Monday, April 26, 2010

"The Sydney Highrise Variations": the poetry score

This is our poetry score to The Sydney Highrise Variations by the great Australian poet Les Murray. While the CD is still in print and available at our little store to the right, it is our instinct to give music away.

The Sydney Highrise Variations
A poetry score
Poetry by Les Murray

Far above the tidal turnaround
Three Fried Men

Transients at speed
Three Fried Men

Inked in by scaffolding and workers
Three Fried Men

On its vaulting drum
Three Fried Men

Also, it’s a space probe
Three Fried Men

They docked at apogee
Three Fried Men

The new city standing on its haze
Three Fried Men w/ Les Murray

Repeat their lines repeat their lines
Three Fried Men

The peajacket era
Three Fried Men with Les Murray

Vanished from the central upsurge
Middle Sleep w/ Les Murray

Hot-air money driers
Three Fried Men

In the land of veneers
Three Fried Men

The starving spirit is fed upon the heart
Robert Goetz

Employment and neckties and ruling themes
Middle Sleep w/ Les Murray

In ambiguous battle at length
Another Umbrella w/ Les Murray

The C19-20
Three Fried Men w/ Les Murray

The cantilevered behometh
Three Fried Men

In the age of piety
Robert Goetz

We must fly in potent circles
Middle Sleep w/ Les Murray

Breath of catching up
Three Fried Men

Might end, and mutate, and persist
Three Fried Men

Skill and the shadow
Middle Sleep w/ Les Murray

To be solar, I must be nuclear
Three Fried Men w/ Les Murray

Six hundred glittering and genteel towns
Middle Sleep w/ Chris King

Modernity’s strange anger
Frank Heyer


Produced for Poetry Scores by Matt Fuller and Chris King © 2009

Published with a commentary on the poem by Les Murray's biographer Peter F. Alexander.

Recorded by Lij, Adam Long, Richard Derrick, Jonathan Fishberg and Alex the Turkish club deejay from Astoria.


Musician credits

Heidi Dean * vocals (2, 3, 11, 12, 20, 24)

Richard Derrick * bass (22), electric guitar (15)

Thom Fletcher * voice (14)

Jonathan Frishberg * organ (9, 21), percussion (9)

Matt Fuller * acoustic guitar (3, 5, 6, 9, 11, 12), drums (1, 2), electric guitar (4, 8, 10, 16, 17, 21, 23), vocals (4, 16)

Robert Goetz * acoustic guitar (13, 18), vocals (13, 18)

Frank Heyer * electric guitar (25)

Chris King * vocals (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 11, 12, 16, 17, 20, 21, 23, 24), voice (14)

Lij * acoustic guitar (1, 2, 7, 20), drums (2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11, 12, 17, 21, 23), moaning (7), organ (6), piano (16), vocals (6, 16, 17), whistling (6, 20)

Adam Long * percussion (1)

Dave Melson * acoustic guitar (6), bass (1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 11, 12, 16, 17, 21, 23), electric guitar (4), vocals (16)

John Minkoff * electric guitar (2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 21, 23)

Roger Moutenot * drums (16), vocals (16)

Les Murray * voice (7, 10, 14, 16, 19, 22), mouth music (15)

Carl Pandolfi * organ (12), piano (11)

Stefene Russell * voice (14)

M. Segal * drums (19, 22)

Pam Stafford * acoustic 12-string guitar (24), bass (19), keyboards (14, 22)

Christopher Y. Voelker * violin (5, 11, 20)

David Wray * electric guitar (14, 19, 22, 24)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

"Go South for Animal Index": the poetry score

As we start pre-production on the silent movie to our poetry score for Go South For Animal Index, it seems like a good idea to have the score posted for free access to any of the many people who will work on the movie.

