24 hour challenge #13

From Dave, way back in 2009, 3-187-13:

they are given to
hold close, not
air, not each other

From “Knee Lunes,” by Robert Kelly.

No, I don’t know what to do with this, nor have I ever.  See you tomorrow night.

[If you’re just joining us, here are the instructions for the 24 hour challenge, as well as previous efforts.]

4/23/13, 10:36 pm

Okay, it sucks, but really, I don’t even.  I mean to say, wot?

24 hour challenge #13, “Knee Lunes,” for Dave: score [pdf] | bassoon [mp3]

The return of the 24 hour challenge: #12

I know.  It’s rather unbelievable.  What have I gotten myself (back) into?

But in a longstanding Lichtenbergian tradition, I have resurrected 2009’s 24 hour challenge in order to avoid working on Five Easier Pieces, of which I have exactly three abortive attempts.

For those who cannot recall exactly what I am talking about, head over to the 24 hour challenge page and refresh your memory.

And here we go:

From Mike, who will be astonished to learn that his numbers (4-1081-33) finally came up:

Come Sweete & frolick then with vs
Noe Longer doate on Telaphus
A youth aboue thy fate
A wanton Wench & rich beside
Hath him in twofould bondage tie’d
Nor does he proue vngrate.

That’s ll. 31-36 from “Maecenas Birthday,” by the Roman poet Horace, translated by one Thomas Pestell, an early 17th c. poet about whom not even Wikipedia has a thing.

Let’s see if I can get this up by tomorrow midnight.

4/19/13, 8:58 p.m.

Well, what do you know?  I did it.

A little background: entries #12, #13, and #14 have all been on sticky notes on my monitor since 2009.  I had to look at them every morning and every night, right above my Lichtenbergian chalice.  So it’s not as if I haven’t give these scraps some thought.  Even before I had to stop the 24 hour challenge because of decamping to Valdosta in June 2009, I knew that I wanted to set this one as a kind of Cole Porter beguine, a song for a 1930s chanteuse, as it were.

See what you think.  I think the tempo could be a little slower.  It would have to be interpreted, of course, by the artistes.

24 hour challenge #12, “Maecenas Birthday” for Mike: score [pdf], bassoon [mp3]

2011 Proposed Efforts, part 1

Let’s talk about my Proposed Efforts for 2011. Some of them are rollovers from 2010. A couple are new.

First, the list:

  • finish the cello sonata
  • write a good short story
  • play with the 24-Hour Challenge again
  • continue painting
  • create my new age album, Stars on Snow
  • create the westpoint sculpture

Since I have today and tomorrow before 2011 actually begins, I’ll break this up into a couple of posts. More blogging for me, more reading for you.

Finish the cello sonata

This is a new goal, but actually it’s cheating. Of course I’m going to finish the cello sonata. However, what I’ve written so far does not satisfy me. In the first movement, the two themes are good, but my approach to the development is more strophic than I think is appropriate. I want to double back and really break those two themes up into their basic elements and use those to play with the listener’s perceptions. As for the third movement, I really like the first part, but that “stopping for a pretty interlude” thing is threatening to become a crutch. Why do I keep doing that?

All of this, especially idea of reworking of the development in the first movement, is making my stomach hurt.

Write a good short story

A carryover. Nothing to be said until I actually start working on it. Sharp observers may have noted that I did not rollover my goal from last year of starting A Perfect Life. I’m going to leave that one to the universe. If it happens, it happens. First I have to clean off my desk.

Play with the 24-Hour Challenge again

Another rollover, but a worthy one. After I finish the cello sonata I have no more projects (other than the new age album), so it will be fun to do this again. Last time, I actually came up with a great deal of usable material; it will be like storing up nuts for the winter.

Continue painting

Of course. It’s more like “pick up my brushes again,” but still.

To be continued…

Art & Fear: 2

And artists quit when they lose the destination for their work, for the place their work belongs. [p. 9]

Longtime readers of this blog will remember the creative crisis precipitated by the decision of my friend Stephen Czarkowski’s not to return to GHP in the summer of 2008. He had asked me to try my hand at writing a symphony for the orchestra, and I had reached a point of having finished (i.e., stopped) the third movement and being stuck with the final movement when the news reached me. (The first two movements never got written.)

