16 July 2022

Subject to revision in the Future

It’s funny, in August of ‘69, I was doing two weeks of summer camp in the United States Army, up in Fort Cronkite in Sausalito, California. I went in my uniform down into Berkeley. It was unusual to be in uniform down in Berkeley, but I had to because I had to be in uniform at this point, to get to a record store to get the record. I walked in and I said, “Do you have The Firesign Theatre?” These guys looked at me as if I was going to blow the store up. They said, “Yeah, a new album.” They said, “Let me ask you, how come you’re interested?” I said, “Hey, look, that’s me.” “It blew their minds. I love to stretch ’em around.

— Peter Bergman, as relsted to Frederick C. Wiebel, Jr

Of the Genesis album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, a virtual acquaintance wrote:

... an album I've always really struggled to make sense of, both musically and narratively.  What's the secret - apart from to go back 40 years and get immersed in it?

To which I replied:

The “narrative” of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, whether Peter Gabriel’s lyrics or his prose blurb, which originally appeared inside the gatefold (irreconcilable as they are), is simply a hot mess (at best) with the occasional embarrassingly weak “wordplay” which at times mars even the best efforts of early Genesis at worst. I treat the album kind of like a Wagner opera, in that I pretty much just focus on the music. Apparently (relations already being strained between PG and the rest of the band at that point—IIRC, Mrs PG was having a difficult pregnancy, and the band could have been more emotionally supportive than they were) the band basically communally composed the album song by song, and PG devised/applied lyrics with the music more or less a fait accompli) which anyway supports the notion of receiving the music as the core experience. All that said, it’s kind of surreal to find the audience in the DVD of a live performance. singing along to “Carpet Crawlers.” I love all the rhythmic ingenuity of the album, and of course, Steve Hackett’s colors, especially. For me, the outstanding tracks are “Fly on a Windshield,” “In the Cage,” “Back in N.Y.C./Hairless Heart.” “The Waiting Room/Anyway/Here Comes the Supernatural Anaesthetist” & “Silent Sorrow in Empty Boats.”

On the theme of “a hot mess,” here are five outstandingly less-than-his-best lines from Peter Gabriel’s lyrics on that album:

5. Groucho, with his movies trailing, stands alone with his punch-line failing.

Something failed there, but it wasn't Groucho.

4. With no sign of life at all, I guess that I’m alone.

Well, I guess so!

3. Chances narrow that I’ll make it in the cushioned straight-jacket.

The strained rhyme only accentuates the strained imagery.

2. It’s a yellow plastic Shoobedoobe

Part of me applauds the made-up word, and yet it feels too much like I don’t know what to write, so let’s just go with, erm, something.

1. It’s only knock and know-all, but I like it.

Gabriel rarely strained more than right there.

Bonus: the reader is invited to consider which of the following two songs, in their entirety, is worse: “The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging,” or “Counting Out Time.”

For the sake of some balance: five lines from the album which I especially like:

1. Silent sorrow in empty boats.

2. Youre sitting in your comfort, you don’t believe I’m real; you cannot buy protection from the way that I feel.

3. And I’m hovering like a fly, waiting for the windshield on the freeway.

4. They say she comes on a pale horse, but I’m sure I hear a train.

5. They are pulled up by the magnet, believing they’re free.

09 July 2022

Symphony № 3 Done

Should I worry about back-end Russian troll interference if, when I say “symphonies are,” my phone’s speech-to-text utility gives me “Symphony Czar?”
Postcards From Red Squirrel Trail

As the Symphony № 2 (which, with the long-awaited typographical clean-up of the score for the third movement, is now at last a fully completed project—though I guess that is not really true until there may be an actual performance) was for symphonic band, I decided early on that the third would be for strings (there was the fleeting thought of making it a piece for brass and strings, but I dismissed that sonically attractive thought, considering that the addition of brass would only make it harder to find a prospective performance—and since I already had two as-yet-unperformed symphonies, I didn't want to start this new piece off at a disadvantage.)

I decided, too, that it would be a single movement, and about 20 minutes in length. The death, a year ago, of Louis Andriessen, whom I knew from his time as a visiting composer at the University at Buffalo while I pursued my doctorate there, determined the symphony’s largely elegiac character. By 4 October, I had the piece at about the ten-minute mark, at which point it had absorbed Marginalia, the brief imitative chorale (a character which made its incorporation musically organic) in the middle of a suite of short pieces, the Opus 96, one of any number of works I wrote with a specific colleague in mind (and, indeed, on invitation in this case) but which went nowhere. After a brief period of going back and forth on the question, I decided that I would go ahead and allow the Symphony № 3 to cannibalize all three pieces of the Op. 96, the first of which was itself an adaptation of the Opus 25 toccata, LutosÅ‚awski’s Lullaby, which has only been performed twice as a piano piece. In January, I composed the brief conclusion of the Symphony, and over the past two weeks, I have completed the process, and so now the Symphony № 3 for strings in memoriam Louis Andriessen is finished.

I seem to have reached a place in my substantially-unrequited journey (it cannot be called a career) as a composer, where completing yet another piece on spec gives me scarcely any joy. I feel, in rather a cold way, that it is good to have finished the piece. Normally in the past, I should then be eager to set to writing another piece. At this point, I might finish the Opus 169 organ pieces, but almost none of the dedicatees of the pieces already finished have even acknowledged the piece I've sent to them. So here is a project where (I thought) at least the people for whom I've written them will have use for them, but I find I was (perhaps quite pathetically) apparently mistaken, and I think I need to ask myself, why write music which no one needs? So maybe the Opus 169 is complete at seven pieces.

There are many respects in which Life is very much different than I had imagined and hoped when I was young and fresh. I have to admit that the Universe's sustained indifference to my work may be starting to wear upon me.

So, I simply do not know.