.

When we traveled by car, we never took Farry (as we called him)—his talons would have been hell on the upholstery. When friends asked us what it was like, having a dragon for a pet ... We've met so many fewmets, we boasted.

Separately: never feed ocelots omelettes.

29 April 2018

Grapefruits (temporarily) lost

This post, five years ago today, was a stock-taking/celebration on having completed (the as-yet-unperformed) Misapprehension, Annabel Lee, and the (also as-yet-unperformed) Organ Sonata.

One good result (for the composer, at any rate) of casting whatever I am thinking, at the moment, onto the blog is, when I go back, I find things whereof I have apparently lost all recollection.  Otherwise, Grapefruits of Rage might always have been lost to me (and . . . to the musical world).
Separately – while I thought that this was exactly the phrase as related to me when a friend spoke (in an affectionately jokey manner, to be sure) of his favorite country songs . . . the only results on the Internet to show for “I Sure Could Learn to Miss You, Baby, If You’d Only Go Away” are posts which I made, myself. What if I made that up?
And this is from Thursday, the piece I drew up late in November, as indicated here.

28 April 2018

Yo, Dr No

So, which Bond to watch, after having revisited the four Daniel Craig movies?

Yesterday evening I watched Dr No.  (Oh, yes—I did.)

Obviously, this was made for peanuts compared to any later Bond production;  and they made it, focusing on the task, without any (or, much) thought to it being The First Item in The Franchise.

Like [the tone recaptured in] the Craig—and first, IMO, in the Dalton—era, the tone is borderline dangerous, there is an edge which custom, and the winks at the audience, have not yet dulled.  Many feel that Connery has played the role best;  and here he plays it more nearly stripped-down than later.  The observation will not change anyone’s opinion, but in his (thoroughly respectable) tenure, Connery (and director Terry Young, here) defined the character as a blend of the steely-nerved killer on Ian Fleming’s pages, and the suave playboy whom Terry Young modeled.  I’m not writing in reproof of anyone;  but it was a choice.  I am not saying that he would not have had any quarrel if they kept the character to Fleming’s text, but recall that Patrick McGoohan declined to play the role because Bond was a loose libertine, “morally flexible,” as Martin Blank might put it . . . although arguably, that aspect is part of why Bond became a cultural icon in the ’60s.

On balance, I am a little surprised to report, I enjoy Dr No quite a great deal—probably better than any Connery Bond other than From Russia With Love.  I wonder if it is worth delving into any correlation between this, and the fact that gadgetry, and the grand exploding set-piece, would soon assume signature prominence in the brand.  Sure, they blow up the evil Doctor’s bauxite mine, but they did not yet have the budget to linger over it.  Maybe in 1962 they could not have done otherwise, but I do find myself deducting points for casting an actress whose lines had to be looped.  Sure, Ursula Andress is (the jury has long since been out) easy on the eyes—although her swimming outfit’s bottom has lines suggestive of Tatiana’s of Novosibirsk.  But I see it not so much as an exigency of the immediate production, as the start of a franchise tic . . . both the casting of foreign actors who cannot deliver their lines in English (I know Gert Frobe is a general favorite, but now, I can hardly bear to watch his face on screen) and the casting of female actors, of any nationality other than Russian, as Russian spies. (To be clear:  I understand that Honey Ryder is not a Russian spy . . . .)

Of course, Quarrel had to perish, and Honey to survive, otherwise that final shot of the boat would have had less appeal.

We learn something, I suppose, about Bond’s character, though it is nothing to admire, when he guns down Prof. Dent.  Maybe I am coming too fresh from Judi Dench’s M, who found frequent irritation in Bond’s killing targets whom she would have preferred to interrogate, but I cannot help finding Dent’s execution gratuitous and vindictive.  Of course, Bond’s coolly expert observation—That's a Smith & Wesson, and youve had your six—is one of the dramatic highlights of the screenplay (and Bond would not have known that for a certainty, perhaps, until he switched the light on).  But whether this is perhaps a 21st-c. retrofit, I consider that this means that Dent was a pretty safe capture at this point, and not just meat to be cut down.

