Tuesday, March 31, 2009

'Women Rain' by Ece Ayhan, trans. Zafer Yalçınpınar

Our new friend Zafer Yalçınpınar writes from Istanbul:

I translated an Ece Ayhan poem ... it's from the book called Çok Eski Adıyladır (With Its Very Old Name). You can publish the translation at your network, blogs or wherever you want ... Here it is:


1. He has rented a room from The Middle Age. Sleeps on the shakedown.

2. A dove, entering inside through the window’s chink. Says “Can I undress

3. And it starts to rain women to the ancient city.

(Translated by Zafer Yalçınpınar)
Ece Ayhan is the author of Blind Cat Black, which we scored, in Murat Nemet-Nejat's translation. The mood of this piece fits right in with Blind Cat Black and makes me want to hear much more. Zafer, consider yourself encouraged!

Free mp3s
Two pieces from the Blind Cat Black score that set lines reminiscent of "Women Rain".

"The secret Jew
Pops Farrar, Flatrock

"A blind cat black"
Steve Allain, Stefene Russell

From Blind Cat Black
Ece Ayhan, trans. Murat Nemet-Nejat


Image of It's Raining Women from a photo blog.

Monday, March 30, 2009

My political allusions are like banana stalks

Poetry Scores is now a non-profit in the eyes of the feds. That gives us another reason to stay out of politics.

But it's municipal election season here in St. Louis. Those of us who know something about city politics can't help but think about the people involved.

I think of an African (actually, Akan) proverb I once set to music: "If your body stinks, people will fart around you."

Translation: You will be known by your company. Birds of a feather flock together. If you are foul, you will attract foulness.

I think of this based on accounts of which elected officials sat with which political operatives at the mayoral forum on Sunday.

I scored this and a number of other African proverbs in a collage lyric with the band Eleanor Roosevelt.

Free mp3

"Banana Stalks"
(Matt Fuller, Chris King, Lij, John Minkoff)
Eleanor Roosevelt

From the record Crumbling in the Rain.


Image of banana stalks from a newspaper in Kingston, Jamaica.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

You get chills, Danny Lee gets chills, from Mahler

This is my rough sketch of Danny Lee, cello honcho for The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, sketched in the bar at Powell Symphony Hall Friday night while Danny was talking about Mahler.

The red dot marks a zit, added at his insistence, in the interest of versimillitude. The sketched is signed by the subject.

Let me emphasize that Danny was not on the gig Friday night - one would not expect the principal cellist to be drinking a Schlafly ale in the concert hall bar just before a show.

I was talking just the other day about Mahler's song settings, his poetry scores, which must be why I brought up Mahler with Danny. It hit a nerve with him, and he spoke at length with little additonal prodding.

Every symphony musician loves Mahler. It's really an adventure. Every Mahler symphony is like an epic, like the Lord of the Rings trilogy - you know you're going to go on an adventure. The replay value is really high in a Mahler symphony, you always learn new things by playing it again. You can hear the culture in it. You can really hear the world he lived in. And when you see the score, there is a lot going on - there is all this shit going on, but it has heart. You get chills, I get chills. And he's got those glasses the guy in The Matrix was wearing!
An image of our conversation survives. I was at Powell with a group of writers hosted by the Symphony for Blogger's Night II. My fellow blogger, Julie Dill, apparently found Danny and myself to be bloggable material.

I'm the guy with the beer belly and the sketch pad.


This piece was produced for Eddie Silva and The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra Publications Department as part of its online media effort, "Blogger's Night II."

Companion pieces:

SLSO Blogger's Night II: an adventure with friends

Maria chanted, Henry translated, Kaija scored, David directed, Karita sang, I assigned, Leyla drew

I always have fun drawing pictures of David Robertson

Composition for orchestra and psychedelic mushroom

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Maria chanted, Henry translated, Kaija scored, David directed, Karita sang, I assigned, Leyla drew

This is a collaboration between my daughter Leyla Fern and myself.

Last night at Powell Symphony Hall I copied down favorite lines from the Maria Sabina chant/text while I was trying to follow the poetry score to it, "Mirage" by Kaija Saariaho, performed by the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, under the musical direction of David Robertson.

"I am the lady doll," Maria Sabina chanted.

"Because I can swim in all forms," Maria Sabina chanted, and Henry Munn translated.

Fortunately, swimming in all forms is something Leyla draws, or does, almost every day.

"I am I am I am the sacred," Maria Sabina chanted, Henry Munn translated, and Kaija Saariaho scored.

I modulated "the sacred" to Leyla as "God", when we were working out her assignment. I'll leave Leyla's wholly undirected, personal portrait of God to speak for itself, reserving extended commentary for another time.

"I am the shooting star," Maria Sabina chanted, Henry Munn translated, Kaija Saariaho scored, and Karita Mattila sang in front of a soaring Saint Louis Symphony orchestra, in counterpoint to Anssi Karttunen on cello, under the musical direction of David Robertson.

And Leyla drew, in the dentist's office this morning.


This piece was produced for Eddie Silva and The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra Publications Department as part of its online media effort, "Blogger's Night II."

A companion piece, SLSO Blogger's Night II: an adventure with friends, is to be found on that there Confluence City.

In a preview post, I have more to say about the origins of Maria Sabina's chants.

A nice taste of "Mirage" may be heard on its publisher's website.

Notes and sketches to be continued, with the last piece on last night's program. Also, the band hits the same program again 3 p.m. Sunday, March 29, then takes the show on the road to Carnegie Hall (April 4).

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Composition for orchestra and psychedelic mushroom

The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra - as I will be the first to tell you - is pretty far out, under the musical direction of David Robertson. But I am thinking this weekend, for the first time, the orchestra will perform a setting of a poem written by a mushroom.

The composition in question is "Mirage" by Kaija Saariaho, which the orchestra will perform Friday night and Sunday afternoon to air out an inspired program that they are taking to Carnegie Hall on April 4.

"Mirage" sets a text by Mazatec shaman Maria Sabina. Her translator into English, Henry Munn, summarizes the traditional wisdom on shamanic performance: "It is the mushrooms speaking through them."

Maria Sabina, a mystic from Oaxaca, drew her visionary poems from the sacred mushroom (psilocybin), which was introduced to the U.S. via the banker (R. Gordon Wasson) who recorded her chants.

I can't find the text used for "Mirage," but here is a taste of Maria Sabina from Jerome Rothenberg's great anthology Shaking the Pumpkin (in Henry Munn's translation):

She is a Book woman
Ah Jesusi
hmm hmm hmm
hmm hmm hmm
so so so
Lord clown woman
Clown woman beneath the sea
Clown woman

Banker meets magic mushroom shaman in the preservation of Maria Sabina's otherworldly language - and cello mashes up with soprano in Saariaho's setting of it.

In the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra performance of "Mirage" - the U.S. premiere - Anssi Karttunen will play cello Karita Mattila is the soprano.

I'll be in Powell Symphony Hall to see the show, along with a poet with his own visionary travels and texts, K. Curtis Lyle. We will be guests of the Symphony on Blogger's Night II.


The Henry Munn quote is lifted from Jerome Rothenberg's blog.

A nice taste of "Mirage" may be heard on its publisher's website.

Mushroom image from a Maria Sabina site.

Torch at Pistol: One-man Surrealist show

The hardest-working man in St. Louis Surrealism - Andrew Torch - has a one-man show of recent work coming up at the PSTL Gallery @ Pace.

