Friday, October 30, 2009

All Soul's Night ~ from "A Vision":

It's almost Halloween. On cue this afternoon, the dandyland trees are stripping down to their skeletal costumes. I've been having an interesting conversation about "the past", with my friend Diane. Thoughts on the subject deepened for me when I realized that she has written, as an art critic, about my work for 25 years! When mentioned that she was headed to Shakertown this wknd for some r & r & perhaps a glass of wine, my mind gyred round to W. B. Yeats epilogue to "A Vision" - a book that (thanks to my brother-in-law Mike's thoughtful gift of it) had some influence on my work.

Whenever I come up with some preposterous diagram that would explain everything about something I'm working on, I think of A Vision & the borderline kooky figures of gyres and moons Yeats used, all caught up in his Order of the Golden Dawn mysticism - usually that's enough to caution me.

Here's the poem I had in mind...

All Souls’ Night:

William Butler Yeats
Epilogue to “A Vision’

Midnight has come, and the great Christ Church Bell
And may a lesser bell sound through the room;
And it is All Souls’ Night,
And two long glasses brimmed with muscatel
Bubble upon the table. A ghost may come;
For it is a ghost’s right,
His element is so fine
Being sharpened by his death,
To drink from the wine-breath
While our gross palates drink from the whole wine.

I need some mind that, if the cannon sound
From every quarter of the world, can stay
Wound in mind’s pondering
As mummies in the mummy-cloth are wound;
Because I have a marvellous thing to say,
A certain marvellous thing
None but the living mock,
Though not for sober ear;
It may be all that hear
Should laugh and weep an hour upon the clock.

Horton’s the first I call. He loved strange thought
And knew that sweet extremity of pride
That’s called platonic love,
And that to such a pitch of passion wrought
Nothing could bring him, when his lady died,
Anodyne for his love.
Words were but wasted breath;
One dear hope had he:
The inclemency
Of that or the next winter would be death.

Two thoughts were so mixed up I could not tell
Whether of her or God he thought the most,
But think that his mind’s eye,
When upward turned, on one sole image fell;
And that a slight companionable ghost,
Wild with divinity,
Had so lit up the whole
Immense miraculous house
The Bible promised us,
It seemed a gold-fish swimming in a bowl.

On Florence Emery I call the next,
Who finding the first wrinkles on a face
Admired and beautiful,
And knowing that the future would be vexed
With ‘minished beauty, multiplied commonplace,
preferred to teach a school
Away from neighbour or friend,
Among dark skins, and there
permit foul years to wear
Hidden from eyesight to the unnoticed end.

Before that end much had she ravelled out
From a discourse in figurative speech
By some learned Indian
On the soul’s journey. How it is whirled about,
Wherever the orbit of the moon can reach,
Until it plunge into the sun;
And there, free and yet fast,
Being both Chance and Choice,
Forget its broken toys
And sink into its own delight at last.

And I call up MacGregor from the grave,
For in my first hard springtime we were friends.
Although of late estranged.
I thought him half a lunatic, half knave,
And told him so, but friendship never ends;
And what if mind seem changed,
And it seem changed with the mind,
When thoughts rise up unbid
On generous things that he did
And I grow half contented to be blind!

He had much industry at setting out,
Much boisterous courage, before loneliness
Had driven him crazed;
For meditations upon unknown thought
Make human intercourse grow less and less;
They are neither paid nor praised.
but he d object to the host,
The glass because my glass;
A ghost-lover he was
And may have grown more arrogant being a ghost.

But names are nothing. What matter who it be,
So that his elements have grown so fine
The fume of muscatel
Can give his sharpened palate ecstasy
No living man can drink from the whole wine.
I have mummy truths to tell
Whereat the living mock,
Though not for sober ear,
For maybe all that hear
Should laugh and weep an hour upon the clock.

Such thought—such thought have I that hold it tight
Till meditation master all its parts,
Nothing can stay my glance
Until that glance run in the world’s despite
To where the damned have howled away their hearts,
And where the blessed dance;
Such thought, that in it bound
I need no other thing,
Wound in mind’s wandering
As mummies in the mummy-cloth are wound.

Oxford, Autumn 1920

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Anna's Doll ~ sound and images:

I didn't realize that I'd written this song on the anniversary of Anna's death - October 26th, 1901, until I assembled the images for this video. Anna, in the only known photograph of her, appears at the beginning.

Pete's Spring:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Doll

I put you in a little wooden boat
and set you off in the sea of earth.

You gird the curve of my night -
in the center is your doll.

You never let go of the hold
you have on your doll.

I couldn't really see your face,
after you'd sailed for a year and a day.

Your face flew away on the wind -
but I could see the doll's.

You never let go of the hold
you have on your doll.

When we brought them down
from the crow's nest, D.H. said "Those are Anna's dolls!"

He knew what we didn't then -
that they were your dolls.

You never let go of the hold
you have on your doll.

Friday, October 23, 2009


A watercolor with lyrics on petals ~ (top to bottom, right to left)
"No, the proud will not endure. They're like a dream on a spring night. The mighty fall, like petals on frost."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Dolmen Next Door:

My neighbor Richard has an interest in sculpture. Earlier in the summer he surprised me by asking me if I was familiar with the work of Andy Goldsworthy, (I am.) and if I would help him make a giant stacked stone egg similar to one of Goldsworthy's. After I got over a silly initial reticence about it not being my idea, I made a full-scale maquette for the 10 foot tall egg, and a cutout of the curves so that a mason could stack the stones to the right curvature. That's a work in progress.

In the meantime Richard pointed out a pile of limestone boulders and asked me if I could come up with an idea for a sculpture that would utilize them. My idea was to make a dolmen, as such things are sometimes called in Ireland, Scotland, England, & Northern France. The word comes from the Breton "tolmen" ~ tol = table + men = stone ~ "a prehistoric monument of two or more upright stones supporting a horizontal stone slab." Some of them were tombstones. I've always wanted to make one, and this morning, we (a great crew of workers) did.

