A 365-Day Project
"We Are All Mozart"
A project to create
We have our own private terrorist.
Perhaps it's not quite that dramatic, but for the first time in our lives, we've experienced an attack from an unknown perpetrator. The pieces are all there, and they seem to lead to a perpetrator -- but who is it exactly? Here's what I've been able to put together in this B-movie mystery.
Years ago on Kalvos & Damian, we planned to set up an interview with environmental artist and composer Patricia Jünger. Her work with sounds underwater (particularly a river project called "Transmitter") were very interesting, long waterscapes with electronic manipulation. As typical, we set up a web page for Patricia and her distributor, Anigma Acoustic Arts. Several treks to Europe, alas, never got us that interview before the end of K&D's regular broadcast run. Her page, like many composer pages, lay dormant as a kind of bookmark in time from the era of the NonPop Revolution.
A few months ago, our K&D contact form was filled out by one Ruth Wagner, claiming to represent Patricia and asking us to remove her contact information. Since in the age of address harvesting we'd been slowly removing contact information for 'secondary' composer pages -- pages about those composers now with their own websites -- anyway, I was happy to do that. Site visitors would have to contact us, and then we would forward the information on to the composer. It was a little extra work for us, but it saved someone from spam.
Then several weeks ago, notes started to arrive via email from this same person, asking that the photo of Patricia be removed, with the claim that she was "under attack by Nazis." It seemed odd, but I did that. Then this same emailer wanted the remainder of the images removed as well as the reference to Anigma Acoustic Arts. I did that, never suspecting some sort of fraud being perpetrated on Patricia and the real Ruth.
After arriving home from an anniversary celebration in Montréal, I found a message on my answering machine insisting that I hadn't removed references to Patricia and loudly threatening us with retribution. No phone number was left to return the call. That's when, as they say, I smelled a rat. The email address that had been used to send the messages had never responded after I confirmed removing the various photos, but I attributed that to the kind of European approach to email that simply doesn't bother with courtesy acknowledgments -- sending closing acknowledgments is something very American, it seems. This time I sent an email explaining that I had been away, that I didn't appreciate being threatened, and to please have Patricia herself contact me to discuss this and confirm this was her intention.
The email bounced. There was no such account.
In the meantime, a notice was placed on the K&D site asking for "RW/PJ" to contact us (of course this imposter never did) and also a regular banner on the site itself, long overdue actually, identifying K&D as, for now, an archive site. To all visitors, it read. Kalvos & Damian is largely a historical site reflecting nonpop from 1995-2005. Our RSS feed will inform you when new content is added, including both the monthly Noizepunk & Das Krooner shows, and interview transcripts that are now being posted. A link was added to an explanatory page. The case of the mysterious Ruth seemed closed.
But the following week, after a concert in California, Stevie told me the phones were ringing with people hanging up. We're on the do-not-call list, so we figured since it was September 30th, pranksters were out already before Halloween, especially since some of the calls included shrieks and whistles before the hangup. But these pranksters were increasing in frequency, coming in groups of fifteen or twenty hangups, alternating between our two phones, all day and all night. This was no prank, and we set up call traces on the phones. They were coming from out of the area, untraceable via the normal *57 feature.
Three nights ago, our server (which includes Kalvos & Damian as well as these blogs and three dozen other domains) seemed slow. A struggle to connect via SSH into the server revealed it was being overloaded (from a normal 15% load to a crushing 4800% load) -- but what from? The web hosts were unsure, but suggested a hardware upgrade. I demurred for the moment, preferring to find the cause of the slowdown. I pored through mail logs (Spam Assassin and Clam Anti-Virus can sometimes be hit hard), and finally noticed an anomaly in the weblogs: a large file (250MB) was being requested every two seconds, and then the connection dropped. There were thousands of requests all night long. A denial-of-service (DoS) attack was in progress, and the source was bluewin.ch -- the same Swiss service provider that hosted the non-existent email address of "Ruth".
A report immediately went to the abuse desk at bluewin.ch, and within twenty-four hours they confirmed that the attack was coming from their IP addresses. They disconnected the customer for violating terms of service.
Our server and phones are quiet for now. And I hope that whoever is attacking us and perpetrating a fraud on Patricia has been snagged ... though I'm not sure how the Swiss deal with these things. Maybe they make them bank tellers.
* * *
Time to to talk about music. I left off the WAAM discussion back in March with New Granite. Since then I've written forty-four more pieces. Not a full year's supply as planned, but moving along.