Please join Andy for the opening reception Friday, April 10, 6 - 9 p.m. The PSTL Gallery is now located by the Contemporary and the Pulitzer (next block), 3842 Washington Blvd.

I am marking the calendar and aim to bring my child, an avowed fan of Surrealism, though she doesn't know it by that name. I believe her closest approximate term is "Scribble Scrabble".

Andy's news belongs on the Poetry Scores blog because he is a faithful contributor to our Art Invitationals. This is all the more admirable because he works at a glacial pace (by his own account), and our shows tends to be more "friend"raiser than "fund"raiser.

Psst, Andy, don't forget to pick a phrase from The Sydney Highrise Variations and start making your painting for this year's Art Invitational. November is right around the corner for a glacially paced Surrealist painter.

Andy also is one of the nicest people one will ever meet, further proof that talent and edgy artistic interests does not mean you get to behave like an egocentric jackass.


The image is of The General Takes a Wife, from the Torch Art website, which lists this spectacular excursion as SOLD. Thanks jeepers somebody is selling something.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

(Your name here, Arthur Rimbaud)

I have it on good authority that winter 2008-2009 has come to a close.

It has me thinking about something that Arthur Rimbaud once imagined doing "all winter," which he would now be done doing, I suppose, had he been doing it last winter.

It's from the one Rimbaud poem I have tried to set to music. The title is usually translated as "A Winter Dream":

All winter we’ll wander in a red wagon
With cushions of blue.
Nice and warm. With a nest of creepy kisses
Just for us two.

You shut your eyes and won’t look out the window
Where shadows lurk:
Hordes of black wolves and black demons and nightmares
Inhabit the dark.

And then in panic suddenly you feel
A little kiss, like a scared spider, crawl
Across your cheek…

You turn to help me find the beast,
And of course I promise to do my best,
If it takes all week …
I found on some list-serv this translation, which obviously is the one I had in hand when I was writing the song. It doesn't list the translator, and I don't remember the bloke. Sorry.

Free mp3

"All winter we'll wander"
(Chris King, Arthur Rimbaud)
Chris King

Really, I don't know why more people don't go in for this poetry scores stuff! Who could resist having a songwriting credit like "(Your name here, Arthur Rimbaud)"? And who is going to stop you? Not Rimbaud!

Not that I am so crazy about Rimbaud. French poetry in English translation usually sucks. And Charles Nicholl's book on Rimbaud in Africa puts the kebosh on romanticizing this guy.


Rambo/Rimbaud image courtesy of the CBC.

Konch/us/nest of possibility and Eugene B. Redmond

My old friend Eugene B. Redmond can be a man of few words, when it comes to emails. But at least they tend to be his own words. As in, words he invented!

wow/yeah . . . righteous konch/us/nest . . . easy . . . ebr
Thus was his response to a recent post I had sent him about our work with Poetry Scores.

"konch/us/nest" is evidently the poet's way of saying "consciousness" while importing a whole raft of positive cultural values: the sea, sea life, African ways of making music from the sea and the remnants of sea life, summoning the ancestors, togetherness, collective consciousness, and nurturing.

Not bad for one little madeup word.

Thanks, Eugene.

Eugene B. Redmond, for those who don't know, is a pioneering poet, critic, performer, professor, and anthologist and (now) a literary celebrity photographer.

I have known him for more than twenty years, and he had as much to do with shaping my "konch/us/nest" and sense of possibility as anyone.


The image of Eugene (looking like a pioneering poet in a beret) and me (looking like a drunk kid with a can of Budweiser and a beer spill on my shirt) is from 1989, at the book party for the Miles Davis autobiography that Quincy Troupe did. Another story ...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Mahler tooting the Youth's Magic Horn

Setting poetry to music is as old as poetry and music. I assume they were initially one and the same, integrated in the bardic or prophetic process. Then, as soon as poetry was isolated from music as pure language, I expect musicians started playing with it right away.

I think our form of the poetry score - a long poem scored as one scores a film - is a new development in this ancient exchange between artistic media. It adds a new approach, with elements of collage and a broad pallete of 20th century musical influences, but it joins a long tradition. One big part of the tradition is the classical song setting, or lied.

I have only started to learn about lied in looking for historical roots and parallels for what we do in Poetry Scores. I must admit I find much of it off-putting, for the classically trained and modulated voice so often strikes me as contrived, just the opposite of the plangent emotion I crave in poetry.

Still, I am trying to learn about this stuff - and learn from it.

Today, my ears perked up while listening to KUSC (Los Angeles), an excellent classical music station that has been our constant companion in the car during a two-week working vacation in L.A. The announcer was talking about Mahler's song settings from a text that I didn't recognize by name and couldn't follow (the title seemed to be in German).

When we got back to the hotel, after an afternoon of driving on the Pacific Coast Highway, I looked up the KUSC website and was delighted to find an updated playlist. KUSC had been spinning five of Mahler's settings from Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth's Magic Horn), a collection of German folk poems edited by Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano and published in the very early 19th century.

The performance was by the San Francisco Symphony, with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting and Thomas Hampson, a baritone, singing the settings. It is part of that symphony's monstrously ambitious Mahler recording project that has sold more than 100,000 CDs and won four Grammy awards, according to an August 2008 press release.

Hampson also has done a duet recording of songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn with the pianist Geoffrey Parsons. The Listening Station on Hampson's website has their recording of "Urlicht" (Primal Light), which was one of songs I heard him do with the San Francisco Symphony on KUSC today.

An impressive database of lieder texts and information of their settings provides an English translation of "Urlicht" by Ahmed E. Ismail:

O little red rose,
Man lies in greatest need,
Man lies in greatest pain.
Ever would I prefer to be in heaven.
Once I came upon a wide road,
There stood an Angel who wanted to turn me away.
But no, I will not be turned away!
I came from God, and will return to God,
The loving God who will give me a little light,
To lighten my way up to eternal, blessed life!
I think I'll have to take a crack at setting that one myself! I think it wants to be a scruffy American folk song too!

The Hyperion Records page about its release of Stephan Genz (baritone) and Roger Vignoles (piano) performing Mahler's settings features a listening section of excerpts, with a link to a beautiful PDF of Vignoles' liner notes with new translations of the texts.

Cover to Des Knaben Wunderhorn from the University of Heidelberg.

"If it's ever spring again, spring again"

Yesterday being the first day of spring, I thought about this powerful poem by Thomas Hardy, the British writer we usually think of a novelist.

"If it's ever spring again"
Thomas Hardy

If it's ever spring again,
Spring again,
I shall go where went I when
Down the moor-cock splashed, and hen,
Seeing me not, amid their flounder,
Standing with my arm around her;
If it's ever spring again,
Spring again,
I shall go where went I then.

If it's ever summer-time,
With the hay crop at the prime,
And the cuckoos - two - in rhyme,
As they used to be, or seemed to,
We shall do as long we've dreamed to,
If it's ever summer-time,
With the hay, and bees achime.
I set this to music about five and a half years ago. I can date it with some confidence because my daughter, who is about to turn six now, is obviously an infant when she wakes up and growls in the middle of this take I found on an old songwriting tape.

Free mp3

"If it's ever spring again"
(Chris King, Thomas Hardy)
Chris King

The last working group of Three Fried Men that played out was performing this song. We have talked about putting together a working group again, and I'd want to revive this song. It's fun to sing. The poem itself is the most elegant thing I can ever remember reading about sex.