This one is a little unusual, compared to the ones I've seen in Ireland, in that one of the supports of the top slab is a big geode. Geodes are fairly common around here. Often they are hollow, the interior lined with quartz crystals, the globular shape formed by intense pressures deep beneath the earth. A crystalline core formed under great pressure is an image I can work with - it fits - and I really think the geode looks perfect supporting the massive capstone on a single point. Do the crystals inside feel it? Perhaps it reminds them of their childhood.

There's a lot of interesting info about portal tombs and dolmens here:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Say Amen Somebody:

The Barrett sisters - from the classic documentary "Say Amen Somebody" by George T. Nierenberg. It is hard to believe that a single film could have so much great music in it. The lesson by Sister Willie May Ford Smith taught me as much about singing as anything I've seen. "You can't have a pretty-face and sing."

Monday, October 19, 2009

Keren Ann ~ Sur le fil

(One of my favorite songs)

Nina Hagen & Apocalyptica Feat ~ Seemann


While Alan was here in dandyland we decided to try some dance photos of the demo costume to the demo music. We turned on the LED lightboard for lighting & I danced a little. It was a lot of fun. I've spent more time thinking about the dance than doing - it felt really good to move. Alan set up a time lapse on his camera, so the images are double exposures. The effect was psychedelic to begin with, but I toasted this a little with photoshop to make a CD cover for the demos. I only lack one having half of YACB in demo form, and maybe tonight I'll finish composing the missing link.

The painting/bas relief that I'm in front of is one of the Stone Faces I made for The Faun. It fits for this dance - about the creation of the limestone on Dutton Hill.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


(Arthur Rackham's Valkyrie)

Recently I was asked if I would consider teaching Gaston Bachelard's "Poetics of Space." So now I am - after saying yes. Reticence complicates phenomenology to the point of spoilage.

I'll have to buy another copy of it. Poetics of Space is the best known, and most often taught, of his books, mostly to students of architecture. Appropriate then, I suppose, that it would be the usual doorway to his philosophy. My first copy was given to me by an abstract expressionist painter in the late 80s. Since then my bookcase has dispensed five copies. Maybe teaching it will be more economical.

I'm not sure exactly why his writing has proven so useful to me. The subject matter, detailing how the imagination engages with the classic elements of Earth, Water, Air and Fire, duration and matter, is precisely the focus of my work, but maybe what inspires me most about his writing is the freedom claimed by the title of his collection of essays -"The Right to Dream."

I've been dreaming (daydreaming - or in this case more accurately, pre-day dreaming) about the battle scene in YACB for many weeks now. It is easily the hardest subject to approach of any that I've applied my method to. I'd like to say that is because of a general aversion to violence, but the truth is more complicated. It may be a fear of falling.

An opera or movie buff, asked to free associate music and battle, would likely arrive at Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries," and there are a number of reasons to connect that music with YACB. Wiki says: "The Ride of The Valkyries has been used to accompany moving pictures since the earliest days of Hollywood. The original score for D. W. Griffith's film The Birth of a Nation (1915), compiled by Joseph Carl Breil and Griffith, used the music in the climactic scene of the third act, when "The former enemies of North and South are united again in defense of their Aryan birthright" against liberated former black slaves after the end of the American Civil War. The beleaguered white group are rescued by the Ku Klux Klan to the sound of the music. " Staging that scene now might be something like yelling "Fire!" in a theater though.

Curiously, the only Youtube clip of this scene I could find was a French post, with different music replacing the original Wagner...

Contemporary viewers are more likely to think of "Apocalypse Now." More to my tastes in film (Wagner's music is not to my tastes period. I'm with Stravinsky, who, when asked what he didn't like about Wagner's music, said that he "...didn't like the major pieces, and he didn't like the minor pieces.") - would be in a favorite film, Fellini's 8 1/2, where, coincidentally, it occurs in the "spring water" scene.

But the image of the Valkyrie, thankfully, came to me unsmudged by Wagner's bombast. I studied Norse mythology before I ever heard of Wagner. And one of the cross-points of YACB is the meeting of Germanic and African myths.

One of the things I love about this kind of work is how the careful working through of seemingly disparate material will gradually reveal underlying connections which will, when articulated, form a skeleton of the finished opera. Lacking Bachelard's Poetics of Space, I delved into Earth and Reverie of Will instead, hoping that the chapter on gravity would shed some light (or darkness) onto the important motif of falling in YACB. The first sound, the first point defined in space and time, in YACB is a dirt clod hitting the lid of Pete's coffin. I was struck by this passage:

"But let us begin with an example of the gentlest and most delicate of vertical inducements, a hill seen as bringing earth and sky together. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, her soul filled with memories of Italy, dreams in a remote corner of England, contemplating

the ground's most gentle dimplement
(As if God's finger touched but did not press
In making England), such an up and down
of verdure, - nothing too much up and down,
a ripple of land; such little hills the sky
Can stoop to tenderly and the wheatfields climb...

Let us take full measure of this vertical sensibility! The modeling deity works all in caresses; the power in every contour is drawn with the same delicacy of proportion; the sky stoops as gently as the wheat field climbs, the hill breathes, hovering weightless upon the surface of the bountiful earth, thrusting neither too rapidly nor too far into space. The hill sets us in equilibrium midway between earth and sky, providing us exactly enough verticality and on such a human scale that we desire to make our way slowly up that orchard and field-terraced slope, to clim slowly in thought without physical fatigue and especially without fatigue of the imagination. The very soul of the hills is there in the verse. Browning's poem thus establishes a standard of gentle verticality sufficient to bring out the dynamic imagery so characteristic of landscapes of vine-covered hillsides and country roads. It teaches us to read other poems of verticality with sensitivity."

