could we amp up the drama in music performances? now even more? in the dumps bring it down, dry when witty, beautiful when lyrical, agitated or bitter, relentlessly despairing, committing the instrument, the perspective, the voice completely. i would like to see performers get beyond the notes, the accelerando or crescendo, and EXPRESS the emotion of the work. make some mistakes but go all out!
While eating my lunch today, I read a piece by Jean Sprackland that mentioned something about the aurochs. Julius Caesar, in “The Gallic Wars,” described the aurochs–a member of the wild cattle family–as smaller than an elephant, resembling a bull, and 2 meters tall at the shoulder. It was hunted to extinction by the end of the Bronze Age. Some hoofprints of the aurochs and other animals, and humans, have been found on the coast near Blackpool, UK. It’s really intriguing: the footprints this woman is finding on her walks–she’s been walking the beach for 20 years–are washed away, or destroyed, pretty much as soon as they appear because of the tide. Something called ephemeral archaelogy. I was thinking of frescos, the new paint covering the old paint, but that’s more like palimpsest. But how would ephemeral archaelogy as a concept work in sound? Or could I make sound in a distinctive way that came close to that idea. I suppose some abbreviated minimalist music has that effect. But it’d be challenging to make things appear and disappear aurally, and have a cohesive piece.
And while it’s true that music is ephemeral, I’m visualizing, translating the effect of the Blackpool waves on the prints into abstract sound. Seeing/hearing a bed of sound (the earth) with patterns of other sounds appearing and disappearing, forming themselves gradually, then disappearing the same way, or maybe some of them pretty much instantly. They could be textures of instrumental sound, or vocal sound, but Will suggested birdsong and natural sounds. I’ve always liked the idea of found sound, and have wished numerous times that I had a recorder on my walks in the woods up in MA. Archive would be useful in such a piece.
Clean out your ears, don’t listen for what you already know. –Rumi
Was it the 13-century Persian poet who also wrote that in order to project oneself into the world we cast the shadow of the person we want to be … then step into it?
Was reviewing Coppola’s The Conversation for tension music, or something DK had said about paranoia movies recently. Wanted to find sounds to underscore the party talk in Beautiful Creatures. I’d seen the film as a teen but couldn’t remember much except Gene Hackman being intense, and playing the sax. Saw the opening bit with the mime, and thought of the mime I met years ago. Later in the film they show the footage again and I decided to look up who it was. I remember being in Union Sq San Francisco watching this great mime — mesmerized — and then kinda bowled over when he walked beside me a little, can’t remember much, I was so nervous. And then I sat down on a bench or something and he sat with me and started talking to me. I was so blown away. In some ways I didn’t want him to speak–he’s supposed to stay in character!–but he was so cool, so interesting to look at close up, and very soon I felt comfortable with him. It was a sympatico connection emotionally. We didn’t talk about much, just the day, maybe where I was from, and then he asked me if I wanted to go get some coffee with him. But I was too shy. I was tall, of course, for 12 or 13, and probably looked older. I really wanted to talk more, to know more, but I worried my friends Sahra and Kathy would wonder where I was. So I said goodbye. Regretfully. My dad told me about a mime –there was an article about him in the Saturday Review. So I had or did read that and admired this guy from afar. It may have been even before I saw him in the square. It was him. Robert Shields.
Quite a surprise to see it was him in The Conversation. And just now when I googled him I found out he’s married to a woman named Jennifer Griffiths. Amazing.
I’m champing at the bit for Dom to send me the revisions as I have only 10 days from then to finish writing the music for workshop with Alden in June. There’s a bit more work than we’d expected, what with all the notes, but still comparatively little for this stage, they say. Hoping to negotiate something for Dom to have the funding and time he needs. Cross fingers. Sure don’t want the project to stall at this point.
The piece is coming together. We’ve been making some enormous changes at the last minute, but that makes it more fun for me. It’s been a very collective effort–Patrick, Michael, Connie and I all brainstorming to make things work dramatically. But really regret that Dominic has been away, and not involved. There’s still things to be worked out, kinks and such, but overall it feels good. What do I know, I’m too close to everything. We’ll find out more soon–the reading’s tomorrow. I’m writing out changes this afternoon, and working with Mila (our intrepid music director) to make sure details we discovered at the dress last night are attended to–or at least as many of them as we can. Very wonderful collaborating with all–to boot, we have a really efficient and clever stage director, Vivien Lehany. So this reading doesn’t seem like so many I’ve attended where the acting is minimal and things tend to be vague except for the emotional transmission in the music. Also have a really weirdly, wildly comic Stan in Jonathan Kline. What a stroke of luck.
And sadly, the nuclear disaster in Japan continues to haunt me and others. Those poor people victimized, the workers still trying to save the day. God, what a horrendous situation, brought about by stubborn, shortsighted environmental policies.
I have finished getting through the libretto. And Eileen’s last scene reminds me in form of those Haydn English aria settings, a bit of the improvisational and the emotional dives and upsurges. The choral setting went fairly easily, and I’m hoping my piano and studio conditions didn’t lead me to believe it better than it is. I can’t remember when writing was so uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time. At the very least I got to have a grand time, and always will remember that final push to the end that suddenly lifted off into the effortless. Perhaps the ending is sweet harmonically, but there’s some gravity below in the pedal tone, changing finally to a darker color.
It’s been almost a month of writing, revising text and music in the process of finishing a draft for the reading. Michael is negotiating with Edinburgh / Royal Academy in Glasgow to see if we’ll premiere there. This puts on a bit of needed pressure and got me through Eileen’s last aria. Had to really move in a different way in order to express her loss of composure — using Handel’s sui generis da capo arias as models. Still, the effect of having her lose it musically is not an easy one to achieve. I hope Constance will have some suggestions to make the singing sound “naturally” strangled.
The Hymn finale combines motives from Eileen’s last aria, bleeding into the texture as voices move in counterpoint to instruments. Looking for a resigned feeling, not too heavy, but nothing even bordering on the “look on the bright side” or the triumphant.
MZ and I went over Hank’s aria, and worked it over, but basically it’s gonna work really well. Doing some revisions today and working out the octet where Hank goes into his anxious thing in the bridge again. Funny how this all shapes up, the ironic bits juxtaposing the bits in earnest. Quite a dance if it all comes out believably. Still have much to do, finishing Eileen’s final aria, the finale, the build-up to the climax, putting the whole thing on Finale. So much “finalizing” here, I must start something new.
It’s been difficult to get to the opera because of teaching and editing responsibilities, but managed to do many of the revisions. Dominic is writing new party-talk for partygoers. Maybe they should complain about the music, which is some hack stuff I’m putting together in recorded form. It’s not good party music, but it’s music Eileen would have–sultry stuff that’s too subdued to dance to–but it won’t get in her way while she’s working her people. Asap the partyers would put their cds in, and to reflect that there’s a reggae beat underneath Stan when he starts making fun of Eileen sucking up to the film star.
Reading just got postponed till January, and then we’ll do the entire opera. Much to do!