Thomas Hardy, by the way, is forever linked in my memory with a gratuitius act of theft. The time I went - accidentally - AWOL from the U.S. Navy and never returned, I had a book checked out of the ship's library. I believe I still have it, somewhere - a hardback copy of his novel Far from the Madding Crowd, stamped "USS Saipan," a ship since decommissioned.


Moorcock image by James Parker from a site of heraldic symbols.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Assigned listening at Lindenwood University

This thing about our band Eleanor Roosevelt's song settings of texts from Technicians of the Sacred being assigned to college students seems to be going around.

This, from my old friend Michael Castro, a pioneering poet, translator, and critic.

Thanks for sending me yr post with the musical settings from Technicians of the Sacred. I love them. Been sitting here listening over & over & trying to find the originals in the text.

It took a minute but I did & could see how you stayed true yet felt free to MAKE IT NEW. Just how Jerry R & Richard Johnny John would've wanted you to. Have you sent a copy to Jerry yet & gotten a response? I can get you his email address if you need it.

I am doing a tutorial now with a young poet who is a student atLindenwood -- going through Technicians of the Sacred & spinning off into other things. So your extension of it is timely. I'd like to play your pieces for him. We're getting on to contemporary applications & this is the latest & gotta be among the greatest.

Keep 'em comin'.

If you caught us in the middle of this movie, of this poetry score, let me break it all down, briefly.

Eleanor Roosevelt: my band from the mid-1990s that evolved into Three Fried Men, the house band for song settings on Poetry Scores.

Technicians of the Sacred: epochal anthology of worldwide ritual and mythic performance presented on the page as poetry, edited by Jerome Rothenberg.

Jerry R: Jerome Rothenberg. His friends call him "Jerry". Michael Castro is his friend. I aspire to that status and only logistics seem to keep me from achieving it.

Richard Johnny John: A Senecan man who worked with Jerry on a world-changing set of translations of songs from the Seneca's Society for Mystic Animals.

As for Michael Castro himself, I know him from St. Louis poetry circles. I was a boy poetry impressario when he was a mid-career poet in town who had been a significant part of the post-modern, multicultural Beat awakening.

Michael doesn't seem to have a web presence commensurate to his varied accomplishments over the years, but I will pay him a high compliment in saying his recent work is his best: his cotranslations of Hungarian poetry (with Gabor G. Gyukics) published in the anthology Swimming in the Ground.

As for the song settings in question ... let me repost.

Free mp3s

Head in a hummingbird's nest"
Lyrics: Quecha trad., trans. W.S. Merwin
Music: Chris King, Lij
Performed by: Eleanor Roosevelt
Produced by: Meghan Gohil

Lyrics: Alonzo Gonzales (Yucatec Maya), Allan F. Burns
Music: Matt Fuller, Chris King, Lij, John Minkoff
Performed by: Eleanor Roosevelt
Produced by: Meghan Gohil

Both songs appear on Eleanor Roosevelt, Walker With His Head Down (Skuntry, 2007), which is available at independent shops in St. Louis and via digital download.


Lindenwood jersey from some dude's Flickr site.

Hanging with Crane in Redondo Beach

We have here some initial visual evidence of the existence of Crane, a veteran Southern Californian improvisatory musician and new contributer to Poetry Scores. This is Crane posed yesterday afternoon at Naja's beer bar in Redondo Beach (just up the Pacific Coast Highway from his home) with my daughter and wife.

Why no picture with me, his upstart producer? Because no one asked for that pose, and I am not one to go seeking for pictures of myself, particularly here in my early middle age, when my hair keeps getting shorter and thinner and my nose longer and more hooked.

Crane met me to hand off the l.p. homage to nada that his band Tragicomedy did in 1983 on New Alliance Records, the imprint founded by his friends in the pioneering San Pedro post-punk band The Minutemen. More about that release later, as I transfer the recordings from vinyl to mp3 and petition Crane for the priviledge of bootblogging selections.

Crane and I had but a minute - two hurried beers - to chat yesterday, so my family could honor a dinner date in Silver Lake with my friend Heather Crist, former barmaid at seminal St. Louis indie rock venue Cicero's Basement Bar.

Crane probably would have played at Cicero's, back in the day, had d. boon of The Minutemen lived a little longer. At the time d. boon was killed in a van accident (on Dec. 22, 1985), he had begun to indulge more and more in his fondness for improvisatory, post-progressive rock with Crane and their mutual friend, Richard Derrick. See the jams Richard released on d. boon & friends to hear where they were headed together.

Crane has performance credits on The Minutemen record Project Mersh, and he toured with the band and Black Flag to promote it. He played trumpet with The Minutemen, his first instrument, though Crane also is a crack bassist, guitarist and who knows what all else - a musician. We are very lucky to have him and Richard Derrick in the Poetry Scores orbit.

Just before I had to split, Crane started to open up yesterday about his cameo in post-punk history. "Can you believe I drove The Minutemen to San Francisco in a car that wouldn't go in reverse?" he asked.

I didn't have time to stick around for the story, but even in its fragmentary state it has a poignant aptness. We are going in reverse when we revisit these old memories of dead friends and defunct bands. I can tell from spending only brief snatches of two afternoons with Crane that he really isn't very interested in going in reverse. He isn't living in the past, but in the present and the future.

However, I thank him and Richard warmly for letting us live in the past of their music and revive it in our poetry scores. Here are two of their jams from a warehouse party in North Hollywood from March 26, 1988 - almost precisely twenty-one years ago. I invite fans of The Minutement to mix in d. boon mentally - he probably would have been on the gig, had he been on the planet at the time.

Free mp3s

"The Big Spin"
(Crane, Richard Derrick)
Another Umbrella

"Improvisation in A"
(Crane, Richard Derrick)
Another Umbrella

Crane - bass
Richard Derrick - guitar, drum tape
Medium: cassette (soundboard)

These are culled from a vast, twenty-nine disc archive of Another Umbrella that Richard edited and shared with us. I carry around my own multi-disc compilation of favorites when I travel, forever listening for more uses to make of this fabulous stuff.

Richard has released eleven volumes of Another Umbrella that are available via digital download on his Box-o-Plenty site.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dan's movie, with the assistance of our Espoontoon

Poetry Scores cofounder Matt Fuller and I confirmed a barbecue appointment for Saturday afternoon at the home of Dan Mirvish, here in Culver City, where my family is staying (it's an ideal location for daytrips in and around L.A.).

I should probably spend some time on Dan's website, since he is a protean guy and must have done all sorts of things I don't know about or have forgotten. My connection to him is through Matt and John Minkoff, who played with us in the bands Enormous Richard and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Thanks to that connection and the absence of a budget, Dan came to use a bunch of Eleanor Roosevelt songs on the soundtrack to his first film, Omaha: The Movie. I haven't seen Omaha in years (and hope to cadge a DVD copy from Dan on Saturday), but it is a well made and highly personal film and we have always been proud to hear our songs all over it.

Dan made the most use out of our song "Espoontoon," a sturdy piece of shitkicker country punk. It illustrates the big stockyard chase scene, and then enjoys a reprise during the closing credits, which we took to be a compliment.