This mention of gentle small-scale undulations of the earth reminded me of my thoughts on the scale of Dutton Hill. It isn't a mountain. It isn't even a tall knob. It's a high place in a gently hilled landscape. The Cherokee relate that the hills and mountains were formed when the original Buzzard flew low over the primordial mud and grazed it with her wingtips, raising the Smokey Mountains and all the rest with barely a touch. What better pair of wings to grace a Valkyrie than the vulture's?
Who else watches the dying soldier with such careful interest? If a literal ascension to heaven from the battlefield is to be achieved in YACB, it's most likely to be via buzzard.

Will history confirm that such an event took place after some battle in the Civil War? I'll check, but dreaming, luckily, requires no artifact to initiate it. An image is enough. History is, after all, only a pretext to dream.

Here's the connection to Yoruba myth in a Cuban story. In contrast to some mythologies, the orisa and humanity are dependent upon each other. Osun is the orisa of fresh water, love, harmony, abundance, luxury, and forgiveness ~

"In the early days of the world, and of Ilé Ifé, (the first city on earth) the orishas became tired of serving Olodumare. They began to resist the Owner of Heaven's edicts and to even plot the overthrow of Olodumare's kingdom in heaven and earth. They felt they didn't need Olodumare and that as the Lord of Heaven was so distant anyway, they could merely divide the aché or powers among themselves and that things would go much better that way. When Olodumare caught wind of this attitude and their plots, the Owner of Heaven acted simply and decisively: Olodumare simply withheld the rain from the earth. Soon the world was encompassed by a staggering draught, the ground became parched and cracked, the plants withered and died without water. And it wasn't long before all on earth, orishas and their chidren alike began to starve.

After a short time, growling bellies and sallow faces began to speak louder than their pride and rebelliousness. They unanimously decided to go to Olodumare and beg for forgiveness in hopes that this would bring rain back to the world. But they had a problem: none of them could reach the distant home of Olodumare. They sent all the birds one by one to attempt the journey but each and every one of them failed, tiring long before reaching the palace of the Lord of Heaven. It began to appear that all hope was lost.

Then one day, the peacock, who was in reality Oshún herself, came to offer her services to save the world from this draught. Once again there was general upheaval and laughter as the orishas contemplated the idea of this vain and pampered bird undertaking such a journey. "You might break a nail", said one. But the little peacock persisted and as they had nothing to lose, they agreed to let her try. So the little peacock flew off towards the sun and the palace of Olodumare. She soon tired of the journey, but she kept flying ever higher, determined to reach the Lord of Heaven and to save the world. Going yet higher, her feathers began to become scraggly and black from the withering heat of the sun, and all the feathers were burned from her head, but she kept flying. Finally, through sheer will and determination she arrived at the gates of Olodumare's palace. When Olodumare came upon her she was a pathetic sight, she had lost much of her feathers and the ones that remained were black and scraggly. Her once beautiful form was hunchbacked and her head was bald and covered with burns from flying so close to the sun.

The Lord of Heaven took pity on her and brought her to the Palace where she was fed and given water, and her wounds were treated. He asked her why she had made such a perilous journey. She explained the state on earth and went on to tell Olodumare that she had come at risk of her own life so that her children (humanity) might live. When Olodumare looked to the world and to Oshún's plaintive look, it was obvious that everything she had said was true. The Lord of Heaven then turned to the peacock who was now what we call a vulture, saying that her children would be spared from this draught and ordered the rain to begin again. Then Olodumare looked deeply into Oshún's eyes and into her heart, then announced that for all eternity she would be the Messenger of the House of Olodumare and that all would have to respect her as such.

From that day forward in this path she became known as Ikolé, the messenger of the House of Olodumare. Ikolé also is the name for the vulture in Lacumí. And from that day the path of Oshún known as Ibú Ikolé was revered and became associated with her bird, the vulture. The vulture then returned to earth, bringing with her the rain, where she met with great rejoicing. As befits a queen or Iyalodde, she graciously refrained from reminding them of their jibes and abuses as she could see the shame on their faces."

Back on the battlefield, atop that gentle hill, with a video of the dance above Buzzard Roost in mind, this arrived:


She landed and stood
watching for the change
that drew her down.
To catch that moment takes a special eye.

Eye of beauty, take what you've
seen and rise
the hungry earth
to spiral in the clouds -
the soul of the soldier
is in your craw -
may the thermal lift you
up to heaven's door

May the crosswinds lift you
up to Valhalla.

Long ago, when all these souls
that you transport
still lay unformed in mud, the
tips of our mother's wings
pushed this hill to
touch the sky -
now heeding the call of silence
when all battle is done,
your sisters turn the
unborn in the womb of air,
and recede like rising specks
of soot
into the soundless blue,
so that only peace remains
to sink into the ground.

(Alan's amazing pic of a turkey vulture.)

Friday, October 16, 2009


"If our dreams invent monsters, it is because they translate energies."

Gaston Bachelard; Earth and Reveries of Will

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Architecture of Time:


Here's another excerpt from Rouget's "Music and Trance" which has a particular bearing on the composition of You'll Always Come Back:

"How is music experienced? We respond to it in several ways; to simplify matters, let us say physiologically, psychologically, affectively, and esthetically.

Physiologically speaking (at the sensorial level), although music is mainly perceived by the ear, this is not the only path it can take. Musical vibrations are wave movements whose amplitude is relatively large when compared to the scale of the human body. The movement of the objects that give rise to these vibrations - or the movement they excite in objects, since the transfer of energy can take place in either direction - is always palpable and often even visible. It is thus directly perceptible as material and concrete. A musical vibration can be something palpable. If one touches the soundboard of a violin while it is being played, one can feel the sounds quivering against one's finger tip. If one nears one of the extremely large drums the Yoruba beat at the secret Oro ceremonies, one will hear the sounds through one's abdomen - which vibrates in sympathy - as much as through the ears. Similarly, if in the same ceremonies, one comes close to one of the small drums,'s entire head vibrates. In an organ loft, when the organ plays loudly, one absorbs the music with one's whole body. The whole world trembles, the very air resounds. "To bathe in music" is not just a metaphor. It happens that we truly perceive it through the skin. ...