Go South for Animal IndexA poetry score
Poetry by Stefene Russell

From the beasts
Three Fried Men

No beast exists
Middle Sleep w/ Stefene Russell

And desire
Three Fried Men

The yellow monster
Three Fried Men

Our hero
Three Fried Men

And the mouth
Amy Camie, Chris King, Adam Lomg

Three Fried Men

The old moon sleeps in the new moon’s arms
Three Fried Men

Weebling through darkness
Three Fried Men

Wheelbarrows, packed full of lightning
Three Fried Men

A corpse as me
Three Fried Men

Atomic Number: 88
Middle Sleep w/ Stefene Russell

And the trees
Three Fried Men

O Doctor Roentgen
Three Fried Men

A death confection
Three Fried Men

Symbol: Po
Middle Sleep w/ Stefene Russell

And the snake continues to bite
Richard Selman w/ Tim McAvin

The new sparkly bark arfs
Three Fried Men

And the oldest trees
Middle Sleep w/ Chris King

Little boys and fat men
Three Fried Men

And nausea burns
Middle Sleep w/ Stefene Russell

Borne on the wind
Three Fried Men

Unusually deep pits
Richard Selman w/ Stefene Russell

On Beast Island
Three Fried Men

Atomic cowboy yodels
Three Fried Men

Symbol: Uuu
Middle Sleep w/ Stefene Russell

Tell me what is the power
Amy Camie, Tim McAvin, Adam Long

The perfect day
Three Fried Men


Produced for Poetry Scores by Matt Fuller and Chris King
Published in a limited edition of 300 in partnership with The Firecracker Press

Published with an essay by the poet, Stefene Russell: "Naming the monsters"

Published with an essay by co-producer Chris King, "Going southwest to score Go South"


Image by Eric Woods: the cover of his The Firecracker Press edition.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

"Go South": the movie - 1st pre-production meeting

Last Wednesday the actor and writer Ray Brewer called the first pre-production meeting for "Go South for Animal Index," the next Poetry Scores silent movie.

Ray brought the artist Nancy Exarhu to help with visualization; a lighting pro (and photographer) named Bill Sawalich; and a hobbyist animator named Greg Rozeboom.

I invited the poet and actor Stefene Russell, who wrote "Go South" and acts in our movies. She was joined by her husband, the writer and pneumatic salesman Thom Fletcher, who had an important oddball role in our first movie and will again in the next.

The artist and writer Kevin Belford showed up, though I burned him out editing video and producing miniatures for our first movie, and he isn't promising anybody anything yet on this one.

K. Curtis Lyle, poet and elder, made the scene to connect with board member and big thinker John Eiler. Curtis played The Pharaoh in our first movie, "Blind Cat Black," and will act for us again; John runs the zombie makeup garage for our flicks, and also wants to act in the next one.

Meanwhile, busy moving a ship out of his garage (a long story ...) was the video production professional Aaron AuBuchon, another burnout from the "Blind Cat Black" juggernaut - but back with us on "Go South," conceptually, technically, and as a lead actor.

We opened the meeting, in The Foxhole at Atomic Cowboy, by talking about the Poetry Scores moviemaking process, which follows a particular form.

First we take a book-length poem and set it to music, producing a poetry score. That is always done before we start making a movie to the score. I tend to co-produce the scores with a long-term musical accomplice, as I did with "Go South". Matt Fuller (in Los Angeles) and I co-wrote songs to about two-thirds of the poem and recorded them with our band, Three Fried Men. We then scavenged music from other sources, with permission, to complete the score.

Then we write, shoot, and edit a movie to the pre-existing score, with no other sound added. So they are silent movies - though, of course, the classic silent films were not really silent, they were highly musical, just not talkies.

(Our movies are, in a limited sense, partially talkies, since our scores do incorporate spoken word segments, as one of many techniques used to turn the poem into sound. As yet, however, we have never synched up an actor in a movie to make it look as if he or she is saying a spoken word line from the score.)

Since both the poetry scores to both "Blind Cat Black" and "Go South for Animal Index" ended up with about 28 separate pieces of music, our movies also can be imagined as a sequence of 28 or so interconnected music videos. Belford knocked out some stellar conceptual miniatures on the first movie, and Greg the hobbyist animator is getting cued up to do something similar for "Go South". (Judging by Greg's animated wonder "The King of the Witches," he is the right man for the job.)

But we are determined to make narratives movies, with a manageably sized cast of characters, who interact in a plot with story arcs for at least the major characters. So we resist the urge of the movie fragmenting totally into a medley of miniatures.