"Espoontoon" fulfills the mission of Poetry Scores, which is to translate poetry into other media. It is a song setting of a fragment of Meriwether Lewis' journal. Lewis didn't fancy himself a poet, though we can make that judgment for him after the fact. The lyrics to "Espoontoon" - taken verbatim from the journals - are starkly poetic.

had scarcely reached a place
on which I could stand
with tolerable safety
with the assistance of my espoontoon
before I heard a voice
behind me cry out
"God, God captain,
what shall I do?"

The lines breaks reflect my pauses in the vocal line. I haven't seen the actual manuscript of the journal and have no idea how Lewis broke this up on the page on June 7, 1805, when he made the note.

The espoontoon is a spear-like weapon. Lewis used it in this episode to save his butt from falling off a cliff. The previous month he had used it to kill a rattlesnake and William Clark used his espoontoon to kill a wolf, just days apart.

Our song "Espoontoon" has had a vivid little life. In addition to illustrating a chase scene and closing credits in a movie, it appears on Hellbent, the second anthology of "Insurgent Country" issued by Bloodshot Records in Chicago.

That's one of many reasons I am puzzled why our bands never appear in histories of alt.country. Most of the other bands on that compilation (The Waco Brothers, Old 97's, Bottlerockets, Robbie Fulks ...) are hailed as twang icons, and we released our first tape the same summer Uncle Tupelo released their first CD, No Depression. We also had a Carter Family cover on ours ("Gospel Ship"). Go figure.

"Espoontoon" also made its way onto the Eleanor Roosevelt CD Walker With His Head Down (recorded in 1993, released - ooops! - in 2007), which is available at independent shops in St. Louis and via digital download.

Free mp3
(Matt Fuller, Chris King, Meriwther Lewis, Lij, John Minkoff)
Eleanor Roosevelt

Produced by Meghan Gohil


Image of the espoontoon from Meyers Konversationslexikon (1888). I seem to have misread the word when writing the song - it's really "espontoon" or "spontoon" - but it's my song and I am sticking to it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Assigned listening at the University of Florida

The good news: two of our song settings of poems have been assigned at the University of Florida!

The bad news: that doesn't necessarily mean much of anything.

You see, I was a child academic, a college professor at a tender age (and at a terribly expensive university). So I know as well as anyone that it's not necessarily significant to be assigned or taught in the college classroom.

Teaching writing, for example, I once assigned a piece of short fiction that had appeared in a campus literary magazine. I remember its title, "The Cow," but not the author (I'd sorely like to lay my eyes on it again).

When I brought the author into class, it turned out to be a lesson in the relative irrelevance of authorial intent. I led a long discussion of the story that found all manners of meaning in it, and then we interviewed the author, who was only a few years older than my freshman students. Turns out, the guy was inarticulate when put on the spot - he had basically nothing to say about what his story meant or why he wrote it.

And then there was the time I assigned the Carl Reiner/Steve Martin comedy The Jerk in my "Self and Identity in African-American Literature" course. Recall, Martin's script begins with the very white hero declaring, "I was born a poor black child ..." This leads to a spirited spoof on race-based identity, which ... my 18-year-old students were totally not ready to take seriously, at least not coming from a child academic who himself was not even black (though I was certainly poor).

Anyway, a couple of days ago I put up a post about two song settings my band Eleanor Roosevelt did from Technicians of the Sacred, Jerome Rothenberg's great anthology of poetry culled from ritual and ceremonial sources. I sent the post to Jerry Rothenberg and to the translator of one of the two pieces, Allan F. Burns (the other translator, W.S. Merwin, is more elusive).

Allan wrote back:

Thanks, Chris, for the link. I’ve shared it with my class since I’m teaching “Language and Culture” this term. All the best and I hope your music is going well.
Allan is Professor of Anthropology and Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

The piece he collected and translated that we set to music is "Perhaps" by a man named Alonzo Gonzales, who is Yucatec Maya. It appeared on the Eleanor Roosevelt record Walker With His Head Down (Skuntry, 2007), which is available at independent shops in St. Louis and via digital download.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Love was Roque Dalton's other country

The candidate put up by a political party formed by the merger of several revolutionary guerilla organizations was elected the new president of El Salvador on Sunday.

Mauricio Funes, of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, beat out Rodrigo Avila of the ruling conservative Arena party.

Frankly, I don't expect most people to care about the political vicissitudes of a tiny Central American nation, even if U.S. tax dollars paid for a lot of covert warfare down there. I myself care today mostly because Roque Dalton was Salvadorean.

Dalton was a great poet and courageous revolutionary. His fellow Salvadorean poet Claribel Alegria has summarized his life better than I could ever hope to, in her preface to Small Hours of the Night, the selection of Roque's poems in translation published by my friends at Curbstone Press.

It's difficult to say whether Roque would be dancing in his grave at the news of the election. It takes immense patience with an alphabet's soup of acronyms for revolutionary organizations to follow the history of resistance in El Salvador. I do know that the party of the new president is an umbrella group that includes the revolutionary sect that executed Roque Dalton in 1975.

However, the poet was killed by hardline militants who disagreed with his more longterm strategy for organizing a mass movement, so the revolution's evolution into a political party with a large enough base to win a national election in a way fulfills the struggle that Roque Dalton died for.

As a poet, I don't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Roque Dalton, but I did use a quote from his work as the epigraph to my chapbook, A Heart I Carved for a Girl I Knew.

Love is my other country
the primary one
not the one I'm proud of
the one I suffer
Roque Dalton was, in fact, a great love poet. In my song settings to his poetry, I have concentrated on his love poems. Pardon me for saying that love takes to poetry - and to song - better than revolution does.

Here are two of my settings of his verse - a sketch on guitar, and an unreleased band recording. Neither source poem bears the same title I chose for the song, and I don't have a copy of Small Hours of the Night handy to check the reference. I heartily recommend you go get your own copy of that priceless book and see for yourself.

Free mp3s

"Soul of a boy who still wants to play with you"
(Chris King, Roque Dalton)
Chris King

Captured from a cassette, with tape speed issues making me sound slightly chipmunkesque.

(Chris King, Roque Dalton)
Three Fried Men

Chris King: vocals and guitar. Lij: guitar. Dave Melson: bass. John Minkoff: electric guitar. Billy Teague: drums.

Recorded live at the old Undertow studio in downtown St. Louis.


Picture of Roque Dalton from Daniel Casado's blog.

p.s. The long poem by Roque Dalton that I always wanted to score, Tavern (Conversatorio), is available online!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cosmic signs and space squirbles

I spent Friday afternoon on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, at the very bottom of Los Angeles County, with Richard Derrick and Crane.

They were the primary motive forces behind the post-progressive rock project Another Umbrella, which we are incorporating into the score for The Sydney Highrise Variations, with even larger roles imagined for future scores.

Richard sent me a whopping thirty-nine CDs of their material that he had culled and edited over the years. I have listened to it all and made extensive notes, so I'll know where to look as I start to assemble what I need.

One phrase that comes up a lot in my notes is "space squirbles"; another is "space shimmer". There is a lot of spacey squirbling and shimmering going on with Another Umbrella. I love it.

Not surprising, then, that Crane - whom I was meeting for the first time - told me a UFO story, as we sucked down tall, delicious beers at Naja's Place, a harberfront hang in Redondo Beach. It's about something odd that happened one night he and Martin Tamburovich drove from San Pedro to sit in with The Minutemen at a gig in The Valley.

Crane took the time to write up his memory with precision and post it online, so I'll direct you to his short story, "A Cosmic Sign," which has a companion illustration that he also has uploaded. This illustration - the "cosmic sign" of the story title - adorns his business card, which he gave me, and which I will gleefully curate into my rather hip and happening business card collection.