But this external sensitivity is not the only thing involved. One's internal sensitivity is also aroused by music and likewise functions as a path of reception. It is well known that when we speak, and even more when sing, we hear ourselves from the inside. But in fact we are doing more than hearing ourselves sing. We are feeling ourselves sing. We are feeling our neck and throat vibrate, quiver. And that is true of many of the other areas of the body too: the entire head, the thorax and abdomen, the pelvic region. Music is thus simultaneously an animation of things and a palpitation of the being. Both are felt more intensely when one is making music than when one is simply listening to it. ... This physical impact, of course, is what pop music is consciously striving for. Through the din of vast amplifiers, such music obtains effects of violence and acoustic turbulences never before achieved. ... Alain Roux observes that "this amount of power acts directly upon the body and creates a feeling of participation tha many people never attain even during the sexual act. There is no resisting it except by flight. Amplified to this extent, the human voice affects the larynx... the sounds of the electric bass (infra-sounds) produce vibrations localized in the internal erogenous zones of the abdomen... The repetitive melodies and perpetual thrumming instantly produce a light hypnosis." ...

Music is in essence movement. Its origins lie in bodily movements... - and in return music is an incitement to movement. Since by definition sound is actualized in the unfolding of time, its relations with itself are constantly changing (even if it remains the same, for continuing is inevitably also changing, since it implies change of duration) and these changes are integrated, at several levels, into the "thickness" of time. Even in its most immaterial aspect -sound totally isolated from its source - music is perceived as movement being realized in space. This is even more true when it is made simultaneously with dance, or to make people dance. To dance is to inscribe music in space, and this inscription is realized by means of a constant modification of the relations between the various parts of the body. The dancers awareness of his body is totally transformed by this process. Insofar as it is a spur to dancing, therefore, music does appear capable of profoundly modifying the relations of the self with itself, or, in other words, the structure of consciousness.

Psychologically, music also modifies the experience of being, in space and time simultaneously. Like the sound of speech, the sound of music defines the space in which I am situated as a space inhabited by others, and at the same time if situates me within this space in some particular manner. Silence is the sign of an empty or motionless space - death or sleep. Sound is the sign of a space that is filled and in movement. The sounds of nature bring me information on the movements of nature, the sounds produced by humans bring me information about their presence, and the types of sound I hear tell me something about their activities: they are cutting down a tree in a wood, they are machine-gunning one another, they are dancing, she is rocking a baby to sleep. People are there, they are doing something. The sounds I hear mark out the space around me and enable me to integrate myself into it.

In the dimension of time, music modifies our consciousness of being to an even greater extent. It is an architecture of time. It gives time a density different from its everyday density. It lends it a materiality is does not ordinarily have and that is of another order. It indicates that something is happening in the here and now; that time is being occupied by an action being performed, or that a certain state rules over the beings present. The drum-roll that resound throughout the circus ring as the trapeze artist makes his death-defying leap is one example.

...(of the small drum in the Oro ceremony...) ... Everything suggest that its role is to maintain a certain vibration in the air, and thus insure the continuity of the action. In short, to establish a different order of duration. Or, if one prefers, to bring about a sort of crystallization of time. (...)

Music does not organize time only at this elementary level but also at a higher one, thus giving birth to a real architecture of time. Possession music does not operate solely by means of repetition and accumulation, as is too often thought. The musical mottos are melodic or rhythmic statements and consequently temporal forms. They are capable of being varied and ornamented. In the course of a ceremony they follow one another and thus form sequences that should be seen as the multiple ways of renewing and developing musical time, which preserves its unity all the while since the pieces following one another belong to the same genre. By thus transforming our awareness of time and space, in different ways, music modifies our "being-in-the-world."

The state of affective resonance that music - or at any rate certain kinds of music - creates in any individual is another aspect of the upheaval it creates in the structure of consciousness. Nothing is more laden with emotional associations than music, nothing is more capable of recreating situations that engage one's entire sensibility. It induces the individual into a state which both his inward feelings and his relations with the outer world are dominated by affectivity.

Finally, as art, when it is a success, music creates the feeling of total adhesion of the self to what is happening. In this sense it again brings about a transformation of the structure of consciousness, by effectuating a particular and exceptional type of relation of the self to the world."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Music for Battle:

The image is of the first page of the text of "The Tale of the Heike," a song cycle relating the events of a clan feud/civil war in Japan, 1180-85. (The translation below is, I suspect, not so good.) The story of the Heike was compiled from a collection of oral stories recited by traveling monks, who chanted to the accompaniment of the biwa, a type of lute. The most widely read version of the Heike monogatari was compiled by a blind monk named Kakuichi in 1371. The Heike is considered one of the great classics of medieval Japanese literature.
The central theme of the story is the Buddhist law of impermanence. The theme of impermanence (mujō) is captured in the famous opening passage:

"The sound of the Gion Shōja bells echoes the impermanence of all things;
the color of the sāla flowers reveals the truth that the prosperous must decline.
The proud do not endure, they are like a dream on a spring night;
the mighty fall at last, they are as dust before the wind."

The birth of Buddha took place under a sāla tree.

I first heard the Heike music in "Hoshi the Earless" one of the stories in Kwaidon, a classic Japanese film of ghost stories. The stories are treated in a style that combines naturalism with some of the look and conventions of the Kabuki theater and the kind of Japanese painting depicting supernatural creatures and events which looks surrealist, but predates that style of painting by centuries. The Heike music came closer to me when I met Kakuho Ohashi in Japan.