And perhaps it is a little goofy that Bond asks that Felix Leiter give him a tow, only to let the rope slip for the final camera shot. Wasnt that pretty much (so to speak) the boat they were in, before Leiter’s craft hove to?

Again, perhaps a bit of a retrofit, but I am a bit disappointed that the catalyst for the villain’s demise, was his deformity.  When the evil Doctor (and, he is the evil Doctor, so, sure, he deserves to snuff it) dies in the radioactive pool, because his metal hands cannot grasp and pull him back to safety—whatever else we may say, it is not a “clean kill.”

I’m going to go ahead and make a clean breast of this:  while it is not the sole reason, I suppose, I am happiest about Dr No when I reflect that its (and Connery’s) success was the seed of Mel Brooks’ Get Smart.

27 April 2018

The two-year volte-face

As recently as a scant two years ago (17 April 2016) I wrote (what today strikes me as ridiculous):

I may be in a minority, but I am more or less of a mind that Manhattan may be the only Woody Allen movie I need to return to now and again.

At about that time, I revisited Zelig (which I had also originally seen in the cinema at the time of its release) and – quite possibly unfairly, as I may discover now – considered it still not quite my thing.

Even then (2016) I really should not have said any such thing, if I honestly reflected on my earlier experience:  I had watched Stardust Memories in the cinema, too, and if perhaps it did not immediately win my heart as did Manhattan, I appreciated its look and dramatic tone.

In all events, gawd, but I was glibly dismissive of a large body of work in a state of practically complete ignorance.  Subsequent to my “minority report,” I watched Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Shadows and Fog.  The scales fell from my eyes.

The scales have fallen pretty hard, because the list of Woody Allen movies to which I happily return has grown from the one item (Manhattan) to a list of 20+.

Should I list them?  Why don’t I list them–

(In reverse chronological order)

Blue Jasmine (2013)
To Rome With Love (2012)
Midnight in Paris (2011)
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010)
Whatever Works (2009)
Vicki Cristina Barcelona (2008)
Match Point (2005)
The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001)
Shadows and Fog (1991)
Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982)
Stardust Memories (1980)
Manhattan (1979)
Interiors (1978)
Annie Hall (1976)
Love and Death (1975)
Sleeper (1973)
Play It Again, Sam (1972)
Bananas (1971)

26 April 2018

Yo, Thoreau

Among numerous other benefits, the 17 April concert gave me the opportunity (the excuse?) to practice my clarinet with even more focus than is usual in such a performance cycle.  With the clarinet, therefore, so well primed, I felt that I wanted to sit and play Thoreau in Concord Jail again.

This was the piece which, not all that long ago, was found by some to be an occasion to subject me to an extremely unpleasant, and ultimately neither deserved nor remotely necessary, ‘meeting’ at which my compositional philosophy was scorned as ‘abstract.’  In effect, unmutual.  Two parties lit into me, while two others just sat and smiled:  “You’re a guest here in our home, and these other guests have set you up as a target;  do enjoy yourself, Karl.”

In this case, the most suitable advice appears to be:  Forgive, but never forget.  I’ll call it water under the bridge, but I’ll be damned if I ever accept another invitation to meet in those conditions.  Neutral territory only, thank you very much.

Playing this piece is perhaps a way in which I practice Zen.  I enjoy the devotion to the half-hour, the experience, the activity of playing, listening to the clarinet’s tone.  In the way of wabi sabi, the clarinet’s tone, even when I find at times, that it probably ought to be better.

This performance, then, is probably imperfect;  but I feel that it is, nevertheless, well lived.

25 April 2018

Divers thoughts today

To my old friend Michael, I wrote this morning:

Late last century (i.e., long, long ago now) I wrote a piece for orchestral winds (plus percussion), for Clemson University.  In the texture, I applied rhythmic patterns inspired by an African drumming seminar taught at the University of Virginia by the Professor of Jazz Studies, Scott Deveaux.  A bit whimsically, I sent my score and a soundfile to Scott, asking him to confirm that I would not be liable to charges of Practicing Jazz Without a License.  He wrote back to assure me that I was safe – “although it does have a groove;  how unimaginative of you.”