I have a whole lot more to say about my day with these creative souls, but I'm trying to hold off until I get my pictures developed and scanned. I thought the above drawing, UFO Visitation, goes along well enough with Crane's story, though (disregarding the gratuitous interstellar violence).

This piece is the work of a subway artist named Joseph, who used to draw and sell his work in a tunnel under Manhattan. May still, for all I know.

To set the mood, here is some cool space squirbling from Another Umbrella!

Free mp3

"Improvisation in E"
(Crane, Richard Derrick)
Another Umbrella

Crane on bass
Richard Derrick on guitar

The first part of a five-track excursion recorded at KXLU (Los Angeles) on September 4, 1994. That's 9/4/1994 - pretty far out for a space squirble!

Richard has eleven volumes of Another Umbrella available for digital download via his Box-o-Plenty imprint. I am careful to avoid tracks he has released on those volumes when bootblogging his tunes here. Not so difficult, when I have thirty-nine volumes to pick from!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Two songs from 'Technicians of the Sacred'

I am embarked on a sojourn in Los Angeles long enough for me to look up some of the people out here I have thought about for years, and first on that list is the poet, translator, and anthologist Jerome Rothenberg.

It's a trip how I got into Rothenberg. One of my high school buddies, Sean McGovern, turned me onto Rothenberg's 1968 anthology Technicians of the Sacred. Sean is a bright guy from Granite City, but not known for his love of the classroom or of literature. But this book - poetic presentations of world myth and ritual - really grabbed him, when he was assigned it at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville.

He loaned it to me, his literature major buddy at the allegedly more prestigious Washington University. It changed my life - and my songwriting - forever, much more than my own formal studies had managed to do. Reading these gritty, hilarious, profound probings into the sacred from every native corner of the earth, I wanted my songs to be more like their songs.

So I began setting their words to music. I am still doing so.

Jerry - as his friends know Rothenberg - and I have a mutual friend, in the poet and translator Michael Castro. It slipped my mind to ask Michael for an introduction to Jerry before I got on the plane, though I thought about Jerry during the flight and had every intention of tracking him down once I got out here. I seemed to remember he taught at USC.

My first night in town, I did a studio session at Hollywood Recording Studio with my old friend Meghan Gohil. And what did he leave sitting out on the table for me to notice and take with me? The copy of Technicians of the Sacred I had lent to him!

I suppose it was nothing more than a coincidence, though I enjoy coincidences, and when a coincidence pertains to a collection of sacred texts that has become personally sacred to me, then just try to stop me from taking it as a sign of ... something. Maybe just that I'm on the right path.

That path doesn't lead to Jerry Rothenberg's door, not on this journey. He did invite me to meet with him - but in San Diego, where he teaches at the U. Cal. campus there. I let him know that this trip is all about fulfilling at least some of my outrageous love for Los Angeles, and promised I would make it to San Diego next time.

I also told him I would start posting mp3s of our song settings of texts he had anthologized or translated. Here are two from Technicians of the Sacred - the poems appear a mere eight pages apart in the 636-page tome that is the beautiful (and still in print!) 1985 University of California Press edition.

Free mp3s

"Head in a hummingbird's nest"

Lyrics: Quecha trad., trans. W.S. Merwin
Music: Chris King, Lij
Performed by: Eleanor Roosevelt
Produced by: Meghan Gohil


Lyrics: Alonzo Gonzales (Yucatec Maya), Allan F. Burns
Music: Matt Fuller, Chris King, Lij, John Minkoff
Performed by: Eleanor Roosevelt
Produced by: Meghan Gohil

Both songs appear on Eleanor Roosevelt, Walker With His Head Down (Skuntry, 2007), which is available at independent shops in St. Louis and via digital download.


U Penn has uploaded mps of the 40th anniversary reading in honor of Technicians of the Sacred held at the Bowery Poetry Club.

The signs of a Mayan ritual cycle are from Ancient Scripts.

Quizzical music scene p.s.: My Granite City buddy Sean McGovern who sent me down this path is the front man of Paint the Earth, for many years the most popular cover band in St. Louis. Meghan reports that they now perform their own songs.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Three Fried Men and Orhan Veli buy old clothes

This is a used sweater that Matt Fuller bought me yesterday at a Jewish resale shop in Little Ethiopia here in Los Angeles. It is chilly in L.A. this week, and I foolishly traveled from St. Louis with almost no warm clothing.

We both immediately recognized an irony, when Matt called me from the resale shop - he was buying me old clothes the day after we worked on a song called "I Buy Old Clothes".

The song is the setting of an Orhan Veli poem of the same name, as translated by Murat Nemet-Nejat. Orhan Veli was one of the fathers of modern Turkish poetry. Along with his friends Melih Cevdet and Oktay Rifat, he innovated a startlingly simple and offhanded style that liberated poetry from the stuffy, stagnant formalism of Ottoman conventions.

Their literary movement was called Garip, a Turkish word that means both "strange" and "lonesome". I think just about any artist would have to smile in recognition at that concept; we are all a little strange and lonesome.

I set the poem to a melody working from a guitar tape Matt had sent me from Los Angeles. In this case, it was a guitar and accordion tape, and my vocal melody follows his accordion line pretty closely.

We worked on the recording years ago with our third fried man, Lij, recording with Meghan Gohil at Hollywood Recording Studio, his house in a scrappy Hollywood neighborhood dominated by Armenians. We are aware of the irony of scoring Turkish poetry in a neighborhood full of Armenians.

On Wednesday night, after I made The St. Louis American deadline by remote, Matt and I went over to Meghan's studio and worked on "I Buy Old Clothes". It needed a baseline, but in working up a bassline Matt also imagined a better drum part than he had previously recorded, so he did a new drum part too.

These takes are not final, but this rough mix gives a sense of the song and where we are headed with it.

Free mp3

"I Buy Old Clothes"
(Matt Fuller, Chris King,
Murat Nemet-Nejat,
Orhan Veli)
Three Fried Men

Recorded by Meghan Gohil
Hollywood Recording Studio

We are roughly this far along in recording six settings of Orhan Veli songs, which we should release as an e.p. when they are finished - whenever that will be.

A large selection of Murat's translations of Orhan Veli is available online. These translations were published in a nice little volume by Hanging Loose Press that remains in print.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Letter from Richard Alan Krieger, aka Crane

I am in Los Angeles on a little working vacation - today, that means I worked all day on The St. Louis American, I just did it in a hotel in L.A. rather than a newsroom in St. Louis. Which was a little weird.

On Friday it looks like I will be able to cut loose from the family and get down to San Pedro to see Richard Derrick and to meet Richard Alan Krieger, who records under the name "Crane," a nickname from his landscaping days (according to his bio).

My songwriting partner Matt Fuller and I met Richard Derrick in Pedro some years ago, and we have been in touch ever since. The recording of Richard's early 1980s band Middle Sleep he gave us has proved to be very useful to Poetry Scores. More recently, he sent me a vast archive of his other projects, including many volumes of improvisations by Another Umbrella, his project with Crane.

I look forward to meeting Crane and buying them both dinner on Poetry Scores' nickel. I already knew that Crane had played in suporting roles with The Minutemen. His bio tells me that his high school music teacher studied with the world-renowned classical trumpeter Rafael Mendez, who in his youth played regularly for Pancho Villa.