(That's Ohashi-san & me in the center - Chisato is beside me.)

Ohashi-san began making a biwa for me right after we met, a gift which I still wonder if I deserve. Biwas are rare instruments. Ohashi-san is one of only 5 living makers, and his biwas are precious treasures. Ohashi-san came to Kentucky to perform the opening prelude for Love & Time, part III of The Secret Commonwealth. He performed one of the Heike songs describing an ambush that takes place at night, during a wild storm. Kelly Gottesman, choreographer for the first three Secret Commonwealth dance operas, informed me that the jig was up for me, that it was time that I danced on stage. I took class with the dancers, so that as a director I would know what was going on, and because I love to dance, but I was leading the ensemble of musicians throughout Secret C., as well as directing the production, and didn't even think of dancing too. I did as I was told, and helped develop the choreography with Kim, as most of the time Kelly was too busy with the other dancers to work with me. Dancing to Ohashi-san's performance was one of the most thrilling experiences, and greatest honors, that I've ever had. As far as I know, the dance was the first, and perhaps only, time that a traditional biwa performance of the Heike music was combined with contemporary dance.

I'll confess to having some jitters before we performed this dance. For one thing, I had watched Ohashi-san rehearse HIS performance, in the dressing room, WITHOUT the biwa, and WITHOUT making sound. He performed the entire piece as a silent sequence of perfectly executed movements, lips silently forming every no-sound, hands making every note-bend, every strike of the plectrum, with absolute precision. It was the most magnificent performance of music I've ever seen, and it made no sound, except the imagined one. The dance, my first in front of a seated (and paying) audience, was aptly titled "Inside/Outside."

But all my fears vanished when Ohashi-san struck the first note and we began. As I looked out into the audience in the darkened theater, the Japanese ghost story weirdness took ahold of me. The faces of the audience looked like an ancient screen painting of ghosts, assembled to view the re-enactment of the battle. Even though our choreography was not specifically "about" a battle, more about the creative interaction that Kelly and I shared, and how that was at once inside us and outside us, it felt very martial arts to me all of a sudden, and I found my arms and legs slicing through space as though people's heads were coming off with every move. If it wasn't a trance, it might as well have been.

(photos by William Cox)

This came back to me last night as I finally broke the code on the music for The Battle of Dutton Hill in YACB. The voice that sings is a ghost voice, and contrary to what I had been trying to do, which was find sounds that would correspond somehow to the loud and horrible noises of a real battle, the song is, I think, much more terrifying for being smooth as silk. The chorus comes from a detail that Mary Beth provided, concerning the morning of the battle (March 30th, 1863), noted by the Shakers at Pleasant Hill, that there was a late, hard frost, and that they feared the peach trees, in full bloom, would lose their entire crop.

Here's the text of the song:

I don't have a face. My name is gone.
All that's left of me are my bones - and a stone
with a vague description of how I died
fighting a long time ago in a war.

Now I'm here, off duty, till the last reveille
where I fell, among strangers - unfriended and unknown.
On a fruitless enterprise, I staked my life,
and lost it, on this rocky hilltop, cold and alone.

No, the proud do not endure -
they're like a dream on a spring night.
The mighty fall
like petals on frost.

By the time they found my body, back in 1863,
I was in perfect shape for an April Fool -
eyes wide open, seeing nothing at all
in the blind reflection
you could watch the petals fall.

Watch the petals fall
Watch the petals fall
Eyes wide open, seeing nothing at all

No, the proud do not endure
they're like a dream on a spring night.
The mighty fall
like petals on frost.

Monday, October 12, 2009


Today I was surprised, and delighted, by a phone call from Rob. I don't have his number, and couldn't afford our several hour transatlantic conversations if I did, so I await his random sonic visitations as a saint would an angel. For anyone who knows either of us, that should set off a peel of laughter. And there was plenty of laughing shared between us, as usual - his peels rocking the phone with the depth of the cola salesman, only real.

We met in DC. His 18 year juniority belied by an otherworldly sophistication. Perhaps the initial attraction was aided by our surface stereotypes, but to our credit, we swiftly relegated those to absurdist entertainment once we discovered the more complicated, and deeper, dynamics within.

We had some experiences in common. Growing up edge of rural in Jerry Falwell town, VA., he had even worked in hay.
On his first visit to dandyland, a story and a half in itself, he let me read a series of stories about his childhood, delicious revenges exacted on a host of cretinish predators who could not imagine the combination of Lolita and imp they were messing with. I said then and I say now that those stories were as good as anything Capote wrote. Rob shed the laptop they were on somewhere along his journey and never seemed to care. I wish now I'd copied them onto paper by hand.

He was in the process of leaving the US when we met, absolutely having no more of it. The stupidity and vileness of racism and homophobia were bad enough, but the coarseness of its presentation was inexcusable. And, ultimately, unfashionable, which in Rob's case meant he wasn't participating. He wasn't so naive as to believe that racism and homophobia weren't present in Europe in equal measure, but at least there the manner of it was crafted with a degree of hauteur he could relate to. In the US he felt certain he'd go to prison for thrashing someone, sooner or later, for lacking good manners. And I think he was right, racism and homophobia are amongst the sort of character flaws that anyone might possess and keep to themselves, with even a modicum of social decorum. To allow them to intrude into the lives of others, fueled only by the uncultivated lack of restraint, is boorish, inexcusable, and an argument for spanking. Who cares about your hatred? Grow up.