While I am perfectly content with Rejoice as it stands (and we are preparing it with four players using mallets, each player managing three bells) one of my most reliably faithful ringers is rejoining us in rehearsal this coming Sunday, and I do not want her to be left out.  So this evening my work will be to add an ‘extra ringer obbligato’.

The flash of [recycling-]inspiration this morning is, to take the Organ Sonata (which has not, to my knowledge, seen any performance yet) and – taking a cue from William Schuman’s arrangement of Charles Ives’s “America” Variations – arranging it for large symphonic band, with A Particular Local Ensemble in mind.

Souls never dissevered one from another

Five years ago today, at the Armory in Somerville, Mass., the Libella Quartet sang the première of my Annabel Lee, which they had invited me to compose.

Five years ago, I lived something of a different life . . . my supplemental job was at the MFA Gift Shop, and I composed part of this piece while rolling home on the Lowell Line train which was out of South Station at, oh, I do not quite remember, maybe 11:00PM.

24 April 2018

From the archive: 24 April 2013

The computer file with the text for "Annabel Lee," indicating that I was planning to set it (at some point), is dated July 2010 . . . .
Five years ago, I made a (shocking?—if I felt shock, it has long since massaged out) discovery.


Good rehearsal last night with Triad.

The day after the King’s Chapel concert, I drew up a new piece for my handbell choir, to be played with mallets (though, there is no reason it cannot be rung, instead).  Oh, and there is an optional drum part.  We had quite a bit of fun (combined with learning labors) working on this after the service Sunday.

(This MIDI demo uses other timbres, nota bene.)

23 April 2018

Three Miniatures

Pieces which are both musically satisfying for seasoned musicians, and within the technical reach of students.  While at work on them, composer Mark Gresham wrote that part of his design was, that the pieces would work in more than one scoring.

22 April 2018

Such dreams as are dreamt beneath ice

We opened Tuesday’s program at King’s Chapel with Avrohom Leichtling’s Bárðarbunga dreymir undir ísnum (Bárðarbunga dreams beneth the ice).

16 April 2018

The schlepping

With thanks to a courteous and most helpful MBTA chap at Alewife, who assisted me in reassembling my cart after it slouched apart at the base of an escalator—the last of the non-instrument gear has been brought to King’s Chapel.

The day is turning out something of a (figurative, only figurative) marathon.

I am hieing me towards lunch.

Final prep

The rain is on and off, so there is a chance I may be able to schlep the hardware to King’s Chapel without getting too soggy.

I’ve folded the programs now, and there is no reason I should have done so any earlier.

My plan is to deliver the gear to the Chapel soonish after they open, to have the more free time between that errand, and collecting composer Mark Gresham at Logan Airport.

We have somehow accumulated additional logistical concerns for this concert, but all in the gratifying interests of serving some of my fellow composers.

Oh, and a Triad rehearsal this evening, as well.  On the whole, a day when I feel reasonably certain that, yes, I am a musician.

14 April 2018

Once again ...

... I lit a candle rather than curse the darkness.

Duet Done

Sometime late 2015 / early 2016, I began a clarinet/horn duet as part of the Op.137 pieces, the duet titled Considering My Bliss Options.  I left it in this unfinished state for better than two years;  but this morning, it is done.

11 April 2018


...you finally realize...

Frank Zappa's Broadway the Hard Way album was one of the first CDs I ever listened to, so it's been with me a long time.

Maybe three years ago, maybe five, I listened to the CD of the reconstructed score for Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times. There's a tune which crops up now and again, which at first reminded me of a tune (an unknown tune, I've not managed to recollect it) in the Methodist Hymnal. But, probably not—the tune is “Hallelujah, I'm a Bum!”

And it's only now, late by either reference point, that I realize that “Hallelujah, I'm a Bum!” is the tune which Zappa tacked onto the end of “Rhymin’ Man.”

Ain’t no great revelation, but it wasn’t too long ....

09 April 2018

On modest, workaday accomplishments

Last night in my dream, a fellow composer laid out, simply and with no fuss, his nonstandard terminology. “I call it Minism. If you use what everyone else says, Minimalism—you can hear for yourself—there’s too many syllables, flying in the face of the idea behind the style.”

