A 365-Day Project
"We Are All Mozart"
A project to create
You know what gets me? I'll tell you what gets me. (And you thought I was going to be quiet for a while.) Capitalism, that's what.
Oh, sure, capitalism is a nifty concept. People do something other people want and they get rewarded. All sorts of theories go into explaining that people are basically survival organisms with just enough intellect to have a lazy streak. If you want human survival or your next meal, you participate in a system that assigns value by desire, and turns desire into trade. At least until nanomachines obviate all that.
But with the temporary triumph of postmodern capitalism (Fredric Jameson would call it "late capitalism", but don't bet your blue chips on that), a regime has risen that I call the Capitaliban. The leaders of the Capitaliban translate all human activity into capitalist components. One's inherent meaning is called value -- used not in its root meaning of strength, but in a diminished meaning of a fair price. I don't doubt market influences, but the idea that our humanity is to be treated as no more than a marketplace is the grim economic theocracy that is just a few steps from slavery and cannibalism. (I'll have me some leg of Bradley, please, the tender bits. Do it up black and blue, and don't forget the au jus.) If everything is ultimately of value, then that value can be cashed in. With other theories temporarily on the run after a hideously botched job under the likes of Stalin, the Capitaliban is out to privatize the world, from health care thugs to Blackwater thugs -- and now culture thugs..
So when my life is translated into capitalist theory, I object. If you have a spare ninety-some minutes, watch this video, The Economics of Modernism (and thanks to Ryan Tanaka for finding it). Save for being a largely insignificant figure, Paul Cantor is to art what Paul Wolfowitz was to Iraq and Bill Bennett and Allan Bloom were to education: Masters of the straw man and the non sequitur -- yes, both -- intent on distortion of history to support their crackpot theories of capital everything... even if Cantor has some modernist musical friends. Gosh. Moses und Aron.
Cantor has rendered me speechless, or rather typeless. But it's not his failures of argument that bother me, because he's effectively preaching to his choir at the Mises Institute. No, it's the translation of art into commerce that's bizarre, as if the capitalist theorists are so affronted by what they cannot grasp for its meaning that they are left to point and mock like schoolchildren, waving wads of bank notes in compensation for their inadequate breadth of spirit. It's impossible for Cantor and his ilk to conceive of a human endeavor outside the capitalist theocracy, an actual thinking, intelligent human expending effort without expectation of return. This is alien, distasteful, stunning. For the Capitaliban, such people must be jokes, pitiful excuses for participants in the system they believe is universal.
That's it. This is the stuff that has co-opted postmodernism the way secretive agencies manipulated the modernists. My only point today is to watch out for it, and for its language. The value-based vocabulary devalues the meaning and substance of the arts. I promise to choose my worth-words with care; join me.
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Back to We Are All Mozart. I'm chill now. July, as I mentioned the other day, was mostly dedicated to engraving a large score for another composer, and consulting on a Linux audio project. I squeezed in Fanfare:Heat for the Vermont Youth Orchestra, and also an interesting piece for -- wait for it! -- accordion.
Nicholas Maggio is a friend who goes back to my days in New Jersey. Back then, David Gunn and I were clerks -- yes, we were -- at Radio Shack in Morrisville, Pennsylvania, a plonky town with an even plonkier Radio Shack. Imagine trusting us to sell you anything. But clerk we did, and after some months a young gung-ho entrepreneur bought the franchise. He didn't meet the clerks, and when he did, he saw what you see at the right. Would you buy a stereo from this guy?
David and I secretly named our new manager "Spike" because he was jut-jawed and clean cut and just looked like a cartoon Joe Palooka ... and remember, it was the Nineteen Seventies. Clean cut? Scary! But it turned out this entrepreneur was funny. He had a funny wife with a little voice who taught junior high school math. But better yet, he was a ventriloquist with his very own figure ("don't call it a dummy") that he had named J.D. He loaned me a record: "Be a Ventriloquist". I learned the ventriloquist alphabet (A, C, D, E, G, H, I, J, K, L, N, O, Q, R, S, T, U, X, Zeeeeee...!). I babysat his tiny children in the Radio Shack storeroom when he had meetings. I fixed his broken stereos by the laying on of hands (my most reliable method, really ... amazing how resistance, capacitance and inductance look like religion). Oh, oh, oh, and best of all: Spike played accordion.
It's taken more than thirty years, but for WAAM, Spike -- whose infant children are now engineers and teachers -- commissioned an accordion piece for himself. What to do? No, never variations on Lady of Spain. And Pauline Oliveros had done all the good avanty-gardy stuff. I quizzed Spike about his instrument ... it was a 120 bass Stradella. Good news; one could manipulate that nicely. I'd never written for accordion and certainly didn't want to sound like Myron Floren. So I came up with combination chords and created a little multi-movement suite called Anticipation & Stormtide. The first section used the combo chords and a static melody, the next standard chords and a jumpy bass line to create a baroquish dance, the last cast as a lovely song.