We were strolling down the Champs Elysees, the occasion being my second proposal, when I noticed a trio of primary cookstoves, the most beautiful kitchen fittings I'd ever seen. Hoping to sink a tiny barb, I told him that I liked those stoves better than anything in his temple of Prada. He countered that I set my dreams too low, what he wanted, and intended to have, was a top floor apartment, exactly like one that he pointed out across the street, in just such a glamorous location. Now that we were intent on stinging each other, I told him that the charms of the city were too ephemeral for me anyway, regardless of the address, and besides, his dream was a pipe dream. There was no way on earth that such an address, costing millions of Euros, would ever be his. He didn't bother to respond to that, nor even show that it was beneath his dignity to. I suppose by now you've guessed the sort of address he telephoned me from.

Our present conversation was much more fascinating than our past history. I told him a little about my work on You'll Always Come Back, leading to thoughts about "race in america." Rob isn't impressed with Obama, who in his opinion smiles too much.
I told him a little of the theory I'm working from in YACB, that an enduring aspect of "the problem" is embedded in language itself, the metaphoric clusters of adjectives that form categories of value associating light with good, dark with bad, before a thought is even formed. And those formed, perhaps, in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years of usage, and growing out of our history as diurnal mammals with lots of big-toothed reasons (cats anyone?) to fear the darkness. And I'm not saying that there aren't reasons to fear the equatorial darkness just as much as the nordic, but you add months of cold to dark and it is just worse. It kills old people and hardens young ones. The prospect of deconstructing language itself, in the cause of civility, is, needless to say, a bit more of a pipe dream than the poshest apartment. But we can laugh about that now, content just to love each other.

Rob said perhaps I should set aside part of YACB for the two of us to sit face to face and talk about race and color, interspersed with musical and video interludes, and I told him to book his ticket. He also told me about a friend there, from Cameroon, who had a fashionable bar. He had all the attributes, comically listed by Rob, that form the Attractive African Stereotype for white European men with those tastes, but that, their interests being located on a somewhat lower area of focus than the brain, as soon as they discovered a sophisticated intelligence in command of the physical attributes, would lose all interest in dating.
The primitive darkness, as I reminded Rob, is associated with what's confusedly designated as animal nature, and with that, the ever dreamed of hyper-sexuality of the unrepressed and unscrubbed pre-civilized. Yes, he sighed, enlightenment doesn't belong in the bedroom. He drops great quotes like the petals of an exhausted flower.

But he quickly countered that enlightenment DID belong in HIS bedroom, and that he had no intention of allowing some uncouth creature in to thrash around there and possibly damage his art collection. So there you go, we've both become utopian hermits. It's so great to have friends.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Vision Seeking Sound:

This has been quite a wknd. Those who knew her (&, invariably, loved her) will remember it as our dear Sara's memorial. She had requested that I do it, so I did. It was deeply moving to hear those close to her share their memories.

Some of the YACB musicians knew Sara from past ventures, and a quartet of us played the first 5 pieces in YACB at the party afterwards. It sounded better than I expected - the arrangements and ideas are still in so much flux that I'm not sure they're ready for listeners. I changed the rhythm of one entirely about an hour before we performed it. But the sound came together for the event and it was ok, even digging in at moments.

After everyone headed home I headed back into my studio to finish up work on a song for The Battle of Dutton Hill, the second quarter of YACB. That song finally jelled, but there's still a bear of a piece to tackle. This particular section has been sonically challenging. Curiously, ideas for visual elements came fairly quickly, but lyrics and sounds not so much. I don't care for any of the music associated with the Civil War, and really, once I started thinking about it, I don't care for any music associated with any war whatsoever. I like the sound of the shawm (and have one!) - and know that shawms & their relatives have been used as military instruments, because they can be horrifically penetrating, but that's about all the lead I have at present.

What I need is music for the battle itself. It's tempting to ask the musicians to make the worst sounds they can manage for about 5 minutes and be done with it. But that is not a foregone solution, even if it winds up being the solution.

I wondered briefly about mutilating a quotation from Gustave Holst's "Mars, bringer of War" and using it for a theme - until I found out that everyone and their cousin has done just that. Jimmy Page supposedly quotes it in his Dazed and Confused solo. I never noticed it, but my eyes always glazed during that anyway. I thought maybe if the 5/4 beat of it was sped up to near heart failure rate it might have an interesting effect, but like a lot of such it just sounds forced.

So tonight I'm going to take a look at the Bhagavad Gita and listen to some of that chanted. Maybe that ancient war epic will provide me with a clue. I just hope that I won't have to reread the Illiad and War and Peace too.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Are you scared yet?

A page from the illustrated children's book version of The Changeling & the Bear

Maybe it was the combination of reddening leaves and overcast skies... It started with a thought about how autumn inevitably brings with it thoughts of death, and a stoic sigh at that. (I've thought about it enough lately, already.) Then somehow the thought dived underground and did a magical switcheroo. I started thinking about Halloween and got into the season. Because, as every child knows, it is fun to be scared, when you're in the mood for it, and it doesn't go too far.... when you know "it" isn't real.

I've decided to look through my flat file for scary art and post some so that you, gentle readers, can indulge with me in the delicious sensation of imagining frightening things from a comfortable distance. Not just visual scariness either, you can hear some here:

("The Graveyard" is the song for the illustration above.)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


The Panther Song in You'll Always Come Back ends with a bit of not-quite-Blake. "What hand or eye indeed, framed your awful symmetry?" Here's the William Blake poem, written in 1794, that I swiped the line from:

The Tyger:

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art.
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

When Brent commented that he thought the eyes, seen in moments of musical revelation, might be a tigers, it started me thinking about categories of imagined cats, and wondering what sort of cat, exactly, that I encountered in my lucid dream.
I like to think that it is a black jaguar.