The March installment of Lunar Cascade in Serial Time for Seth Gordon is particularly complicated. Each of these is a kind of abstract tone painting influenced by the month's feel here in Vermont. Nothing specific is related, but the tumbling, wild weather of March informs this composition. Beginning with tight and intense quarter-tone sequences, it ends in airy, simple, diatonic harmonics. This Lunar Cascade series has turned out to be harder to compose than it sounds: twelve sections, monthly, for tenor guitar -- but not just pieces. Seth wanted performance pieces, full of interest and flexible enough to be played alone or as part of a set, by tenor guitar or an instrument of similar range such as a mandocello or viola. By mid-year I was struggling for ideas that weren't redundant. But more on that later; here is the March score.
Tomorrow night will hear the premiere of Full House Reset, written on March 22. This was commissioned as a birthday piece, and composed for Trio Tulsa. I tried to pack as much energy as possible into a minute's length, and also reflect the clever and tonal music of the celebratee, Vermont composer Gwyneth Walker, who turns sixty. (It's a surprise, but chances are she won't be reading this blog!). Fashioned after a Chopinesque prelude, it moves rapidly on a single descending motif, developing not at all, just reporting its happy birthday sentiment and disappearing in a grunt of octaves. Here's an electronic demo; let's home the performance goes as well!
Bob Blais is an energetic young guy -- cellist and conductor of the Green Mountain Youth Symphony. He loves challenges, and commissioned a cello solo for the WAAM project. I love writing for solo strings, particularly when simple-sounding figures create a gymnastic event for the player. But Bob is also a romantic soul, as many cellists are. So Hermit of the Furies is a romantic-meditative composition in its sound, but requiring particular work by the cellist to accomplish a smooth sound -- left-hand pizzicati, double-stops, fast plucks alternating with bows and slides. This piece is one of the many that has no theories. It is created for its sound and internal architecture, self-contained and without the infusion of Twentieth Century modernism. There's also an electronic demo.
Two days later came a sound piece commissioned by Emily Doolittle. Emily is a composer herself, very intense and with carefully wrought work. She commissioned this so she and composer Samuel Vriezen could play it together. Emily lives in Canada and is a real sound maven; Samuel lives in the Netherlands and is a true-blue European theory guy. It was hard to imagine the pair of them playing a single piece together, and I'm not even sure Samuel cares for my work especially. So composing for them was a frightful challenge. The result, Fortune in Her Eyes, was split into sections: a bell-like opening with pitches spaced wide apart; simple arpeggiated figures but overlapping in a tangle of arms and fingers, based on the opening bells; tightly voiced tonal chords, also drawn from the same material; and an ending similar to the start, but as 'tonal' rather than inharmonic bells. (Want to know all about bells? Read this, and also the other pages if you're really intrigued as I was.) I called this a frightful challenge, and by that I mean providing something enticing for both Emily and Samuel, particularly something worth hearing that would also make them laugh as they tried to de-tangle the arpeggios in real time. Of course, there is an electronic demo.
The final composition for March was commissioned by Wen Li, who emailed me with ideas and even musical examples for a piece that was to be lush and lyrical. Could this be embarrassing? Certainly, but embarrassment was to be avoided and the request had to be taken seriously. How could such a piece be composed without irony? That was clearly Wen Li's intention, a true test of the "composer in service" notion of WAAM. The result was For the Beauty of the Earth, an unabashedly lyrical violin solo. But the story doesn't end with the composition. Wen Li disappeared. Completely. The email and web references vanished. It is as if he (or she?) had never existed. I've emailed every Wen Li whose name was online but none was that Wen Li. The piece wasn't paid for, of course, since the premise is payment on delivery; but that wasn't much of an issue. It really was this: where was the voluble and charming Wen Li who asked for this music? And to this day, I've never heard. But my friend Thomas L. Read, composer and violinist, was browsing the WAAM pages a few months ago and found For the Beauty of the Earth -- and decided to play it as part of the Vermont Contemporary Music Ensemble's special house consort for their major supporters. It was a magical performance, which you can hear played by T.L. in Waterbury, Vermont, on September 16th.
There are some WAAM pieces to write now, so I'll continue these commentaries at my next opportunity.
I promised the journal from our residency in Nodar. Here is the second installment. Please write to me if you want a copy of the full journal in PDF format with photos.
Tuesday Night, April 10
We are in Nodar. This day's good feelings have already outweighed the troubles of the past 48 hours. Our bags had not arrived this morning, so after a buffet breakfast at Hotel Fénix, we walked briefly around Porto. It is not a beautiful city in the center as it is undergoing considerable commercial growth, but the historical buildings are exquisitely maintained. Stevie noticed a kind of Soviet sparseness in the architecture in Porto, probably the influence of the revolution some thirty years ago. After an hour, our bags had still not appeared, so we extricated our car and shimmied out of the microscopic underground garage--where the squealing tires at the slowest speed rivaled Hollywood's best--and headed easily south toward Lisbon, east toward Viseu, and north again toward Castro Daire.
