Before we left for our trip last week, we paid a visit to Richard’s Variety Store in Midtown/Monroe Drive.  Richard’s is one of those places that create a strain in a relationship if, for example, one’s lovely first wife had never disclosed that she knew of this chamber of wonders.  One might accuse the other of holding out on him.

It’s a magical place, kind of a Woolworths for the hipster/hippie crowd, and if you haven’t been, go.

Here’s what I bought (among other things):

Yes, that is Icarus, the hero of Seven Dreams of Falling, coming eventually to an opera house near you.  He’s to remind me that I do have a major theatrical work to compose.  Which I’m not doing right now, because I’m writing this blog post to avoid finishing my tax returns.

If I were to link this to Lichtenbergianism, it would fall into RITUAL, as an object which represents a project or a goal and serves to remind me that it will be a beautiful thing—once I finish it.

Lichtenbergian goals from 2015

Hi there!  I’ve been busy getting A Christmas Carol on its feet, so apologies all round for the lack of fabulously interesting content around here.  But now the Lichtenbergian Annual Meeting1 is upon us and I must take a look back to see how well I’ve done on my goals for this past year.  Let’s take a look, shall we?

Seven Dreams

Nada.  After I finished Dream One last year, I was waiting on my librettist, C. Scott Wilkerson, to provide more text for our opera (based on his play Seven Dreams of Falling, a retelling of the Icarus myth).  Alas, he’s been caught up in finishing his PhD, so I twiddled my thumbs.  There were some abortive attempts to set the opening and ending of Dream Three since I knew what it was going to be, but I failed utterly to crack that nut.

3 Old Men

Check.  My goal was to expand the camp, which we did but not in the way I originally intended.  As documented here, I constructed fabric “walls” to go over the tent stakes of the labyrinth, replacing the yellow rope and improving its looks quite some.  We also added some really cool new Old Men to the camp, one of whom brought fire art to the entire concept.

Five Easier Pieces

Done! I can check it off my list, where it has been for at least two years.

Christmas Carol

My goals for Christmas Carol for this year were a) finding an affordable software music sequencer that works like the old EZ•Vision sequencer did; b) learning to use it; and c) completely rescoring Christmas Carol again with a full orchestral accompaniment.  And d) directing the show.  I did it all and infinitely more.


It remained a back burner project.

design & construction of labyrinths

Not a major goal to begin with, I designed two labyrinths for “clients” that ended up being unnecessary.  Still, a pleasant diversion.

general work habits

This one was a success—I re-established a daily routine that worked for me and actually was more productive than the short list above would indicate. The principles of Lichtenbergianism teach us that having goals is important even especially if they only serve to provide reference points to avoid, and that’s what happened here.


Lichtenbergian goals for 2016—let’s see what comes out of my mouth at the Meeting.


1 For those just joining us, the Lichtenbergian Society is my group of friends who support each other in their willingness to procrastinate their way to creative success.

Where does music come from?

All songs are born to man out in the great wastes. Sometimes they come to us like weeping, deep from the pangs of the heart, sometimes like a playful laughter which springs from the joy that life and the wonderful expanses of the world around us provide. We do not know how songs arrive with our breath—in the form of words and music, and not as ordinary speech.

—Kilimê, East Greenland Eskimo, recorded by Knud Rasmussen; Pharmako/Dynamis, p. 239

Where does music come from?

The question is not Why do humans make music?, but more like How do humans make music? and more specifically How do humans make new music? Where does it come from?

I get asked this question all the time about my music. How do I come up with it all? Where does those melodies come from? How do I decide what goes where? And how does someone without a lick of academic musical training create things like William Blake’s Inn and the Cello Sonata and Six Preludes (no fugues) and Seven Dreams of Falling and my super secret new project?

Hell if I know, is the short answer.

I just spent three days in the mountains on retreat with my fellow Lichtenbergians, and all I produced was about a dozen ways not to sing the phrase “Rip me from this darkness.” If I knew where music comes from, I’d have a lot more to show for my effort.

