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Things are good. Much to post here (including a new piece!). Soon. A new year.
Our children are now on their own, doing things they want to do with their lives. Jill and I are official "empty nesters". The daniel-trace piece for Daniel is based on some recordings I made of him practicing for his final piano recital here at home. It's chock-full of 'inside jokes' and hidden audio remembrances (Here's one: listen closely as the crickets "shift" towards the end of the piece. The first cricket sounds were recorded as I walked around Roosevelt this past August, recovering from my transplant. The second (two) recordings were made outside Akira Takaoka's cabin in Nagano prefecture. A close listening as the "shift" occurs might reveal a young voice in the background -- Daniel when he was about ten years old.) daniel-trace was one of my Christmas gifts to Daniel.
This morning while scanning the internet for relevant items about computers, music, etc. I ran across this "Call for Works": Festival FUTURA 2013 - Call for works "Portrait". I was mildly interested, as the piece I had just finished for Daniel could be construed as a 'portrait'. Reading through the "Call", however, it seemed really inappropriate for me to consider sending either of the pieces I wrote for Daniel or Lian, or any of the other 'portrait' pieces I've done as defined by the "Call". Read through the academic (and French translation-speak) prose. What is missing for me, even though a lot of the paragraph is bizarrely intriguing ("The portrait is obviously a description of a person, a metaphoric, poetic or literal appropriation of a set of physical and moral aspects, of behaviors; it is a way to approach an intimacy...") is a sense of context. I don't mean the generalized socio-cultural context critically attached to academic art-speak these days. I mean a context in a very specific sense.
For me, doing a musical 'portrait' of someone or sometime or someplace is a very personal transaction. It's not a "way to approach an intimacy", it is an intimacy. And that gets reflected in the use I make of the piece. In my case, I want to share it with the people involved, usually my family. I post it here on my blog; it's a part of that sharing. I don't see it as being used as part of a conference about 'portraits', as an example of how a portrait might be done, as an entity set up for objectified/deconstructed discourse. Why would I do that? What's the point of it, after all?
It occurs to me that more and more this is how I'm aiming my music. Maybe it's my rationalized excuse for not being a Great and Famous (or even mildly-known) composer, but more and more I find myself drawn to music that operates on a very tiny, very personal scale. Every once in a great while I get an e-mail out of the blue from someone saying something like: "hey, I really enjoyed listening to your piece X" or "your music made a difference to me today". These make me feel like I've done something worthwhile. They make me happy.
Don't get me wrong -- I'm not intending to denigrate the 'portrait' conference. As I said, I think it has some interesting possibilities. It's just wrong for the way I want to situate my music. And here I am in a business that relies on that kind of situation for the assignation of value. Darn.
More on this later. I've been thinking about it for some time now. I figured I'd start the new year off by getting some of these thoughts written down, so here they are.
Some friends have been inquiring about my health. The fact that I haven't been writing too much about it is a good thing. I've been feeling fine, and my latest appointments with Dr. Pearse have continued to show no evidence of cancer activity. About two weeks ago I started with a low 'maintenance' dose of Revlimid (5 mg). There has been debate in the myeloma research community about the efficacy of maintenance therapy, and Roger had been going back and forth on the idea. Since I've tolerated Revlimid well in the past, he thought it might be a good idea to go with the low-dose approach. It's not bad, but I can feel it working. It acts as a reminder that the myeloma will come back. I just hope it isn't for awhile.
It was an excellent choice. The time of year is perfect -- not too crowded, but still nice and tropical. Daniel's Spanish has been holding up well, although most people here speak English like natives, which in a sense they are. When we get 'off the beaten path', however, Daniel's abilities have helped immensely. Plus I think it opens up some possibilities that we would have missed otherwise.
We're staying about on hour outside of San Juan along the North Coast, in a small town called Loíza. We've been swimming in the ocean, swimming in the pools, hiking on the beach, hiking in the rainforest, touring through some caves, easting wonderful food, enjoying very friendly people (Daniel's Spanish...), quite a vacation. Pictures coming later. And all of it, together with the kids.
I'm stressing the time-together aspect a little in this posting, because earlier in the week I received some awful news from a very close friend. He had just received word that his mother wasn't expected to live more than 48 hours. The times we spend with our friends and our family, to be clichéd, maudlin and obvious, they are the times of our lives.
We're getting the downstairs interior of our house painted. Daniel's stars were removed today, and Lian's will be taken down next week. I'm not suffering from some oh-the-past-is-gone melancholia (well, maybe a little), but instead I've realized that our kids have different ceilings above them now. They're no longer under the stars Jill and I installed. This is as it should be. What will they see?