Anybody who was friends with d. boon and is one degree of separation away from Pancho Villa sounds like a good candidate for a friend of mine.

Here is an excerpt from Crane's letter of introduction to me, which gives a flavor of the kind of guy he is. A cool one, it seems.

Thank you so very much for taking the time to go through our large sonic archive and supporting our music, long ago recorded on tape recorders that were once the rage of the "Home Studio Revolution."

There's even more good stuff Richard has in our archives like one of my favorite projects, that of the bizarre quirky instrumental songs of our conceptual group "Kangaroo Court" whose songs were mostly based on Casio keyboard machines (as the basic track) which were a "funny new thing" to play with at the time (see/hear the D. Boon & Friends CD, which shows some of that playful fun).

Your poetry projects sound very cool and I'd like to learn/experience more about them. And the combining of music with poetry from other times and places may not always work (as you well know), but when it does it can turn into something completely new and special as extradimensional as a perception.

Recently I found some good websites to promote my music, writings andart work. so I put them all together to make-up my current resume (see below). Regarding my musical website, although the recordings vary in quality (from what I had equipment-wise at the time), the essence of the feeling I strived to create at the time remains the same.

As to my lyrical songs, I hope to market them to up and coming groups/singers. I'm not much into performing these days and much prefer composing which is closer to my heart at this time in my life.

Take care and I look forward to our get together.
Crane's "resume"


Photo by Crane is from his Flickr.

Monday, March 9, 2009

"Six hundred glittering and genteel towns"

One of the last things I did as a denizen of MySpace was to get into a prolonged, but good-natured, message exchange with a stranger on the subject of rocking at an advanced age.

MySpaz had nabbed an exclusive of a new U2 video. I thought the video was horrid, not only because it was built around the aging rockers lip-synching their song, though surely that was enough to ruin it. I said so.

A man rushed to the band's defense, reminding me that I too might age and want to rock.

I told him I am not young and I do rock, but under no circumstances would I let anyone videotape me lip-synching to one of my own songs. Only young and beautiful people get away with that.

This exchange occured to me when I saw the above picture of myself, looking like the prototype of the aging rocker.

At least I was singing, rather than lip-synching. Adam Long took this picture with what must be a camera eye on his laptop. I remember his aiming a laptop at me while I sang.

I was singing the vocal part I came up with to score the last few lines of Les Murray's great poem The Sydney Highrise Variations. I was singing over a nearly thirty-year-old instrumental by Middle Sleep.

It sounds like this (roughly mixed).

Free mp3

"Six hundred glittering and genteel towns"
(Chris King, Middle Sleep, Les Murray)
Middle Sleep, with Chris King

It was fascinating for me to sing these lines outdoors, on Adam's third-floor patio, overlooking the twinkling lights of Midtown and beyond. Consider the lines I was singing:

Six hundred glittering and genteel towns
gathered to be urban in plein air,
more complex in their levels than their heights
and vibrant with modernity's strange anger.
I wasn't overlooking the urban equivalent of six hundred glittering towns, but I could see six hundred glittering lights from there.

What was I doing cutting a vocal take outside on the patio? It wasn't for the versimilitude of the view. Adam was on a trip. Middle Sleep recorded itself in the early 1980s in a house in Laurel Canyon. As bassist Richard Derrick has observed, it's a miracle that any of this music survived at all. Certainly, it survived in rough sonic form, as house jams.

"They're not the only ones who can sound in rough sonic form," Adam said, though he actually used curse words instead of "in rough sonic form". He said this as he was lugging the mic stand outside. He wanted the noise of the wind and the night to obscure my vocal track the way the noise of the house and the canyon disturb the recording of Middle Sleep.

p.s. Les Murray's biographer and best critic Peter F. Alexander on this bit of the poem, from the essay he wrote for us:

The poem-series concludes with a vision of Sydney as not so much a transplanted foreign city as a gathering of Australian small towns writ large: "Six hundred glittering and genteel towns/gathered to be urban in plein air.

Skill and the shadow: Middle Sleep and Les Murray

I am told this is the only extant photograph of Middle Sleep, which I like to call a post-progressive rock band from Los Angeles, active 1981-1983 from their homebase on Lookout Mountain in mythy old Laurel Canyon.

We have here, left to right: Richard Derrick, our connection to this part of the past; David Wray; Mark Segal; and Pam Stafford.

I call them "post-progressive," because they continued to experiment with some of the ideas opened up by the longform, progressive rock of the 1970s as punks all around them in L.A. (especially in the suburbs) scorned it for urgent simplicities.

Richard Derrick's friend d. boon had a leg in both worlds, jamming on 70s rock with him and Mike Watt, searching out the complexities of the guitar, while also writing and recording furious minute-length punk songs with Watt and George Hurley in The Minutemen.

We knew more about the post-prog side of d. boon after Richard released an archival CD of edited jams, d. boon & friends, which I reviewed for the L.A. Weekly. This, in turn, sent my songwriting partner Matt Fuller and I to San Pedro to visit with Richard, as I describe in the liner notes to Go South for Animal Index (2007), the first poetry score to feature Middle Sleep.

As recent blog posts attest, we are making ample use of Middle Sleep on the score to The Sydney Highrise Variations. There are just so many stretches of the poem where I am stumped for how to score it as sung text and sing it, but when I sort through my jumbled archive of instrumental music that might serve as a musical bed for Les Murray's reading, one of the Middle Sleep improvisations that Richard so skillfully edited raises its hand.

Free mp3

Skill and the shadow
(Middle Sleep, Les Murray)
Middle Sleep, Les Murray

This is a rough mix, unmastered; Grammy man Adam Long will eventually labor over this endlessly to make it sound perfect. Right now, the voice is just dropped in at the places where it goes.

Here is the excerpt of the poem:

When we create our own high style
skill and the shadow will not then part;
as rhetoric would conceal from art
effort has at best a winning margin.
Les' biographer, Peter F. Alexander, explains these lines nicely in the critical essay he wrote for us:

What he longs for is the emergence of an authentic Australian vernacular, not just in architecture but in every kind of national expression. ‘When we create our own high style/ skill and the shadow will not then part’.
Les was writing about his Australia, but we can borrow the sentiment for other unformed regions that don't yet quite know themselves or recognize what is best in them, like St. Louis.

"Skill and the shadow" comes almost at the end of the score; this will be track 24 of 27, and 27 is an instrumental coda.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

"We must fly in potent circles"

Last week Grammy nomination man Adam Long and I got a good rough of a tricky piece in The Sydney Highrise Variations score.

The fragment of the text in question, to be framed under the title “We must fly in potent circles”:

Directly under the flightpath, and tuned to listening,
we hear the cockpit traffis, the black box channel
that can't be switched off: Darwinians and Lawrentians
are wrestling for the controls,
We must take her into Space! We must fly in potent circles!
Les Murray's biographer and preeminent critic Peter F. Alexander, of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, nails this stanza in the essay he wrote just for us:

As he stands on Gladesville Bridge by his paralyzed car, he seems to hear the struggle for the soul of the twentieth century going on in ideological conflict around him. Those who wish to move towards more rapid evolution struggle with those who try to take us back into ourselves: ‘Darwinians and Lawrentians/are wrestling for the controls,/We must take her into space!/ We must fly in potent circles!’
I paired the text with an improvisation from the early 1980s: Middle Sleep making it up as they go along in a house on Lookout Mountain in Laurel Canyon. Les' reading - recorded years before I ever heard Middle Sleep from their bassist, Richard Derrick - fits the pace of the track. It just needed to be chopped and screwed a bit.