Here’s what I know about where my music comes from. The Minotaur opens Dream Three of Seven Dreams with a four line lament on his unhappiness. (At least he does in the original script; I’ve requested that the dialogue be retained for the libretto.) At the end of the scene, as he and Theseus are making love, those four lines return (amplified) with a completely different emotional impulse, so to speak.

I’m therefore working backwards: I know the end of the scene is an ecstatic duet, and so I start working on making that happen. Later, I’ll take the melodies associated with those four lines and scale them back into a lament, changing the key and orchestration, perhaps even the rhythms, so that the notes that ring in our ears as ecstatic love start out as unhappy loneliness.

I also know that one effective way for music to depict ecstasy is to have the orchestra whaling away in chromatic arpeggiation while the singer soars above it with a strong, simple melodic line. (See: “Liebestod,” Tristan und Isolde, Wagner.) So far, I’ve approached it by trying to come up with the strong, simple melodic line and seeing where that takes me, but alas—that strategy has failed me.

I could keep working away trying to come up with that line, but I think what I’m going to try for a while is the other approach: work on the orchestral whaling and then construct the melody to soar above it. If the accompaniment gives me what I need, then no one will ever know that the melody was an afterthought. Well, you will, but you’ll keep your mouth shut in interviews, won’t you?

So the answer to the question “Where does your music come from?” appears to be “from a cold, calculating brain, not from a deep well of inspiration what are you crazy?”

I’ll keep you posted on the results.

I’m back—now with extra whinging!

I’m in the mountains, on our annual Lichtenbergian Retreat, wherein we are each to bring some creative work on which we’ve been slacking.  Since my recent work on Seven Dreams is the very definition of “slacking,” i.e., “no work at all,” I’ve brought it with me to jumpstart the process again.

(To be fair: 1) I ran out of text; 2) I was getting ready for and attending Alchemy; 3) my son got married.  Still, I bet Wagner didn’t let things like that slow down his ego work.)

At any rate, I’m in the Blue Ridge in a great cabin with four other Lichtenbergians—none of whom, I’ve noticed, seem to have brought any work at all, but let that pass.  I’ve brought the snippets of text which I have demanded respectfully requested begin and end Dream Three.  Hey, they’re Scott’s actual text from the original play, so I figure it’s not a problem.

Even if it is a problem, even if he ends up sending me a completely different text, I figure I can play around with scene setting and thematic/harmonic bits that I can then use with the new text.  As I said last night, measures full of sixteenth notes can be very flexible.  Bring on the words!

Here’s the part you’ve been reading for: whining.

In Dream  Three, Theseus and the Minotaur have had enough chitchat about their respective ritual fates and are getting it on.  The four lines of the Minotaur’s opening aria return, this time with a partner.  So, ecstatic duet, right?

Since I haven’t written any real music since August, I’m just aiming to produce crap the entire weekend, just getting my crapping muscles back in shape.  I don’t expect to use anything that comes out of my head in the next 48 hours—though one never knows.

My problem is that many of the halfway decent bits I’ve scribbled down are more Broadway than La Scala.  Don’t ask me what the difference is, there is one and I know it when I hear it.  So do audiences, and so do critics.  So I keep scribbling, breaking up some of the Broadway tunes with odd harmonies or melodic intervals, and it sounds more La Scala, but then it’s not very soaring or ecstatic.

Yes, I am modifying my music to please unknown critics.  On a personal level I have no desire be known as the opera world’s Frank Wildhorn or Andrew Lloyd Webber: singable tunes, loved by unsophisticated audiences but scorned by all right-thinking persons.  As Noel Coward said, “It’s extraordinary how potent cheap music is.”

On an artistic level, opera voices are not show voices, and the same melodies that fit comfortably on Neil Patrick Harris’s voice or Patti LuPone’s sound weak under Erwin Schrott’s or Anna Netrebko’s.  You want to please the audience and please the singers, and so you have to move them through the notes differently, if that makes sense, and  there’s more than a little element of athletic showing-off in the opera world.  If you make it too easy, they’ll disdain it.

I’ll get it done.  I just have to get back in the groove of pushing it all out—instead of blogging about it—because if I can produce a big enough pile of crap, there should be a pony in there somewhere, right?

