Thursday, March 26, 2009

slobbing out.

Slobbing out on the sofa, slightly the worse-for-wear because of my special grape nerve medicine, I ended up watching a sober (unlike me) adult (ditto) documentary about Hokusai instead of my more usual Pimp My Ride for once. Through the mild fug of post-teaching exhaustion, there was suddenly a discussion of how Hokusai's technique (and I include here not the usual print of Hokusai's Great Wave but one made years earlier with more or less the same view of OFuji-san, but without the frantic humans to give it scale and facing in the opposite direction, which gives it a completely different feel) with his use of repetitive visual units both in details and structural layout was not unlike the contemporary concept of fractals. And with that, I suddenly made one on my usual chaotic lateral and-not-terribly-original leaps to think of Cage's use of small number series (4:3:2:3:4) to generate both global (overall structure) and local events in his piece First Construction (in Metal) about which I had had to gabble for two hours at my second year guys earlier in the day. I'll bet they are so glad we didn't start on fractals.

That would have almost been as bad as my experience yesterday of trying to explain stasis in minimalist compositions and contrasting it with an 19th century Romantic narrative-based aesthetic by getting spun off on a riff that eventually ended up with me discussing my imminent arrival in the warm-ish nether regions according to most Western Judeo-Christian narratives versus the never-ending enso of many Asian systems, while a group of open-day 18-year-old six-formers embarrassedly stared at their shoes. They were embarrassed for me... Uh-uh - not going there again.

For my own composing, of course, anything quite so organized is liable to break down as rapidly as a 30-year-old Italian motorbike's electrics, something I have considerable experience of. But I take comfort in Adorno's dictum about intentional objects ("art") in that they are not necessarily aesthetically validated by "instrumental" behavior; i.e. the mimicking of physical processes modeled and tested through reductive scientific reasoning. You can breathe a sigh of relief right there and get on with stuff..

I always start off with the best of intentions, but find myself soon wandering around grabbing at shiny sounds.... but we are so not talking synaesthesia here.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

the old gods awaken...


There are two possible ways of re-mounting the auto-advance plate and cam lobe in the distributor on a Guzzi, and it's impossible to know which one is right without splitting the frame, dropping the engine and pulling out the distributor drive cam; so you have a 50-50 chance of getting it right. This morning, I stood next to the Guzzi's inert carcass and flipped a coin in the mild late-winter sunshine, full of hope for the immediate future.

On the one hand, hitting the start button is greeted with a throaty roar (and as a musician, I've begun to realize that the reason the sound of various V-twins is so attractive is because of the asymmetrical firing pattern - each one , Guzzi, Ducati, Harley, has a unique signature sound depending on the degree of that asymmetry; the, say, 135 degree da-dup of a heartbeat instead of the even, bland 180 purr of a BMW [sorry Rog...]); or, on the other , the engine produces a few strange poops and echo-y metallic burps as the ignition tries to fire on the exhaust stroke. Needless to say, the latter was the outcome at lunchtime, after a morning spent stripping out the old electronic ignition system I now knew to be dead, and re-installing a pair of standard breaker points.

It took two clumsy hours to install the first time, but only 30 minutes to change over for the second try; and the fact that it was the right way around was announced by a hellish, rising open-pipe din as one of the carb sliders stuck and I frantically stabbed for the kill switch. Whey-hey.

Next, some time spent trying to getting the timing, points, valves and carbs back in the ballpark, as I've changed the whole set-up between all the mismatched parts from the two bikes..

In the meantime, I've been spending a lot of time sketching some Arias for the opera project Holy Goof while I'm waiting for some text from Malcolm. The idea of Cassady's adventures, first with the Beats, later with Ken Kesey, to his last mad walk of into the freezing night along some railway tracks to his death is beginning to get exciting. If I can get a couple of arias into some kind of orchestral suite form for Peter Britten's orchestra next year, it could serve as a launching for an entire opera production. All I need is (sigh) money.

Also, I'm spending some of the weekend going over the AHRC composition grant for the Riprap project, and starting to think about the Ruth Padel gig this June 27th, and setting up a companion gig in Cambridge for her as well, and I've just gotten a green light for one in November as well. I'll have to organize a recording of the new stuff once we play it in a bit.

Still thinking about bass clarinets.... when will they come into my life?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Imagine a membrane...

Imagine a membrane... a membrane say, a mile across and four or five miles long. This membrane is solid and crystalline, and perhaps a foot or so thick. Now imagine shining a heat source on it, like the sun, so that it begins to expand. But it is fairly rigid, being crystalline; how does it relieve the stress of expanding ever-so-slightly in the weak Scandinavian winter sun?

What we have created is something your average bass-box Escort driver with 10k+ watts driving 18" kickers couldn't even begin to conceive of.... and without the distortion.

My friend Magnus had taken me upcountry a bit inland from Stockholm to visit an archaeological site he was currently working at; in the summer there's a small ferry, but in the winter you walk out across the ice to reach the island. When we got about halfway there, the wind suddenly dropped, the sun came out, and the ice suddenly began to sing and reverberate with long groaning noises and rifle-like cracks. The video embedded above gives no idea of the kind of subsonic shudders that come up from the ice through your boots - something like whale-song, but felt in your bones. I was utterly and completely gobsmacked, and had to keep stopping to listen.

I can't begin to tell you how lucky I felt. I've heard it before; but faintly, almost as if I was kidding myself because I wanted to hear it. Not like this. The whole show finished when the entire valley echoed with a sound like rolling thunder that lasted about 20 seconds as something major re-arranged it self the length of the lake. The old Gods awaken. (try pasting that last phrase into Google for a positive embarrassment of sad Goth/Fantasy/New Age sites... something else to explore, I suppose)

I've now spent days trying to find the sounds again, but I'll just have to go back....

I have now put up some of the tracks from the Chelmsford gig on the brand shiny-new Riprap site on Myspace for your listening pleasure. The strange thing about that gig was how well it went compared to my playing a week later trying to run some in-character straight post-bop for Chris Ingham's Rebop effort. I just couldn't make the switch in styles fast enough. More on this soon.

More soon - just trying to do something with the Holy Goof... it seems like marimbas are go.