Free mp3

"We must fly in potent circles"
(Middle Sleep, Les Murray)
Middle Sleep with Les Murray


The illustration, which I think fits the feel of the track and its title, is Improvisation for Albert Ayler (The Sea) #2 by St. Louis artist Tony Renner.

Friday, March 6, 2009

"In ambiguous battle at length"

When I first talked about scoring The Sydney Highrise Variations with the author of the poem, the great Les Murray from New South Wales, Australia, he immediately came to life.

"The poem begings atop a bridge," he said, more or less (I'm reconstructing this from memory). "I always heard the whistling of the wind, atop that bridge. The whole poem corresponds to sounds, really."

I said when we recorded him reading the poem, we should record him making these sounds. He said he would - and, in time, he did.

When I met Les' biographer and preeminent critic, Peter F. Alexander of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, he was amazed by this news. He said he had never heard of Les consenting to do anything of the sort, ever before.

We get that a lot. Poetry Scores comes in under the radar, with no academic or bureaucratic trappings - just musicians and enthusiasts, attempting to honor poetry in other media. The best poets in the world have agreed to work with us and stretch, a little, their sense of what is possible in collaboration.

Once we had this remarkable recording - the de facto poet laureate of Australia and a future Nobel laureate (as I'm not the first to predict) making mouth music to one of his poems - what to do with it?

I have had this recording for seven years or so. It was in the back of my mind every time I reviewed music for possible use in a poetry score.

Nothing quite clicked, however - until Brett Lars Underwood recruited St. Louis experimental musician Frank Heyer for our project. Amid two discs of Frank's unreleased music, I seized upon a fretless guitar excursion that cried out to be titled "In ambiguous battle at length," a fragment of Les poem.

The more I listened to this piece of music with that title in mind, the more I heard that fretless guitar doing ambiguous battle at length with Les Murray's mouth music.

Adam Long and I put the two together the other night. I love it!

Free mp3

"In ambiguous battle at length"
(Frank Heyer, Les Murray)
Frank Heyer, with Les Murray


Photo by Crane, from his Flickr.

"Employment and neckties and ruling themes"

This song is my sad, old man impersonation. I hope I don't live up to this one!

As I was saying the other day, Adam Long and I tried to drop a fragment of the poet reading onto a piece of improvised music to cover part of the poetry score to Les Murray's The Sydney Highrise Variations.

It didn't work - we needed a more slowly paced reading. So I gave it a shot. We agreed I wasn't the answer, but we did a rough mix with my reading in there, anyway.

In recording parlance, this is a "scratch vocal," left as a guide to what goes where, to the tone and feel (and the melody, in the case of sung text).

The search is still on for someone who sounds genuinely sadder and older and male than I do, though I start to think I could live with my voice on this track as long as we colored it, here and there, with additional voices and affects.

Les' biographer, Peter F. Alexander, writes well about this stretch of the poem in the essay he contributed for the liner notes to our score. He is talking about Sydney's new highrises:

To Murray they represent a monied class to which he does not belong, and to which he does not aspire. ‘Employment and neckties and ruling themes ascended/into the towers. But they never filled them’.
Free mp3

"Employment and neckties and ruling themes"
(Middle Sleep, Les Murray)
Middle Sleep, with Les Murray


Photo from Thom Fletcher's Flickr site.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

"Vanished from the central upsurge" materializes

Last night the Grammy man Adam Long and I had a very productive night in the studio. It was a night when things worked. We arrived at pretty satisfying rough mixes for six tracks on The Sydney Highrise Variations score.

On all of these, I imagined there would be more to them than just the source track and the voice, though these sound pretty good to me just as they are. And, when trying to finish a long, variegated project, something that is finished has the enormous advantage of being finished.

In the interest of stretching out my bloggable material, I will post mp3s of the rough mixes one at a time, with a photograph poached from a friend's Flickr that seems to illustrate the feel of the track. This amazing skyscrape is by Crane, one half of Another Umbrella (along with Richard Derrick), who will have such a large role in future poetry scores.

Free mp3

"Vanished from the central upsurge"
(Matt Fuller, Les Murray)
Three Fried Men, with Les Murray

This is one of those choice guitar parts Matt worked out in his sister's garage in Los Angeles. I have been trying to write a song to this guitar fragment, my God, for fifteen years. Glad it finally found a home.


Photo by Crane, from his Flickr.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Wanted: Sad old man voice; preferably Australian

Monday night I worked in the studio with Adam Long, double-Grammy-nominated recording engineer who does our Poetry Scores projects pro bono. It's a brotherly love, artistic validity thing.

We have a whole lot of work to do on the band songs for the Sydney Highrise Variations score we started without Adam in Nashville, but I had an itch to move toward completion on some of the more experimental pieces.

For these, we have musical miniatures that need to be matched with voice. The music has been procured from our go-to source for evocative weird instrumentals, Middle Sleep, with local experimenter Frank Heyer added to the mix for this score (and from now on). The voice has been provided by the poet himself, Les Murray of Bunyah, New South Wales, Australia.

On Monday night, we encoutered an unexpected hitch. On a Middle Sleep fragment we had set aside for a stretch of the score to be titled "Employment and neckties and ruling themes," we could not get Les' reading to work. The piece unfolds slowly, with a meditative mood; so does the verse. But Les' reading of it is oddly hurried - it doesn't work.

We tried to slow down his reading, but this dropped his voice in tone and slurred his speech. That didn't work either.

I can guess why Les' reading was hurried. I recorded him years ago in Long Island City. The engineer was a Turkish club deejay, doing a favor for a friend of a friend. This guy had the poet laureate of Australia in his apartment, but he was much more attentive to his video game - the guy literally kept his back to Les while Les read, lasering digital enemies with the sound down as this magnificent poem was recorded.

It wasn't the best environment for poet or producer to think about what we were doing. Les was a little rushed, and I clearly wasn't focussed enough on what we needed to catch possible problems and ask him to go back and redo sections with a different pace or phrasing.

No big deal, though. We have precedent for using voices other than the voice of the poet. All we need is to find somebody with a sad, old man voice. Australian preferred. Apply within.

Free mp3s

Sleep improvisation

(Middle Sleep)
Middle Sleep

When we add the sad old man reading to this piece, it will go onto the Sydney Highrise Variations score as "Employment and neckties and ruling themes".

The Sydney Highrise Variations
(Les Murray)
Les Murray

Here is Les' reading of the entire poem.


The sad old man I sketched, above, is the great Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko (at the Chase Park Plaza in St. Louis on my most recent brthday, Nov. 15, 2008). He has a wonderful sad, old man voice - but with a thick Russian accent; wouldn't do. Of course, Pops Farrar would have been the first choice for the voice - but he is dead.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Stanley Bonaparte, Experiential Auction artifact

Meet Stanley Bonaparte.

Stanley is an artifact of the 2008 Experiential Auction, an annual event that benefits Poetry Scores.

Last year we auctioned off the experience of having your pet painted as Napoleon. A nice woman named Gail won the bidding war and submitted photographs of her dog Stanley.

Ryan Frank, aka Friction, working from the photos posted on this blog, executed the above portrait. I'll have to ask him how he refrained from depicting the paw slid inside the vest.