You can listen to my electronic demo here, and maybe someday Spike will sit down and record it for me.
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With full summer upon us, it was time for Seth Gordon's July chapter of Lunar Cascade in Serial Time. These are all picture-painting pieces in performance art format, but for the first time, this was a picture of notes alone, a pattern of aetherial summer breezes and starlight. It is modal with an almost-discernable melody drawn ever so slightly from an earlier piece (can you find it?). The music is set up as endless repetition, and can go on for days, like Satie's Vexations. Here is the score and here is an electronic demo.
My next WAAM composition wouldn't be until August 4, and that was a month that exploded. More upcoming.
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I promised the journal from our residency in Nodar. Here is the eleventh and final installment. Please write to me if you want a copy of the full journal in PDF format with photos.
Friday, April 27
Rui picked up Iñaki Rios and Nati Plasencia from a train near the Spanish border, and we shared breakfast'mostly just bread and nutella and peanut butter and coffee'with them and the others, but beyond that, we did almost nothing but sit together and work out the project all day Friday. There were eleven of us now, so the house was packed. Nati commissioned a "We Are All Mozart" piece for two cellos, for herself and one of her students; the student was looking for motivation, and the idea of a piece written just for her was that motivation.
We went back to work. Our photos were ordered into groups, rendered into video segments, and synchronized to the audio track. The audio and video were pushed and pulled to fit with each other'we had run out of time to create a detailed synchronization of image, sound, and idea'and we slipped out of the house several times to take more photos that would fill in missing transitions. In seconds it was time for Manuela's grand lunch (tagliatelle and sauce, salad, bread and wine) and a few seconds later it was time for dinner.
We were exhausted, and very glad to have the sweeping menu of bacalhau in nata, a voluminous platter of peas and ham with rice, bread and wine, and a delectable dessert of crostada with jam plus a tart made with the leftover dough'exactly as my grandmother had done when I was a child.
The project was finally pulling together, and after a final run, the time was up. Stevie went to bed about eleven and I wrapped up by rendering the final video of the visual and audio mixes, and was done shortly after one.
It was too much to expect simplicity. The first DVD had audio glitches; the video was fine, but with a sensitive sound mix such as this one, the glitches were unacceptable. I burned another. Same glitches, same places'so it wasn't a bad blank DVD. I checked the original video. No glitches. Either there was an incompatible audio stream in the rendering, or somewhere in the DVD multiplexing and burning program, one provided with the latest version of the video software I'd been using for several years, there had been a failure. I did two more images, both resulting in the same failures. Image production is time-consuming, and it was getting very late. I switched programs and did another DVD image'one that was significantly different in size from the others, and one that produced a perfect result. For safety I burned another copy while Aaron and Luis continued to burn CDs to give away at the door. Then I went to bed with them still up and working. It was now after four in the morning, and the presentation was in about twelve hours.
Saturday, April 28
Saturday was the third American breakfast, with pancakes and maple syrup and large chunks of bacon, toast, coffee, and lots of conversation. Aaron was finishing his installation testing, and we went to the bar run occasionally by Nazaré and Fernando'meaning they ran it, but it was only occasionally open'to test the video and set the sound levels. The moment the door was open, people started to arrive for a drink. With a reluctant smile, Fernando waved them away until five in the afternoon.
There was no lunch today. We had an interview with Luis where we talked about the project's changes since our arrival in Nodar, and then Stevie baked two loaves of bread to bring to the bar for after the presentations.
The presentation was at "Portugal Five"'whenever enough people showed up after five o'clock for it to start. It was close to six when we were introduced, giving a short talk about our experiences, the way the project had transformed itself, and how we appreciated the welcome we received. (Luis had wondered earlier how the residents would feel in a few years, after a dozen residencies when artists traipsed all over town recording, photographing, and asking questions. It was lucky we were among the first, but on the other hand, somewhat jarring to set the precedent.)
The video began. We were nervous. Would we be seen as intruders who had twisted them into our view? Would we insult them? All of us wished Tia would come, but it was well known that she did not attend such functions. Nazaré and Donzília (to whom I gave a copy of the songs recorded with her mother) had arrived early, and even Piedade was convinced to show up'though the bar was, after all, in the bottom part of her house. Men and women from the village arrived, and guests invited from the surrounding area as far as Porto were there. Soon the bar was filled with interested audience and people drinking at Fernando's tiny stand-up bar. Drinking and talking were a fisherman, some tourist drop-ins, and Handlebar-Moustache Man complete with walking stick and town-character written on his forehead in the universal language of social intercourse. Dogs were fighting and barking. A motorscooter flew by outside. But as the sounds of the video birds rose into the music and Donzília's voice, the bar quieted. Young Hélio sat transfixed. Luis and Rui seemed moved. The funny parts generated gales of laughter, and when it was over there was sincere applause'including from Tia, who was sitting right behind us. (She would have been there earlier, she told us, but her sheep had gotten loose.)