Zombies also have become a part of what we do, as I explained. Zombies fit thematically into "Blind Cat Black," a poem about the scary urban underworld, and they gave us a visual solution to the Surrealist aesthetic of Ece Ayhan's poem and Murat Nemet-Nejat's English translation of it. Since we emulate an ensemble approach to casting, a la The Coen Brothers - keep using the same people, in different roles, in every film - we plan to keep zombies in the mix of our movies, somehow, when appropriate.

The objection was raised that zombies already are not hip anymore. If true, that could impact our zombie supply, but zombies never appealed to me for being the "in" thing. In a narrative movie they are a sort of Surrealist seasoning to sprinkle in, to taste; and certainly, when we made our last movie, there was a huge local zombie subculture to scoop into, sort of like quarrying for brick around here. If zombies are an abundant local resource, then it seems our duty as St. Louis moviemakers to use what God gives us.

So, to sum up our method: we make conceptual narrative silent movies with zombies (as appropriate), edited to preexisting musical scores we already made based on long poems.

It was great to have the poet herself at the meeting to explain the poem. Stefene talked about growing up a Downwinder from the Navada test site and seeing so very many friends succumb to wasting cancers starting at early ages. "Go South for Animal Index" tells the story of The Bomb, the crazy and cruel international collaboration that often went into making it, its role in countless pollutions and destructions. Yet there also is a defiant tribal chorus in the poem, and a voice of the survivalist Earth.

Stefene explained that the technique of the poem is collagist; it's a kind of source text mashup.

As she wrote in an essay we commissioned, "The poem is made up of stanzas stitched together with quotes from The Nag Hamadi, a bit of astrology, some Bhagavad Gita by way of Oppenheimer, John Donne, and the words of people who have shivered under the shadow of the atom. That includes Africans who died mining uranium in the Congo, the White Mesa Ute tribe in Blanding, Utah, who still live three miles away from an open-air uranium tailings pond, the hibakusha of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Ukrainians and Belorussians exposed to radiation by Chernobyl, and the residents of the little Mormon towns downwind from the Nevada Test Site."

This endorses the collage technique we used in our score, and authorizes something similar for the movie - and indeed, we plan to borrow from archival and other visual sources. This also suggests a storyline, which I will get to.

Stefene pointed out that her Downwinder friends would not appreciate our staging of gruesome zombies in this story, since victims of aggressive cancers do actually experience zombification as things fall out and off their bodies. She suggested we stylize the zombies, like in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. (This is exactly the film Aaron played me when we were plotting "Blind Cat Black"; so, yeah). With Nanxy Exarhu, a Greek Surrealist, on the moviemaking team, I think we can stylize us some zombie uranium miners.

I then outlined my basic skeleton for the movie.

I see three storylines:

* scientists and soldiers at Lost Almost (as the Army styled Los Alamos), going about the domestic life of a secret military camp as they invent and build a new deadlier Death;

*a nomadic tribe by a river, halted in their travels as they conduct a healing ceremony for a sick child, struggling through an ancient ritual to save a young Life;

* and a mother and daughter on the road, who leave the Lost Almost camp early in the movie after the husband/father dies in an experiment and is buried on base; and then, much later, they stumble upon the tribal healing ceremony, which has been successful. As they drive away from the child who has survived, exchanging the last of many smiles in the car mirror, the plume of the successful Bomb test spreads in the sky behind them.

We began to discuss how we would shoot the movie - blue screen, on location?; black and white, color?; one director, or a team? - but realized everyone had to hear the score first and do some reading while I came up with a first draft for the shooting script.

So we handed everyone a copy of the poetry score on CD, and I followed up with some links to essential reading for everyone who works on the movie:

* the poem itself, "Go South for Animal Index" by Stefene Russell.

* "Naming the Monsters," the essay Stefene wrote about the poem and its sources.

* and again, here is the Go South for Animal Index poetry score.

Now, it is time to think of how to tell this complicated story in a conceptual narrative silent movie with 28 segments!


The image is "Constellation" by Nancy Exarhu.

Our new girl silent clown tramp prankster scholar of silent film

I can't forget how Alex Chilton, who had to go and die, sang "I'm in love with a girl". I think about it all the time. It's a feeling I'm always looking for.