A few years ago I had a writing job that took me to a lodge in a park that will remain unnamed in Eastern Kentucky. Near a stream I saw some cat-looking tracks, bobcat I assumed. When I met the park ranger I asked him about the tracks, and he agreed that they were probably bobcat. I volunteered some of the panther sighting stories I'd heard, and he told me that there were mountain lions in that park, he'd seen them, but that had to be off-the-record, because the wildlife biologists insisted that they were not there, so officially he wasn't allowed to say he'd seen them. Mountain lions, or cougars as they're sometimes called, are buff colored, not black. All the panthers in the stories I've heard are black, but maybe that's just because black is scarier? If the panthers are entirely mythological, and just imagined by the people who see them, then black is easy.
Of course any animal can be dark-colored, if it is melanistic, but melanism is even rarer than albinism.

If mountain lions are not officially allowed to be seen in Kentucky, the jaguar is even further out of consideration, unless you allow for time warpage. There's a cave in Tennessee with jaguar tracks in it, but they were made over 10,000 years ago. Just a little north of my house a shell gorget was found with a design that has been interpreted as representing a jaguar, made around 600 years ago. But the closest officially sighted jaguars are currently in Arizona, very wary and rare creatures, long rumored to be there, only recently photographed. They were the regular gold & black spotted ones, not the less common black.

When I was in the Yucatan I went to a temple called Ek Balaam, Mayan for Black Jaguar. The pyramid was being excavated at the time, and some wonderful stucco sculptures had just been uncovered. My photo shows the right side of a portal - the curved shapes that line the frame of the threshold represent jaguar teeth - the doorway is a mouth. The Mayan guy who took us (my sister and nephew were with me) on a walk into the jungle said there was a jaguar den in a cenote in that area, but that it wasn't a good idea to go there. My sentiment exactly. But it was thrilling to walk in a jungle where jaguars were living, maybe watching.

Atop the temple of Ek Balaam

The right side of the portal.

There were so many things that I wanted to ask Mr. Calhoun, the man who taught me some Tsalagi (Cherokee) songs, and bits of this and that. He was wise, and he knew the myths. We talked about the Uktena, but not about the three kinds of panthers known to the Tsalagi. I wish now that we had. The word for "panther" is tluntu'sti, presumably for the mountain lion. But there was also an ama-tluntu'sti; a "water panther;"...and the atsil'-tluntu'tsi; a "fire panther." Fire panthers are comets or meterorites, but what water panthers might be is a mystery to me. They could be denizens of the Underworld, an underwater realm entered through the springs that emerge from caves, like Pete's Spring.

There's a story of a hunter who, on a hunt deep in the woods on a snowy winter day, encountered a panther. Somehow the hunter and the panther felt a kinship to each other, and the panther appeared to the man as a hunter like himself. The panther asked the man what he was hunting for, and the hunter replied that he was hunting for a deer. The panther proposed that since he himself was also hunting for deer, that they might hunt together, and the hunter agreed. Together they stalked a deer, and the panther leapt upon it and killed it easily. Then the panther wrapped his tail around the carcass and lifted it up on his back. They walked until they came to a mountainside. The panther spoke, and a doorway opened in the side of the mountain and they walked inside. Inside the mountain was another land. It was warm there, the trees were green and lush, and the sun shown brightly, for it was summertime. It was the land of the panthers, and the hunter was invited to feast with them on the fresh deer. After they had eaten, the hunter told the panther that he had to return home. The panther took him back to the doorway, opened it, and bid him farewell as he stepped back into the snowy forest. Then the doorway closed and no trace of it remained.

The hunter headed homeward through the snow, and soon met a search party, sent out to find him. He thought he had only spent a day in the land of the panthers, but many days had passed in his own town. Not long after he returned home, the hunter became sick, and soon died. If he had stayed with the panthers, he would have lived.

I've wondered a lot about the ama-tluntu'tsi ~ what exactly might it be? Was it a creature of this world, or one of the other world? Jaguars are said not share in the general aversion cats have for water, and to like swimming. On the other hand, Tsalagi taxonomy is organized differently from the one Linnaeus set forth in his 1753 "Systema Naturae." The name "water panther" could indicate any creature of the general size, ferocity, and (especially) hunting methods of a panther. It could be a giant amphibian, like the ones stalking around here 350 million years ago. If you've ever watched a salamander on the hunt lash its tail, exactly like a cat, you'd know that you wouldn't want to meet a hungry jaguar-sized one in a dark cavern.

Concerning the Uktena, an extremely dangerous giant horned rattlesnake with a fabulous crystal in its forehead, Mr Calhoun said, "I wonder if that Uktena could have been one of those dinosaurs. They say that they all were gone before there were people to see them, but I wonder."

Sunday, October 4, 2009


I don't think I've ever had more trouble getting an image translated from mind to paper than this panther. One of the songs in You'll Always Come Back is called "Panther Song." It follows the morphing of an image through a series of lucid dreams spanning from my early twenties to the present; panther, giant guardian, lightning. Because the giant guardian appeared as a man, then lightning, I associated the image with the Yoruba orisa Sango. When I began working on YACB, that association extended to Pete Dutton.

The first lucid dream that I had went like this: I was running along the edge of a bluff in a wild place, a wilderness area south of my home. It was the golden hour just before sunset and I was exhilarated at my ability to run on a little winding path, ducking under overhanging branches and taking tight curves with ease. When I came to an opening out onto the bald rock of the cliff edge, I looked out at the forest below, the three forks of the distant creek, realized that I was dreaming, and remembered to do the preset task I had assigned myself if I should realize that I was dreaming, which was to look at my hands. But when I pulled up my hands to look at them, I heard a, yes, bone-chilling, blood-curdling scream of the panther right behind me. I panicked and woke up.

I didn't see the panther in that dream. I didn't have to. Somehow I knew exactly how it looked - a black panther-shaped hole in space with two red eyes. One eye had an inward spiraling cyclone of fire into a pinpoint, the other shot piercing rays of fire outward from the same. The dream was so disturbing that I did not want to go back to sleep in my studio and left for a couple of nights. When I settled down enough to come back, I painted the panther, led on a leash by a strange, and naked woman, like a Japanese snow demon. I guess I painted over it eventually. It was hardly the sort of thing anyone around here would hang over their couch. Now I wish I could see it again.