In spite of the predictable, routine weekly challenge of Monday in the office, I am getting everything done which I wanted. I took a solid hour's nap; I practiced the passages in the Leichtling which need further mastery; and here I am, ready for the second Triad rehearsal for this concert cycle.

08 April 2018

Fresh dispersal

Several scores of Henningmusick for two (one of them piano) are newly hurtled forth.

We shall see.

They can’t say No, if you don’t send your work out....

07 April 2018

Well, Hardly Ever Again

The score by Michel Legrand is perhaps the most obvious “aberration” in the rogue 007 movie, Never Say Never Again. Not bad, not unsuitable; but clearly a different tone.

Today I realize that they must have given 'Q' a name (Algy) because we really could not have Connery addressing anyone other than Desmond Llewellyn as 'Q'.

Footprint, Minerva, Book Club

Ensemble Aubade initiated their Middle West tour in Indiana yester even, with a program including the Oxygen Footprint. They play it again at St Paul's UCC in Columbia, Illinois tonight.

My ancient schoolmate has written to say he'll print out and (at some point) give the brass quartet (trombones) version of Down Along the Canal to Minerva Road a reading.

As I read these two tasty volumes concurrently, it can be no mere coincidence that, at the end of Chapter One, Mr. Tirebiter hears Daphnis et Chloé on the radio.

06 April 2018

A consumer reports

Perhaps a month ago, I found that I had in my possession a tin of Altoids which bore the legend, Best before April 2017.  (Let’s say I rediscovered the tin in March of 2018.)  The box was better than half full, and no, I was not going to pitch it in the trash without first checking the contents.

It is with confident pleasure that I can report that these mints were perfectly fine and unspoilt, and that there was nothing at all in my experience of the Altoids to provoke regret that I had not instead consumed them prior to May of 2017.

Carry on.

05 April 2018

A question of obligations

Art is not automotive traffic.

Having set that slice of the obvious upon the trencher of discourse, we consider this approach to an intersection.

There are four lanes. Two left turn lanes, marked [left turn arrow] ONLY; one right turn lane, marked [right turn arrow] ONLY; and a lane in the center for traffic proceeding straight.

That straight-ahead lane does not bear the ONLY legend—but it might as well. The last thing which motorists in the lanes to either the right or left need, is anyone in the straight-ahead lane exercising an impromptu option to turn, in whichever direction.

These rules of vehicular order are useful, indeed they support motorist and pedestrian safety.

Rules do not, typically, serve any such concrete and communal purpose, in the realm of Art.

The literature of the history of art criticism is bestrewn with dicta which begin Art must, or The Artist should ... must or must not, should or should not. Phooey.

I'm not saying that such statements are never of interest, never illuminative;  particularly when made by an artist, they give an indication of that artist's mind. And for an artist to do her or his work, setting out what one wishes to do (which can partly be shaped by what one does not wish) is an obvious necessity.

But they're not Commandments. No, not even back in the epochs when such artistic pronouncements really were intended as such.

That which the Artist wishes to do—that is what she or he ought. For that is how the best work is wrought.

Do others share a part in shaping the Artist's work? Certainly—by engaging the mind and heart, not by compelling the result.

04 April 2018

To post while the posting appears good

[The cobbled nature of this post shows no respect for the calendar.]

At the risk of sounding like a broken record (a simile whose days of general comprehension are probably numbered) Peter & I had another excellent, productive rehearsal yesterday [Sunday].  So, the three-day holiday weekend featured daily rehearsals, and we are in good shape for the concert which is two weeks from tomorrow [Tuesday, yesterday].  It’s early, but the early preparation was strongly indicated since (as reported on this very blog, Gentle Reader) Ensemble Aubade will be touring the Midwest (with a return stopover in Brooklyn) for ten-ish days, spreading the news of mine Oxygen Footprint.

And (to post this before there is further delay) an excellent Triad rehearsal last night [Monday night], the first for our June concerts.

[posted a day late, nevertheless]