I'm in love with a girl. A girl clown. A girl silent clown. A girl silent clown tramp. A girl silent clown tramp prankster. A scholar of silent film. A physical scholar, and with the mind.

Her name is Kyla Webb. She came to town, or has stayed here, thanks to Lola van Ella. Lola of course is our preeminent burlesque entrepreneur (not to diminish Lola's gifts by way of choreography or performance, but it's business acumen in an artist that most amazes me).

Kyla and Lola are running pretty tight together, and that's very good for us. St. Louis is helping Lola to flourish, thanks to our almost overly abundant local resources in the forms of talented, generous artists and an adoring audience of smart, hard partyers.

What keeps Lola here may keep Kyla here - she comes to us from Chicago, and the road. Lola will help keep her here. Now add me to a good seat up front in the welcome wagon, because if there was one solitary arrival I would have prayed for this town and its artist community, it would have been for a girl silent clown tramp prankster (and gender bender, no less) to make silent movies with me. With us. With Poetry Scores.

Kyla comes to us from Oona Tramps. For the love of God, she is keepling alive the art form of Charles Chaplin. For the love of Chaplin, she turns up in St. Louis, so modest and honest you could weep. That is the kind of artist I fall in love with and try to frame projects around and attempt to fit into crannies of existing and evolving thingamajigs.

Kyla turns up with Lola in a St. Louis burlesque scene that travels far and has a far wider vision than those of us who are seeing only a part of them and their work can imagine. But I will take as much as I can get of their talent and creative energy.

This is the best of times to be working creatively in this fertile old river city. I simply can't wait to start making stage shows and - especially! as soon as possible! - silent Poetry Scores movies with Kyla and Lola.

Kyla Webb and Lola van Ella will debut a new fairy tale stage show Saturday, May 15 at Off-Broadway as part of the Show-Me Burlesque festival (that also intersects with Midwest Mayhem, the KDHX fundraising bash).


Photographs lifted from Kyla's Facebook page. Sorry that I'm not crediting the photographers. Look for Kyla Webb on Facebook for better credits.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Having a Blast Furnace with Greek Surrealist poetry

Last night the actor and writer Ray Brewer pulled together a preproduction meeting for the next Poetry Scores movie, "Go South for Animal Index" (from the poem by Stefene Russell). Ray invited a hobbyist animator, a professional lighting guy with green screen experience, and Nancy Exarhu.

Nancy Exarhu had crossed our paths once before. Poetry Scores board president Dianna Lucas invited her to show in our 2009 Art Invitational, to "Sydney Highrise Variations". Ray asked her to the movie meeting as badly needed visual firepower, a potential director of photography. She fit right in.

I described to all these guys the way we make movies. We score a long poem, as one would score a film; and then we write, shoot, and edit a silent movie to that score. I explained that we had completed just one movie, "Blind Cat Black," a 58-minute feature; it opened at the 2007 St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase to mixed and on average negative reviews.

But lately it is starting to take on a little life of its own, rising from the dead like the zombies that people the movie for Surrealist effect. We scored a long poem by the Turkish poet Ece Ayhan (in Murat Nemet-Nejat's translation); and the poet, now dead, is enjoying something of a renaissance in Istanbul. Twice now we have been asked to screen "Blind Cat Black" in Istanbul, and this year it looks as if we actually will get off our duffs and send them a DVD to play on July 12.

Nancy said she could be there! She would be in Greece at the time. Istanbul will not be far away. I asked her what she would be doing in Greece (as I remembered, she was Spanish). She said, "I am Greek! I am from Greece."

After the meeting broke up, I told her that I had just finished reading an anthology of Greek Surrealist poetry, in translation by Nikos Stabakis. Amazing stuff. I was in touch with Stabakis. I blabbed on about how much I liked this book and how I wanted to score something from it.

Nancy looked at me, struck dumb. I think she made me repeat some of that back to her. She was not believing her ears. Eventually she came back around to he senses and explained that what I was blabbing about was, precisely, her artistic context, her creative world, her personal reality. She had edited and published Greek Surrealist poets. Greek Surrealist poets were here friends, her confidantes. She nearly had married one.