People around here see panthers fairly regularly. They are mythical, except to the people who see them. I remember a friend of my dad's telling him about seeing one on the part of our road that used to be called Red Clay Hill, that when its head was going in the bushes on one side of the road, its tail was still coming out of the bushes on the other. He called it a "painter."

Some years after that dream, I was camping in the valley of said dream, with a friend, and heard a scream in the deep night, way too close, and quite inhuman, though the usual description is "like a woman screaming." It made every hair on my body try to leap off, and echoed into my dreaming I'm sure.

The dream panther returned every time I had a lucid dream for many years. Eventually I got used to it, I suppose, and instead of feeling fear when it appeared, always at a distance, I started to feel safer, that it was guarding me. That's when it changed form and appeared as a giant man, or I suppose I should say a man-shaped hole in space, blackness, except for the smile and the whites of the eyes. I liked him so much that he became lightning, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I feel about him the way I feel about lightning, like the thrill in the smell of ozone, signaling the approaching presence of a beautiful but very dangerous power. The flash of spirit.

If I can coax this into a painting, my intention is to make a blue grid-work of tile shapes with the two eye wheels penetrating through it. It should be simple, and I've painted something similar before this (Meg has one called "Two Lights" - same sort of image.) - but I haven't settled on the relative proportion of blue space to eye-balls.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


This morning Isaac and I worked on making armor. We cut the pieces out of cardboard and tied it all together with baling twine.

I thought of this because of The War. That would be the one I will need to stage for You'll Always Come Back, some sort of equivalency for the Civil War Battle of Dutton Hill that took place on our farm. I first heard about that battle when I was a child, and from the way my aunts talked about it then, I thought it had happened only a few years previously. They were still annoyed about it.

I don't really have any personal experience with war, thank goodness, so I decided to work on the YACB battle scene from the point of view I had as a child. Then I could be enthusiastic about it, because it was play. I liked playing war. Maybe all children do who are not exposed directly to it.

My oldest sister worked in Dayton when I was a child, and either for Christmas or my birthday one year she brought me a box of toy soldiers. I think they were WW II soldiers. They were molded out of grey plastic and had all kinds of things to help them wage war. There were even grey molded plastic barbwire coils to make, what? - barricades or concentration camps? The box they came in was about 24" x 30" and the set entire was fancier than any toy I'd ever had by far.

I have a vague memory of playing with them in The Lane, a cow path with a bit of dirt bank along one side that went from our cow barn to the woods and pasture beyond. What I remember is digging out caves for the little grey men in the dirt bank, and bombing them with dirt clods. Or maybe it was the neighbor kid, a bit brattish and more aggressive, who initiated the bombing. I must have seen bombing on tv - I knew how to do it and thought it was fun. If it was the neighbor kid, the dirt clod bombing probably escalated to throwing the clods at each other, and it seems like we did, because I think I remember that either he got dirt in his eyes, and cried about it, or I got dirt in my eyes and didn't cry. I wouldn't have cried - I was a strange child in that regard, according to my mom, I never cried. Nowadays I cry over beautiful things, or sentimental things, but not about myself. If I cried at all when I was a child they were fake tears ~ I did know how to act.

When I was 10 or 12 we had wars all the time. There were more kids within walking distance by then, with ever-shifting allegiances that made it all that much appealingly dangerous-seeming. You never knew if you were securely in a gang or had become the target of one. The early wars were with road gravel. We had shields made of garbage can lids, got in the middle of the gravel road, where there was plenty of ammo, and not much traffic in those days, and threw rocks at each other. Then we advanced to BB guns. I never was really interested in guns, but at that point it seemed you had to have one to survive, so somehow I acquired a BB gun pistol. You could only shoot one BB at a time and you had to pull back the spring-loaded mechanism after situating the BB. It took about all the strength I had to cock the thing. I didn't have a holster, so I carried it with the barrel stuffed in my cutoff short pants pocket. That's how I wound up shooting myself in the leg, but the thing didn't have a lot of firepower, or springpower, so all it did was sting and leave a bruise.

Some time back I read an interesting (to me) book about what the author called the "Germanic Mannerbund." The theory was that in prehistoric Northern Europe young men, teenagers to 20 somethings, lived in gangs outside the general society, in a limbo between useful ~ as ad hoc warriors when the local leader, chief or king, summoned them to wage war on outsiders, or near nuisances, demanding food and supplies from farms and homesteads as a tithe to Odin, the god of war, or real trouble, when they raped and pillaged just because they could. This Mannerbund, a self-administered school for boys, would have been the precursor to both an organized military, and the taxation that supports one. From personal experience I can imagine how that might have worked.

My solution to part of the staging problem is to conduct the battle in slow motion, video tape it, then project it speeded up again to a "normal speed" that really isn't normal. I'm planning to run an experiment of just that at a place in Louisville called "Skull Alley" in November. I doubt we'll have the time to make armor, but it would look good. If I can entice some of the young people to help with the battle when YACB is performed complete, maybe we'll have time and enough hands to make armor. Boys and young men all seem to know about armor and weaponry and battle from the get go, but I suspect it's because they have no option but to. Back when video war games first appeared I had a feeling they would become a tool for easing civilians into soldiers, and eventually the military invested directly in creating that imagery, shortening the step from game to reality. It's all much more sophisticated than dirt clods, but is it safer?

And of course there's the theory that war is an inevitable outcome of maleness, that we're (us guys in the mannerbund) driven by our embryonic hormonal drench to ultimately penetrate someone with something as often as possible - the rationale behind the machine gun. This seems to be a bit much to deal with in a performance, but I'd like to cover as many bases as I can.