For most of my creative life, I have been guarded in my output. I am not a fast composer; I have to struggle for everything I write. And so it has almost never made sense for me to attempt to write something that I know will never be performed. A full-scale symphony? Who would play it?

So Stephen’s offer was a gift from the heavens. If I wrote it, they would perform it. I could write without holding back. In fact, having heard Stephen conduct GHP students in playing Strauss’s Death & Transfiguration, I figured there was nothing that came out of my head which would pose any difficulties whatsoever. The news that it would not be performed that summer was like hitting a brick wall. It meant that it would never be performed.

Whoever the new strings person was (and it turned out to be a former GHP student of mine), I would be his boss and not his friend: I could not ask him to devote so much class time to the performance of my piece without a very real appearance of impropriety.

It was more than a year before I wrote another note of music. The 24 Hour Challenge was an effort to move myself out of that dreadful stasis, and I think it succeeded in many ways. For one thing, I was able to take one of the pieces, “Club-Foot Waltz,” and turn it into the “Waltz for Bassoon & String Quartet,” which then became this spring’s “Pieces for Bassoon & String Quartet,” and which I printed out as soon as I got home on Tuesday and mailed to my former GHP student at GHP, since I am not his boss for the summer (and am in fact now his friend) and can ask him to read through a piece just as boldly as any other third-class first-rate composer.

The problem of destination is illustrated in my work by A Visit to William Blake’s Inn. As much trouble as I had finishing that, particularly the epic “Blake Leads a Walk on the Milky Way”, thoroughly documented on this fine blog, I persevered to the astonishing conclusion, because I believed that it would be performed. I believed that it had a destination. If I had known that no one would have the slightest interest in it, I would have shelved it.

Now you would think that I would learn the lesson from these two episodes that Bayles and Orland try to teach in Art & Fear, that you have to aim your work at a destination that may not exist in your current universe, but I have not. Maybe as I progress through the summer and knock out the Ayshire Fiddle Orchestra piece in no time flat, and suddenly have the skills and inspiration to finish the Epic Lichtenbergian Portrait (not to mention the necessary reference photographs (ahem, Mike, Kevin, Matthew, et al.)), then perhaps I will look around me and decide, hey, why not? I can throw myself into projects that don’t have a light at the end of the tunnel: the Symphony in G, the mini-opera Simon’s Dad, and whatever else I can imagine.

But it’s going to take a lot of success with projects that do have a destination before I trust the universe to create things that don’t.

Lichtenbergian Goal #2

Lichtenbergian Goal #2: restart the 24-Hour Challenge.

The 24-Hour Challenge was my solution to the psychological/artistic impasse I found myself in after I abandoned the Symphony. For a long time I was unable to write anything, and the Challenge allowed me to get back into the groove without the pressure of having to write anything that had to be completed. Or even any good.

Essentially I used my readers as a randomizer: you emailed me three numbers, which I used to find a line of poetry in one of five books I had selected for the purpose. Once I posted a selection on the blog, I had till midnight of the following day to set the line(s) to music for baritone voice and piano or string quartet.

The complete rules can be found here. Do not send me numbers. I’m not ready for them yet.

As a project, it was really successful. I was able to spit out eleven fragments of varying quality. Some were really good, others not so much. It didn’t matter. What mattered was that I was churning out notes and learning more every time I did it.

Creativity being the bitch that it is, of course I was able to see putting some of the fragments to use. In fact, part of the therapy of the thing was that every time I felt the tug to complete one of these shards, I could quite honestly tell myself to stop it. Abandon it. Get it up on the blog and move on.

Still, I was able to take one of my favorites and turn it into this summer’s Waltz for string quartet and bassoon. So the project was not only cathartic, but productive.

I missed it when I had to stop because of the pressures of GHP, but somehow I never found the time or focus to pick it back up, despite the fact that I have three sticky notes that have been stuck to the bottom of my monitor since May, waiting for me to put them out there.