In 2007 we auctioned off your pet painted as the Mona Lisa, and Kevin Belford did a wonderful job with the Mona Bob, the dog of Tom Danforth.

Atomic Cowboy says it wants us back for the 2009 Experiential Auction, most likely this September. You know we will be trying to find an artist to paint the highest bidder's pet as some instantly recognizable publlic figure.

Any ideas?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

A generous, sane, survivor's approach to music

I am happy to report that I am in touch with David Wray, now working in Los Angeles as Grayson Wray. He was one of the motive creative forces behind Middle Sleep, who plays a big (and, I would say, growing) part in our poetry scores.

Middle Sleep was active 1981-1983 in Los Angeles. They improvised, rehearsed and recorded in a house on Lookout Mountain in Laurel Canyon and did gigs in Hollywood and West L.A.

Their bassist, Richard Derrick, gave an archival CD of their edited jams and improvisations to Matt Fuller and myself when we visited him in San Pedro some years ago - and we have been mining them ever since: on the scores to Blind Cat Black and Go South for Animal Index, with even a larger role in the works for The Sydney Highrise Variations.

Here are excerpts from a letter Richard Derrick sent me when I was first asking into permissions for intergrating Middle Sleep into our scores.

I actually got in touch with David Wray, the guitarist/singer/main guy. Hadn't seen or heard from him in years, but about two years ago he ran into me at a club in L.A. and gave me his card. So I called the number on the card, and he's still there, running a recording studio from his home. Seems to be doing well for himself, which is nice to hear.

I told him about your plan, and he has no problem with it. If it's actual songs (where he sings), he'd want something worked out with BMI or ASCAP, but since we're talking about just the jam stuff, he doesn't mind just doing a "copyright control" mention on the liner notes.

Despite not making much of a dent in the club scene, we had a really cool scene going on with friends and well-wishers who'd visit us every week; unfortunately, pretty much all of them have drifted out of our lives, although I might be able to find a couple of them. Who knows, it could be a cool "lost chapter" in the early 1980's L.A. music scene.

Thanks for your interest in our old tapes. Nice to know this stuff didn't just happen in a total void. Looking back, the whole project seemed destined to failure, given both the content of the music and the situations in our lives. When I think of all the times we didn't have a tape recorder going during our bi-weekly jams, and how much more we'd have in the archive, I just remind myself that it's a miracle that any of it even happened in the first place, let alone got captured on tape.
"It's a miracle that any of it even happened in the first place, let alone got captured on tape": what a generous, sane, survivor's approach to making music.

Free mp3

Middle Sleep improvisation
(Middle Sleep)
Middle Sleep

When we add Les Murray's reading to this piece, it will go onto the Sydney Highrise Variations score as "Employment and neckties and ruling themes".

This is the fragment of the poem we are scoring with this piece of music:

Employment and neckties and ruling themes ascended
into the towers. But they never filled them.
Squinting at them through the salt
and much-washed glass of her history, the city kept her flavour
fire-ladder high, rarely above three storeys.

In ambiguous battle at length, she began to hedge
the grilles of Aspiration. To limit them to standing
on economic grounds. With their twists of sculpture.

On similar grounds we are stopped here, still surveying
the ridgy plain of houses.
Actually, Adam Long and I are working tonight on the score, and dropping Les' reading of these lines onto this Middle Sleep piece is on the agenda. I should be able to post the result tomorrow!


Recent photo of Grayson Wray (formerly David Wray) with girl drummer in his band Grayson Wray Project from the band website.

Meet Stella Markou, a new soprano in town

This stunningly beautiful character is one of the newer additions to the extended St. Louis music family - and, it is hoped, to the Poetry Scores collective.

Stella is a soprano and vocal teacher at University of Missouri - St. Louis who is still finishing her graduate degree back in Arizona, even as she tours the country as a performer and produces a spirited student production on campus.

Lest she be mistaken for another pretty face and body, visit her website to hear her sing. You'll want to wrap any precious glasses in soft paper before she hits some of these notes!

The Bell Song
Leo Delibes

Craig Walsh

Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5
Heitor Villa-Lobos

Canto para la partida de los guerreros
Cantata para América Mágica
Alberto Ginastera

Canto de agonía y desolación
Cantata para América Mágica
Alberto Ginastera

I only know about Stella by reporting for The St. Louis American on the student production she is producing. Here is my feature from the current edition of the paper. I am toying with going to see the show on Wednesday so I can introduce myself to Stella and give her some of our CDs in a hope to entice her into the project.

Here is my story:

Opera in color
New UMSL production features ample black talent

By Chris King
St. Louis American

Classical music traditions are struggling to find new, younger, more diverse audiences. They need to ask Stella Markou what her secret is.

Markou – an operatic soprano and director of vocal studies at UMSL – has a new production coming to stage at the Touhil on March 3 and 4 that features (count ‘em) four African-American students: Wyatte Jamison, April Lowe, Jenny Beasley and Audreia Norman.

This beautiful young teacher and performer has glowing things to say about all of them.“Jenny Beasley is a double major, biology and Spanish – she just got back from Spain,” Markou said.

“She is a huge aficionado of opera, but this is her first time staging and doing things.”

Wyatte Jamison also is only dabbling in opera, rather than pursuing a major – he is studying political science, though his director said he plays a “vital role” in one piece and a “pivotal role” in another.

“He is just a joy, an incredible human being overall,” she said of Jamison. “He is a youth leader, sings in a gospel choir and his father is a preacher.”

His father, the Rev. Henry C. Jones, is pastor of Ira Grove Free Will Baptist Church in East St. Louis, where the family lives.

April Lowe comes to the voice from another instrument – she plays bass clarinet in the university symphonic band.

“Last year, she wanted to sing, wanted to learn, though she had no exposure whatsoever,” Markou said.

“I couldn’t fit her in, so I tracked her down this year. This is her first debut in opera, period. She has made quite extraordinary strides.”

Audreia Norman is the one with the operatic name – as in soprano Jessye Norman – and training. She was formerly part of the artist-in-training program at Opera Theater of St. Louis.

“She has a tremendous lyric voice,” Markou said of her.

Markou is directing all of these talents (and more) in UMSL Opera Theatre in an interesting production based on the seven deadly sins titled Desire, Deception and All Things Wicked, incorporating the works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Benjamin Britten, Gioachino Rossini and others.

Opera might sound boring and old-fashioned to those who haven’t developed an ear for art song or an eye for highly theatrical staging, but you wouldn’t think “boring” if you read plot summaries of famous operas or just followed the stories.

There is a reason why they call soap operas “soap operas.” There is a whole lot of loving and cheating and losing going on.

In describing her students’ roles, Markou resorts to descriptions such as “the servant of the wronged wife” and “the forsaken wife who is killed off.”

As for the director herself, Markou served as moderator for the Teatro Lirico D'Europa performance of Aida at UMSL's Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center, and has performed with the Ambassadors of Harmony and Arianna String Quartet.

She is scheduled to sing at a Maria Callas tribute in Boston and in the June staging of the musical Booth in New York, which was composed by UMSL’s own Barbara Harbach and Niyi Coker.

UMSL Opera Theatre will perform Desire, Deception and All Things Wicked 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 3 and Wednesday, March 4 in the E. Desmond and Mary Ann Lee Theater at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center on the UMSL campus. It is free and open to the public.

Call 314-516-5980 or visit http://touhill.org/.