The Portuguese expressways are new. The last sections were completed less than two years ago, cut through granite and yellow limestone, rising high into the mountains at six percent grades to sparse, stark conifers, brush and gorse. After leaving the highway in the direction of Castro Daire, we stopped for some supplies, resuming the final twenty kilometers to Parada de Ester. The land opened up to mountains and valleys, with terraced hills held back by stone walls. Villages were nestled--even though it seems a cliché to say it--in corners and on ridges, creating a living postcard. We thought we might have lost the road; this is national highway 225, but has remained an unmarked pair of narrow lanes, hairpin turns, and miles of terraced vineyards.
The sign to Nodar appeared, and for three kilometers we dropped deep into a river valley, the road getting smaller and narrower, coming to a bridge on which some men were standing. One was a smiling Luis Costa, who welcomed us and jumped into our car for the short ride up a cobbled driveway so narrow that the miniature Nissan could hardly fit. It was covered in budding grape vines held up by wooden and granite supports. The Nodar studio-- their home for now--is a restored stone house lain with granite and river rock with slate roof.
Manuela Barile, a solid eight months pregnant, was there to greet us as well, along with two artists from Valladolid, Spain, (Iñaki Rios and Nati Plasencia, who go by the name Los Yokos of Proyecto Hombre) who were helping Luis and Rui with their house. Rui appeared not long afterward, and wonderful conversations began on the back porch. We took a short hike into the back land along the river, during which time Aaron Ximm from San Francisco arrived. The hike revealed grape vines along the pathways, along the river, and even hanging straight out from the stone walls; eucalyptus trees shot up, but the rest of the fields were spare, and ominous burned tree trunks and roots littered the fields and riverside and broken stone fences. The water was cold, but not Vermont cold; on a sunny day we could imagine splashing in it. Grasses grew in the water and violets covered the banks. At one point below an ancient cistern, thousands of small black spiders ran across the grass. Surprised by their presence, we tried to avoid hurting them, but there were so many. Some birdcalls were familiar, differently accented chickadees and perhaps peewees. Clouds of starlings fluttered up ahead of us. The walk was accompanied by the clang of bells from the grazing sheep--clunky thudding bells like cowbells and ringing bells like desk bells and bicycle bells and even rich Indian and Swiss bells.
We returned to more conversations and laughter. This is a funny and warm place, not heavy with dark philosophy or knit brows; even Aaron, despite a propensity for complex sentences with nested phrases, is charming and always ready with the bad pun or twisted reference. We sat down for a late lunch of cheese made nearby, and local ham and sausage, bread and local young wine (vinho verte) and couscous-- and shared stories and great laughter. Manuela in particular has a wild laugh and speaks with dramatic Italian gestures, filling in unknown words with motions and whistles and an illustrative vocabulary of mouth sounds. Twin brothers Rui and Luis had bought the house two years ago, and totally restored it over a period of nine months, opening it as the resident studios just last year. They have also bought the neighboring house, where more studios will be installed and Manuela and Luis will live with Samuel, their soon-to-be-born son. The reason for the burned stumps and trunks was revealed. Two years ago there had been a fire covering some dozens of square miles that had raged over the hill and engulfed the area; but the men of Nodar, although ordered to leave, stayed and fought the fire to a halt around the town, saving the town and its ancient grapes.
We took another walk, this time over the bridge and up the hill--past the sleeping dogs and picking up following dogs--where we saw more evidence of the great fire, which could also still be smelled as the moist spring air lifted the sour scent off the charred tree bark and carried it over us. We returned past the dogs and over the bridge, and soon the sheep, a dozen bells clanging, passed by on the road.
Miecha greeted our return, a grey and white housecat that had traveled with Manuela from Italy; she regaled us with the story of Miecha's travel, microchip implantation, rabies shots, and quarantine in Lisbon--the story of course accompanied by great laughs and gestures. Also in the afternoon, we watched honeybees enter their hives through holes they had eaten into the nearly new columns on the back porch; it was good to witness working honeybees again, which are disappearing from the U.S. and which we haven't seen in the gardens at home for several years. The evening grew quiet, but soon--and unexpectedly so late--it was time for dinner, pan-cooked chicken and vegetables and more vinho verte and bread; Aaron is a vegetarian, so there are meal adjustments for his diet.
It was past midnight here, so we called home, and slept. Tomorrow is to feature a local nature walk.
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