I had a good check-up with Dr. Pearse yesterday. We had a wonderful time last week in Puerto Rico. I'll get some photos on-line soon. I'm finishing up a substantial programming project, and classes start next week.
Oh life! What an amazing thing! This outburst is motivated by an event that have happened today (a HAPPY event!); I will write more about it later. Right now I'm just enjoying...
In the meantime, here's some music I did yesterday with good friend Karl Fury:
Then there are days where events serve to stop time, or at least make apparent a much larger frame. Last Sunday night, Lian called with Itay. They are now officially engaged to be married! My daughter, my little girl, definitely not little any longer! These are the things that mark our lives, that outline the larger frame of time. It is also the "event" I referred to in the previous post.
Jill and I knew about the impending proposal. Itay actually called to ask for our blessing. He's really proven to be a decent and kind guy, and I believe he and Lian will make a wonderful life together. Jill and I are both thrilled.
The engagement ring has one large diamond with eight smaller diamonds around it, four on each side. Itay told Lian it was for the eight years they've been together (yes, I think he's stood the 'test of time'), and the larger one for the lifetime they plan to spend together. I love that stuff.
Oh my sweet darling girl! Oh time, oh time!
The first thing is that I had another good check-up wit Dr. Pearse. Keren (PA) said my stats looked "absolutely perfect". I also read today that the myeloma drug Pomalidomide (Celgene's next-generation Revlimid) has been approved for use by the FDA. It's nice to have another therapy in the arsenal. Hopefully I'll continue to have "absolutely perfect" check-ups for some time yet.
The second thing that happened was a sharp telescoping of time related to this:
The last event to report from last week was the receipt of an e-mail out-of-the-blue from an exceptionally nice person. Sometimes I get these, and I'm always happily astonished. This was an individual who had seen some of what we do at the CMC and had also stumbled across my blog. Apparently it resonated with him and he wrote me a really wonderful letter. These unexpected, human gestures that we all encounter make the telescope of time seem like a very good thing. My heartfelt thanks. I was deeply touched.
Thinking again about the writing/reporting aspect of this blog these days, I'm still only lightly-editing what I set out here. That much should be obvious, and I'm sure it makes for just fascinating reading. Oh well, there it is.
Setting aside time... as the paucity of postings here recently shows, things are pretty intense at Columbia right now. Not intense in a bad way, but just a lot of material to work through. We finished our initial graduate-composition admissions last weekend (> 100), and I'm now going through applicants for our Sound Arts faculty position, and soon I'll need to start going through the graduate applications for that same program. As I wrote to one of my colleagues, I feel nothing more than an application-reviewing machine these days. That, plus teaching, and all the other semester-is-going activities.
Something to look forward to, though: Lian is coming for a visit this weekend! Yay! Last week I also noticed that the days are getting longer. I welcome that realization more and more every year.
In about a month, many things will be settled. It is nice to know this. PLUS: Today is my mom's birthday! Happy Birthday mom!!!!!!!
The promise of the season-to-come right now is Spring, though. It has been a long and gray February, and the grayness bled into March. However, things are progressing. We've now sent out the acceptance letters to our inaugural class of students for our new Sound Arts MFA program. We have four finalists for the Sound Arts faculty position now scheduled for campus visits in the next three weeks. We're half-way through the term, the "production workshop" is planned (more on this later), and -- despite the snow -- there are signs of Spring. Photos from another snowfall we had a few weeks ago:
But now it's a day I really look forward to. I listen to Irish folk music all day long, I sip Guinness Extra Stout, Jill makes some appropriately Irish food for dinner. Last night we had corned beef, potato pancakes and baby cabbage (well, Brussels sprouts, close enough). The thing that I now realize really makes it a proper holiday, though, is the way it stands as the gateway to springtime. We had residual snow on the ground, it was wet and cold, but -- as I noted in the post above -- the crocuses and snowdrops are blooming. Even the daffodils and summertime tiger-lilies are now showing signs of life. The seasons will change. I like that.
Today is March 18, the day after St. Patrick's Day. It is cold, it is gray, some desultory sleet fell earlier this afternoon. This is a very unhappy day. Looking out our back window, a single green pine bough was hanging down, swaying slowly in the wind. It moved back and forth against a backdrop of bare brown tree-trunks and a gray-blue sky. For a very slight moment, I had the feeling I could glimpse eternity in this scene. It was, it is, it ever shall be.