After I freaked out right back at her, I told her which poem I wanted to score from the anthology, Blast Furnace by ... I didn't know the poet's name. It took her just a moment to connect up with the title in translation. "Ypsikaminos, she blurted. "By Embirikos. Andreas Embirikos. I knew him. I have been to his house. We published him."

We both walked around dazed. Pretty unlikely connections! As Stefene Russell said - she overheard this exchange and cheered it on - "It's this stuff that shows us that we are supposed to be doing this."

A funny little post-script. A comment I made on social media, after driving home from this movie meeting, generated a few comments. In trying to back down from what might have been mistaken as an insult to someone who had been there at the meeting, I said in fact the only irritating person had been me, with my ill-received Granite City humor.

What I meant was a blunt, crude remark I had made about one of my Granite City girl friends, who came by the bar where we were meeting with her sister, to see me and to catch up. But reading "ill-received Granite City humor" in a comment thread, devoid of any other details, my friend Michael R. Allen chipped in with:

CK: "Did you hear the one about the blast furnace?"

Others: (Blank faces)

Michael is an architectural historian and reveler in the post-industrial landscapes of my hometown. How very odd, though, that he would independently think of a "blast furnace" in connection to this incident. And guess what? Michael plays the zombie bar bartender in the movie we made that is screening in Istanbul in July - the only reason we ever got around to talking about Greece, Greek Surrealist poetry, and Blast Furnace.



Blast furnace photo by Stuart100.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Here is the valley of shallow Polish rivers

Since the tragic news from Poland, like many other people I have been taking stock of my personal connections to that eastern European country. I have a few.

I have a pen pal in Wroclaw, a musician whose band I reviewed once in a New York magazine, and befriended after he sought me out to thank me for my glowing praise. I still intend to release, one day, the recordings by his old band Krakersy.

Also, Poetry Scores has on its long list of future long poems to score Building the Barricade by Anna Swirszczynska.

I know of this epic of the Warsaw Uprising through excerpts included in Postwar Polish Poetry, edited by Czeslaw Milosz. That delectable volume also inspired another set of miscellaneous shorter poetry scores that I will share, here, in draft form.

I imagine a future band record for Three Fried Men titled Here is the valley of shallow Polish rivers, a line from one of Milosz's own poems he anthologized.

(No foul in that; for Milosz to exclude Milosz from an anthology of post-war Polish poetry would be like Shakespeare leaving Shakespeare out of a volume of Elizabethan drama.)

Here are four sketches toward this imagined future record. I wrote them all one night with my longtime collaborater and coproducer Lij. These are nothing but sketches, skeletons, but I like them enough to share them; and I need to do something to connect with Poland and its people at this time.


"The specialist"
(Poem by Tadeusz Rozewicz)

"A herd of pianos"
(Poem by Jerzy Harasymowicz)

"I leave myself"
(Poem by Tadeusz Nowak)

"And even, even if they take away the stove"
(Poem by Miron Bialoszewski)

Music by Lij and Chris King. In some cases, the poem is titled differently than I have titled the songs. All translations are by Milosz. And therein lies the fun of scoring poetry - just like that, we have collaborated with a Nobel laureate! The baby squalling, at points, is my daughter Leyla Fern, now age 7, which dates these crude recordings.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

David Clewell reads "Jack Ruby's America"

Today, over a working lunch, Roy Francis Kasten and I embarked upon assembling the poetry score to Jack Ruby's America by Missouri's new poet laureate, David Clewell.

The form of this score will be pure voice - the poet's performance of his own poem - interspersed with pure music, instrumental interludes that provide breaks from the language while commenting upon the poem and creating a counter-narrative of tones and moods.

Today, all we did was chop up Clewell's reading (which Roy and I had recorded, years ago) and save the bits under the titles they will bear on the poetry score CD. Each of these titles, of course, is drawn verbatim from the poem. The musical interludes we will begin to intersperse throughout the poem also will be titled verbatim from Clewell's language.

Here, though, is just the reading, divvied into bits. Each link opens an mp3.