Now I want to force myself to get back to work. I still don’t have any real pieces in my head battling to get out, so I might as well go back to churning out the trivial little fragments. It kept me busy, and it kept me exploring styles, harmonies, compositional strategies. I found myself getting bolder and bolder in what I would try, because it didn’t matter. It was my own private composition class.

Finally, I think it delighted people to see what I would do with “their” fragment. There was always an audience of at least one for these bagatelles, and that’s got to count for something! So as soon as next week, perhaps, look for the series to continue with #11, a verse from a snarky poem by Horace, from Mike Mathis.

Then, and only then, can you start bombarding me with new sets of numbers. Thank you.


This past Saturday was the Annual Meeting of the Lichtenbergian Society, a top-secret organization for creative procrastinators. That is, creative men who procrastinate, not men who procrastinate creatively. We celebrate the virtues of procrastination. We are a veritable support group for procrastination. With drinking.

This Annual Meeting is one of the most important evenings of the year for me. Even though we gather often during the year and are companionable and argumentative, even though we have a website through which we communicate our ideas and passions, still this particular meeting stands out, because it’s the only meeting in which we have a ritualized ceremony.

We toast our genius Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, German physicist, aphorist, and satirist, and inveterate procrastinator. We submit Corroborative Evidence of our Claims, i.e., creative works the creators of which would have been well-advised to have procrastinated over a good deal longer. Then we Consign said Corroborative Evidence to the Flames.

Next comes the part that means the most to me. We have a journal in which the recording secretary has recorded each member’s Proposed Efforts the preceding year. The secretary reads out the list of what we thought we might accomplish this year, and to each we have to respond: “Accomplished” or “Cras melior est” (our motto, which means “Tomorrow is better”). After everyone has confessed responded to the secretary, and there’s a lot of discussion and commentary, we stand and have a silent meditation on the Year’s Efforts, followed by a silent toast.

This year, I am ashamed to say, I accomplished all four of my goals. Last year I was zero for seven, which is also pretty bad, but at least had the virtue of making me an exemplary Lichtenbergian. This year I felt cheesy, as if I had cheated somehow by choosing easy-to-conquer goals, and as if I had not set goals extravagant enough to be worth attempting. Success did not make me feel as if I had accomplished anything.

So in the next part of our ceremony, I was determined to challenge myself more. This is the Engrossment of the Proposed Efforts: each Lichtenbergian states for the record what he hopes to accomplish creatively this year. This is an awe-inspiring exercise, because you know that at the next winter solstice, you’re going to be confronted with your claims and have to acknowledge your success or failure.

After everyone is done, we have another toast, to the Proposed Efforts, followed by the agenda. This year’s topic was “compulsion and void,” revolving around the polar ideas that a) we are compelled by our nature to create, and b) we are confronted by the void which renders our creations pointless. How do we deal with these ideas as artists? And it may be that more toasts are made as the evening progresses. You get the idea.

What were my Proposed Efforts?

  • continue my painting, both the abstract Field series and my studies for the Epic Lichtenbergian Portrait
  • restart the 24-Hour Challenge, which to my surprise I had proposed last year to do only for six months, which is just about what I managed
  • compose one complete work, any description
  • write one good short story
  • begin work on A Perfect Life, my proposed description of what it’s like to live a life like mine
  • and in conjunction with all of the above, produce a lot of crap, i.e., produce boatloads of work

I think what I’ll do is blog about this for a couple of days. I need to write more anyway, and I need to set forth some ideas about this whole process and each of the particulars.


Here we are, end of GHP and vacation, the beginning of the school year, one of those cusps that seem to demand that I set some goals, to figure out what I want to do next. I don’t know why, especially since these are no-brainers. It’s not as if I’m going to not do these things if I don’t write them down, but writing them seems to give them some legitimacy.

