MALIGNANT PEARS

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10.21.2014

the leaves blow around me in circles and I under the moon catch them

Hold on, oh my dear late sweet
September; will you sweep
up on gusty wheels of cool
fragrant night, dusked orbs
of lunarcaught midnight?

Let lips be the cry of your
house, many millions of sweet
spicy leaves, turning again and again
in little cradles, staining their bodies—
swaddle them, threaded autumn!

And you will kiss my hands, you
ruddy-cheeked October, you spinning (you
soaring, you sigh-humming before you rush) up
the embowed aisle of the world to bed
and you
will certainly whisper
gold
under the shut eyes of the sky.

10.15.2013

10.10.2013

What it looks like inside a CHRYSALIS


When Lilacs Last

One spring my mother and I collected
long twigs and put them in an empty tin can
to make a tree on which to hang Easter eggs—
real ones, which had been emptied of life
and dyed bright chemical colors (yellow, orange
and lime-green).

We put water in the can to weigh it down,
and after a few weeks buds pushed out
on the branches: soon leaves unfurled.
It was a paschal mystery, Aaron's staff in the ark
of the covenant that was our front porch.

Lilacs bloomed.

After a while the tin rusted,
the water turned blood-red, the green leaves
withered and we solemnly placed the dead
branches by the edge of the road.

I am telling you this story because
it is autumn as I write this and I cannot
tell if your eyes (into which I only
occasionally look) are old or new.
I think they are in that narrow place;
the moment just before everything
changes, and the very fact that we exist
at all seems a miracle beyond reckoning,
far lovelier than a lilac gently resting
against an empty green eggshell.

Please don't imagine yourself anywhere
that isn't fragile or barely real, don't
ever think for a moment that you are too
young or too old to be alive. I am not sure
if this life is impossibly beautiful because
it happened or impossibly tragic for the same reason,
but I do know it is impossible, and I don't think
I should have to choose.

9.28.2013

Updates on CHRYSALIS

I typically don't do this, but since my latest musical project is SO DAMN COOL I've decided you should all know about it. Also, I have no idea what I'm doing and I need help/suggestions.

For those of you who haven't seen my Kickstarter campaign to raise a whopping $300 to pay for materials, check it out. I made a creeptastic video which you should watch just to entertain yourself even if you don't want to donate. But actually, I kind of need the money to pay for the project, so also donate please. Kickstarter is all-or-nothing, so I either get $0 or $300. Also, if you donate you get special prizes (read: creepy prizes).


Seriously, if these weirdos can raise $12,000 and they don't even know how to pronounce the word "Chrysalis," surely my friends can support my relatively inexpensive dreams. Guys?

Okay, but my point here is not to complain about money! I really want to give you some updates about the piece because I am srsly SO EXCITE. For those of you who haven't read about the project, here's an abstract of the concept in a nutshell:
Chrysalis explores the boundaries of mediated transmission. Music, like other forms of art, is mediated by the medium itself and its environment, in this case by time, space, and memory. Gauze shrouds surrounding the singers evoke moth cocoons and are lit from the inside. Alternation between aleatoric and fully determined music highlights the uncertainty of live performance. The piece moves from ambiguous vowel sounds in the first movement to a description of a real-life out-of-body experience by soprano, Justine Aronson. The third movement is a veiled re-interpretation of Thomas Campion's early 17th century lute song, Author of Light.
I have been wanting to do more with "installation" style projects, and this is my first stab at combining more visual components into a piece. I'm ridiculously fortunate to have the amazing Justine Aronson flying in from Brooklyn to premiere this with Patrick Bonczyk, an incredible countertenor and intellectual extraordinaire (he basically comes up with all the concepts for my pieces these days).

I've been obsessed with moths since I was a small child. At summer camp I cried for hours when some mean boys pulled the wings off a majestic Polyphemus. I wrote several moth-inspired pieces in high school, but none that really dug more deeply into the mystical metaphor of transformation bound up in the narratology of moths. So this is where we are.

This week I purchased dimmer switches and blue light bulbs which will be controlled by the singers inside their cocoons. I think I decided that I want each singer in a separate "chrysalis" to further separate them from each other. If the audience should feel mediated, shouldn't the singers too? I also ordered tiny LED lights from China that hopefully will arrive in time for the performance. These will be worn by the singers during the second movement of the piece.
Composing for the cocoon.
Of course there's music too! The piece is essentially done, and I'm really happy with some of the musical things happening in it. The first movement has no lyrics, and is almost entirely aleatoric for the singers. It's meant to evoke a kind of pupal musical state—amorphous, undefined musical shapes. The music snakes around through different tonal centers through a special kind of suspended transformation that I started using this summer when working on Helios, (a choral setting of an ancient Greek magical spell) for the Oregon Bach Festival. Basically the transformations happen by voicing a major or minor chord in second inversion, and then moving the fifth and root of the chord (the lower two notes) around by half-step, which usually creates another triad or some kind of quartal/quintal sonority. It's a really neat sound, and destroys any sense of key center.

The second movement has lyrics by Justine Aronson herself. Earlier this year she described an experience she had during acupuncture where she saw three dots in her mind's eye which she understood to be herself and the universe (seriously, is everyone this cool? I have the best friends). I had her describe the experience in some detail and used the dialogue as lyrics for the second movement, titled "I was three dots that were the universe." In the second movement, the roles are reversed—the piano is almost entirely aleatoric, and the singers are singing predetermined music. This "liminal" stage transitions into the entirely notated third movement, which is based on the Campion lute song, Author of Light. This was the most fun to write, weaving fragments of Campion's mysterious music into the harmonic framework I had set up in the first two movements. Most of the piece is based on whole-step diads and first-inversion chords with an added 4th in an inner voice. The lute song has an amazing section where the voice ascends up a chromatic scale (kind of crazy for the 17th century), which worked perfectly for the harmonic transformations from the first movement, bringing everything together at the close of the piece!
I am legitimately excited about this, and really looking forward to what I'll learn from having to work with materials (and not just musical abstractions) in a concert piece. I also love how working on a project like this makes me see the world in new and exciting ways. For example, a breathless moment of immortal understanding I had with a caterpillar last week, and this amazing sculpture at ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, MI. The jury is still out on how exactly to construct the chrysalides (who knew that was the plural of chrysalis?). I am hedging between trying to make them look haphazard and organic like real cocoons, which would probably require some wire or something, or having them be more idealized cubical-type structures which serve to evoke a sense of separation but not necessarily be analogous to anything in the natural world. I would love thoughts on what would be most effective... and like, if anyone knows how to build things. I guess I have to buy lumber and fabric for these things like next weekend. And, like a staple gun?

EDIT: Apparently no one can find the two places in this blog that link to the Kickstarter page (namely, clicking on the video, and the word "Kistarter campaign" highlighted in red text). So, here is a direct link:
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/57535000/chrysalis-0