Jack Ruby's America
By David Clewell
Performed by David Clewell

I / Jack Ruby orders the chicken salad: November 21, 1963

I’m in a world of history

Jack Ruby orders the chicken salad

II / The Chicago Cowboy

The extent of my involvement

A man who could handle the chump change

1312 ½ Commerce

Some thin veneer of class

Too green to burn

Jack and the music

III. / Jack Ruby talks business with the new girl: November 21, 1963

Jack Ruby talks business with the new girl

IV / The difference a day makes

The time of his imaginary life

Just another bad dream

He’s long gone now

Down for good

V / Jack Ruby spends his last New Year’s Eve with his sister, telling the truth as he knows it: Parkland Hospital, December 31, 1966

Friday, April 9, 2010

When we were cool enough to follow Morphine

I was drinking beer in a buddy's garage when he excused himself to knock out a family appearance in the house before bedtime. Pawing through his CDs, I saw a compilation from 1995 my band Eleanor Roosevelt had contributed to, so I plucked it of the the pile and popped it in.

The compilation was Outstandingly Ignited: Lyrics by Ernest Noyes Brookings, Volume Four. It came out in a series on the ESD label out of Minneapolis, dedicated to songs settings of poetry penned by a retired M.I.T.-educated engineer.

Without question, this stuff is proto-Poetry Scores. We knew it as such from the get-go. Poetry Scores grew out of a mobile documentary collective, Hoobellatoo. On our early field recording journeys we would sprinkle in visits to those who had gone before us, the ancestors of our method and aesthetic. David B. Greenberger was one of the first.

David was the guy who curated and executive-produced the Ernest Noyes Brookings series. These songwriting compilations were one of many manifestations of David's Duplex Planet project. Named after one of the senior homes where Greenberger worked as a young arts school grad, Duplex Planet was a low-fi 'zine about the old folks from the seniors home, a weirdo but kindly representation of them, part down-homy documentary and part outsider artifact.

It all got started when an art school grad (David) landed a community job as activities director at the old folks' home. He started making the most of job by trying to get the residents preoccupied with something new, something outside their immediate condition. This took many forms. 

Our band enters the story with the surprising emergence of Ernest Noyes Brookings, nursing home poet. When asked to write a poem, Ernie blithely told David he would write a poem a day if provided with a title, and off they went.

Back to Volume Four. I met a sad-souled woman in Cape Cod one dark night on a rock band jaunt. In the morning she played me the first volume of the Lyrics by Ernest Noyes Brookings series and explained the concept. I loved the concept and the compilation. She knew David Greenberger well. She said, "I think David would like your band, send him your music."

We sent him the first Enormous Richard recordings, our 90-minute cassette Why It's Enormous Richard's Almanac, and David paid us a compliment that remains my single most prized quote about our music: "It has a naturalness you don't often hear."

He sent me a bunch of Ernie's poems. My songwriting partner Matt Fuller and I seized on one titled "February." We wrote a haunting little rock song to it. When I told David about "February," he had bad news for us.

The label had since sold him on saving all twelve month poems for a big, blockbuster fifth volume of Ernie songs that would cast light back on the whole series. David had been actuve in the New York music scene of a pretty fantastic era. As a result, Duplex Planet had a number of well known rock & roll readers; David could assemble a super-star cast of twelve to write songs to the twelve month poems. And so we reliquished "February" to the likes of Richard Thompson, David Byrne, and R.E.M.

David sent some more poems, to compensate, and Matt and I settled on one titled "Fifteen". We wrote and recorded the song - the band was now named Eleanor Roosevelt, rather than Enormous Richard; another "ER" - and mailed it to David in upstate New York, and he used it.

Here is what I liked listening to Outstandingly Ignited, the volume "Fifteen" finally appeared on, the other night. First of all, the music is really good and varied, better and more varied than my ears were in 1995, because it makes a lot more sense to me now.

I also like that David resisted sequencing "Fifteen" as track fifteen; it is track sixteen. Moreover, it comes after one of the marquee bands on the compilation, the mighty Morphine. I hadn't remembered we were ever that cool. It was really nice to be reminded.

Here is the three-song sequence around our song on the compilation. The song that comes after ours is pretty excellent, too; check it out.


From Outstandingly Ignited: Lyrics by Ernest Noyes Brookings: Volume Four

15. Morphine: "Mail"

16. Eleanor Roosevelt: "Fifteen"

17. Jordan Maul: "Eight Days a Week"