  • get back into the 24 hour project work. I have #12, #13, and #14 still to set, and they’re all three doozies. I really ought to try to come up with two more movements to go with the string quartet/bassoon piece.
  • get serious about my “Field” series of paintings, especially Seth’s commission
  • schedule Tai Chi time, and stick to the schedule. Grayson gave me a beginner CD for my birthday, and I’ve only looked at the first section once. The problem is finding time and space. But I must.
  • get serious about my ELP sketching, especially faces. Soon it’s going to be time to start sketching in paint as well. It has occurred to me that proficiency in graphite does not automatically transfer to gouache.
  • do some writing in the Neo-Futurist vein for Lacuna. The GHP theatre kids used the Neo-Futurist mold for their work this summer and it was a fascinating way to do theatre.
  • and of course the labyrinth needs attention: mowing, reseeding, repair, installation of the omphalos

That’s not too much to think about, is it? It does not include routine stuff, like cleaning my study or doing the final reports on GHP, or updating the WordPress software everywhere, or starting back up with Masterworks Chorale and Lacuna Group.

Various updates

I brought the bowl back to the dorm this morning. It’s awfully heavy. I continually fear I will drop it.

The cracks are now a feature, not a bug. When I think back on the puzzle of what to do with the interior, I am reminded of the line from Casablanca: “It seems that destiny has taken a hand.”

I spent an hour with a string quintet this morning reading through and working on Waltz for string quartet & bassoon. A cello subbed for the bassoon. It was great fun, and I was able to help them hear what I heard and to play it. I think that with actual rehearsal it would be a very presentable piece indeed. My friend and colleague Stephen Czarkowski plans to program it this fall, so maybe we’ll get a YouTube video performance of that.

There were three places that I wasn’t sure were effective, and I found that I was right about those as being weak. I was able to fix one of them on the spot, and the other two are simple doubling issues, i.e., I need more oomph at two spots that sounded bare, so all I have to do is copy and paste some notes. Done, for a ducat!

I haven’t blogged about this because it’s been touchy, but for the past week here at the Land of Pan-Dimensional Mice we’ve been under “social distancing protocol” restrictions due to the flu. No one could sit directly next to each other, everyone was issued hand sanitizer, etc., etc. (There is no hand sanitizer in the city. Tomorrow there will be no Sharpie markers.)

The “no touching” thing had some interesting repercussions. We canceled Field Day and the Saturday night dance. (Everyone dressed up in their 80s finery anyway.) I canceled my Grand Ball. We had to cut seating at peformances in half, which meant we had to double the number of performances, which meant increased monitoring duties for me, which meant less time to get the program ready to close out. It was very stressful.

The worst was facing the fact that we were going to have do the final Prism Concert twice, cancel the Friday night Graffiti Dance (the kids sign each others’ t-shirts in a last paroxysm of bonding), and somehow split up Saturday morning’s Convocation. What kind of good-bye is it when half the people you love are not there? And the idea that we were going to keep these kids from hugging each other was ludicrous. The increasing anxiety about this very real downer was getting to everyone.

Last night, however, the word finally came that since we had not had anyone register any symptoms since our only case ten days ago, we were free of restrictions. We could end our summer as we should. And there was much rejoicing.

All in all, we were magnificent. We responded quickly and appropriately, and the kids were fantastic in their good-spirited compliance with the protocols. They were actually grateful that they were still at GHP, and many said so. All the final events were kept on the schedule, and as far as I know no one was turned away from something they wanted to see. We deserve much praise.

Two days, one hour, two minutes until GHP is over.

Waltz, 7/10/09

I think I’m through with the waltz. It’s not finished, I’m just through with it.

Yes, it’s complete, and yes, it makes sense in its twisted little way, but I still feel as if I have lazily slapped together a few combinations and turned it in. Oh well.

Here’s the “completed” Waltz for String Quartet & Bassoon. (Here’s the score, if you want it.)

I need to go double-check it for impossible double-stops before I let a real violinist see it.

Waltz, 7/8/09

You can listen to yesterday and today’s work on the B section of the bassoon quintet here.

I think it’s not long enough. I think I could make it into a major development section, or use it as the second theme for an actual sonata allegro movement. I barely get the theme stated when I dismantle it and build to a screeching climax (from which I will ratchet it up even more until it collapses back into the claustrophobic A section.) I think it’s not enough.

However, if my goal is to have something for students to read on Friday, and it is, then we’ll just go with it as a first draft.