Aaron's presentation followed, and it couldn't have been more different in every way'the kind of project, the quietness of his presence, and the sound. But the audience was ready for anything now, and it was warmly received'after which everyone went up to the installation itself. His project had involved long recordings from fixed positions. One was in the rocks of a room in which wasps were flying. Another was near the goat path. There were birds and water and sheep and a storm and motors. Two or three were full 24-hour continuous recordings from the back porch of the house. From these he drew loops that played back on iPods buried inside one of the stone walls. With a half-dozen listening stations, it created a new environment outside, as well as quite a visual scene of a half-dozen human backs facing the rock walls.
We returned to the bar, where I brought in a poop-covered shoe'I still don't know where it happened' to everyone's amusement. After some cleanup, there were more rounds of drinks (Fernando's liqueurs included), Nazaré's cakes and Stevie's bread. The presentations were a success all around. For dinner we went to Parada, to the restaurant "Bem Estar"'a fine-dining restaurant that served traditional local fare. Since the local fare always included meat or fish, Aaron and Bronwyn were offered a large fresh salad. We had plates of chicken and beef, the latter a Portuguese specialty. The wine was a deep red, older than Tia's but still young, less purple and reminiscent of a cabernet. The eleven of us ate and talked, and then quietly drove back to Nodar. Most were tired and went to bed early, but Cristina, Aaron, Bronwyn, Stevie and I drove the dark and twining roads up to the festival in Sequeiros, whose music was pouring down the quiet night's hillside in a sonic torrent.
Sequeiros, as we had learned from our experience recording the local singers, was far from a large town. It was bigger than Nodar, but still had perhaps no more than several dozen residents. The bunker-like hall was hardly welcoming. But for this night, it was a party. A few hundred people, including most of Nodar and the Sequeiros singers, were there. A band of two accordions, two guitars, ukulele, bass guitar, bombom, and two singers played long multi-verse songs in brilliantly repetitive keys and rhythms. Lights were strung on poles across the parking-lot-now-dancefloor, and the bar in the bunker was humming with glasses of wine and bottles of beer.
Aaron began dancing with Handlebar-Moustache Man to whoops of the crowd, and soon so was Bronwyn ... and Cristina ... and Stevie. Americó, the only man to sing in the Sequeiros group (and the local policeman), also danced with the three women, as did "Red-Shirt Romeo," who presented himself in dancing position with arms placed around an imaginary partner, with a ready (if creepy) smile. It was a scene worthy of Fellini, but without the irony or distance of art'it was real, and joyous.
The party continued well past midnight, and we finally left with the music receding behind us. The twisting ride back to Nodar was even darker, and at home we fell into deep sleeps. Iñaki and Nati promised us a breakfast together, and we looked forward to it.
Sunday, April 29
Iñaki and Nati were asleep when we arose'and remained so. Breakfast was just scattered rounds of coffee on the back porch, and we finished packing. Aaron and Bronwyn were coming with us to Porto, and we made careful preparation to fit them and nine bags into the microscopic car.
Luis once more told us how moved he and Rui had been by our presentation, and how it had captured the nature of Nodar in a way that could not have been expected in such a brief residency. We said our goodbyes to everyone, wished Manuela well with her imminent birth of Samuel, waved to Tia (who stood quietly by with her sheep, waiting for us to get out of her way), and rolled down the hill into town and up to Parada, through the winding roads to Pinheiro (where we stopped to listen to Sunday's eleven o'clock church bells), on the expressways, and to the A1 heading for Porto'where we were apparently in the wrong lane and could not get an entry ticket.
At the exit in Porto, some forty-eight euros were due for the toll. We stumbled along in Portuguese and Spanish, trying to get the toll reduced, and eventually twenty minutes of arguing got us a bill for the toll attached to our passport. We weren't late, but we still had to find gas for the car (we did) and unload the repainted vehicle at the rental return. It was cheerfully inspected, we paid the fourteen euros and change for an extra day's rental, and left Aaron and Bronwyn behind on their way to Porto. The Portuguese schedule had the Air Berlin flight leaving late from Porto and arriving in Mallorca just in time for us to catch the departing leg to Schiphol'during which we squeezed in a call to Stevie's mother. We had been sending taunting emails to cold Vermont with pictures of warm sunny vistas and "nuisance plants" (calla lilies), and wanted her to know we were now comfortably sitting in Mallorca.
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