I’m bored.

Having finished orchestrating Dream One and practically finished laying in the flagstone around the fire pit, I have written all the letters I can stand to write at the moment, so I am casting about for something to occupy myself.

I suppose I could tackle Five Easier Pieces, but I’m not that bored.  I think what I shall do instead is tinker with Dream Three, the libretto of which I don’t technically have but the tone of which I think I can work on without too many issues down the road.  Specifically, I’m going to take the Minotaur’s first speech from Scott’s script and pretend that’s my text.  Even if that’s not what we end up with, I will have the opening to the scene regardless; words are easy to adapt if you use a crowbar.

Dream One, “And what of us?”

I think this worked out quite well.

Dream One, 4c. “And what of us/Let us joyfully gaze” | piano score [pdf] | orchestral mp3

While working on this bit, I dug into Finale and figured out lots of keyboard shortcuts for the things I do the most.  It’s incredible how well hidden some of them are.  I learned two or three versions ago to buy the Trailblazer Guide to accompany the software.  It’s not very in-depth, but it does have a lot of helpful hints on how to approach your workflow.  I got a lot more efficient with this piece—which is good, since I have six more Dreams to go!

And in case you hadn’t noticed, Dream One is now completely orchestrated.

Dream One, “My mother, bored and pampered”

In the best tradition of artists everywhere, I am declaring Ariadne’s aria abandoned completed, at least until I have to fix it for good.  It kind of works, and right now that will have to serve.

Besides thinning out some of the accompaniment in her big moment, I also finally got Finale to pay attention when I asked it to slow down the tempo.  Something got borked in the tempo marking itself; I deleted it and created a new one.  Who knows?  Finale’s technical support (staffed ENTIRELY BY UNICORNS YOU GUYS) certainly doesn’t.

Dream One, 4b. “My mother, bored and pampered | piano score (pdf) | orchestral mp3

I am hoping that the last section, “And what of us,” is going to be clear sailing, since it’s all motifs from earlier—Daedalus’s fly/fall motif and the machine music—and then the end is straight up copy/pasting from the opening number.

A new understanding of “Fly and fall”

I’m going to brag on my music, which I don’t normally do.  Bear with me.

Last night, in the labyrinth, I put on my headphones and gave a listen to “Fly and fall” (mp3) because I wanted to hear what it sounded like under the full moon, which was doing this incredible Dance of the Seven Veils with clouds and fog after the storm earlier in the evening.

Here’s what I heard:  it sounds like—I suppose because it is—a commercial for a new luxury car.  Daedalus is very proud of his achievement in sending his son skyward every year, and it shows.  Icarus is sleek, gleaming, fast, and sexy.   The monitors onstage would show this neatly packaged vision of the Event.

For example:

Cool, huh?  Yes, I spent time on that image (Icarus image credit here) instead of hammering out orchestration issues in “My mother, bored and pampered.”  Or napping.

Only at the end, in the unexpected key lurch, do we hear Daedalus’s actual excitement and pride—and with “just as surely fall,” his fear—for his son.

I do hope that I get hired to direct this thing.

In other news, Scott, make a note: I just noticed that in this annual Event, Daedalus is no longer making the flight himself.  That’s probably a point for Icarus to make in the great debate in Dream Four.

Dream One, “My mother, bored and pampered”

Okay, the bothersome passages are getting there, but I’m still quite unsatisfied.

Part of the problem that interests me is the shift from the cheesy, honky-tonk, and really kind of funny tone of the first part into the “woman scorned” fury of the second part.  What I have at the moment is tremendous, sound-wise, and I think what I’m trying to suss out is what kind of motivation I’m trying to assign to the mezzo.  Does she really need the snare drum roll and the explosive tam-tam to make this work?  Does it work?  I don’t know yet.

Anyway, I’m posting what I’ve got.  It’s not right, and it’s not finished.

Dream One, 4b. “My mother, bored and pampered” | piano score [pdf] | orchestral mp3

In other news, I will probably finish the flagstone around the firepit today.  Photos later.