When Jill arrived home from work this evening, Nissa was lying on the floor, meowing. She couldn't get up. Jill took her to the vet, and the time had come. Nissa had a good, long run of it. The kids dated her birth on April 1, so we think she had just turned sixteen or seventeen years old. Not bad. She was also a terrific mouser, definitely holding up her end of the 'domesticated animal' contract. A really sweet kitty, too.
Jill said she did ok until she lifted the empty cat carrier to leave the animal clinic. Thinking of that makes me sad, too. Mortality. Time. I'm so wrapped up in work at Columbia right now, and then this happens. Time.
The weather has finally turned nice with a vengeance. Tomorrow we are supposed to be up near 80 degrees F! I'm picking Gregory Taylor up at the airport; he/Terry/I are planning to do some recording again since Gregory will be out here for the production workshop. That's always good for my soul.
I haven't said much here about Nissa. To be sure, I haven't said much here at all lately. Coming home last week was sad. Xenon seemed to be trying to meow (he's not a big vocalizer) to make up for the loss of Nissa's on-going cat conversation. Here's a photo I took of Nissa a few weeks ago, right after we learned she was dying:
Well, I am. Today, however, death doesn't loom as large as it once did. Or perhaps it does but I've just learned to properly ignore it and continue living. And maybe that's what the "status update" nature of my recent reportage here is now highlighting, that the simple act of living is how we define ourselves, our lives. We do it because that's what we do. What we make of it, that's something else. The something else that (hopefully) we do get to make up, a part of existence that we can exercise some control over.
The springtime has been especially vivid for me this go-round, and I realized today that I completely missed most of it last year. The flowers, the trees, the days of uncanny warmth. The nights of recollected coolness. The slant of the light. The smells. It's all so beautiful!
As I have hinted in my bloggish "status updates", the semester is ending
well. For some reason today I thought of the ending of another
term that was going well,
end-of-term December 2010.
Times like this are when I should be careful, be mindful. I never know when
things will go strange
again. Maybe the lesson is not to live in fear of those potentialities,
but instead to embrace the "status updates" as the marks of our lived-through
time, and to do our level best to enjoy the path we've traced up to now.
Daniel found out that a summer grant he had helped to write was not funded, so he won't be employed at my friend Dave's lab. Dave is probably not too pleased himself; I'm sure that research funding is, sadly and annoyingly (STUPID sequester!) in dire straits right now. This is not good.
And I've got a head cold. I saw Roger yesterday, and he wasn't too concerned ("there's a lot of viral infections making the rounds right now"). The good news I can report is that I only have to go back every two months or so. This means they're pretty happy with my level of remission. You take the good with the bad, and I'll definitely take that "good"!
First of all, the job search for our new Sound Arts MFA program has been completed. We had an unbelievably talented roster of finalists for the position. We have offered the position to Douglas Repetto, who is probably best-poised to get the program running right now. My hope is to really grow the program, however, and get the others who were seriously considered involved. It's taken me almost five years to get this to happen, and I do believe it will be a very exciting adventure as it takes off. I haven't said much in this blog about it for many reasons (the on-going job search for one). I think I'll talk more in a future post.
But I have more things to report now! This is a report-post! Stuff has happened! I mentioned briefly above that we held our "composition/production" workshop on my birthday a few weeks ago. It also went extremely well. We're now ramping up to get a good documentary website happening, and my hope is that this will also "take off".
Speaking of 'taking off', we put on our "Sound and Light Parade" this past Saturday here in Roosevelt. It was a part of the Roosevelt Arts Project 25th Anniversary celebration. Douglas came down (with family) along with Doug Geers (and family, this was a family weekend!) and helped build a bunch of LED structures that we marched around the town after the sun went down. The real 'taking off' aspect was a set of Chinese lanterns that Jill launched. They took off! Fire! in the sky! Very dramatic, very exciting. One did get caught in a tree but fortunately burned out before creating a truly memorable event for our neighbors. Jeff Ellentuck had alerted the fire department, so we did have a few safety measures in place. The whole thing was great fun though. Lots of clanky noisemakers, maracas, tambourines, drums, LEDs flashing, and flaming things in the sky. What's not to like?
Also as part of the RAP celebration, my next-door neighbor Alan Mallach put on a piano recital featuring works by Roosevelt composers. Four of us were represented. Not bad for a town of 350 houses. He did two of my older piano pieces. I'll get recordings up here soon.
And speaking of recordings, here are a few that also happened in April:
So much going on, and I fell down in writing about it all. I'll need to elaborate a bit more on some of what I've just posted here. I really was feeling bad last week. I thought I was coming down with a bad cold, and in fact I was concerned about pneumonia enough (lots of chest-wheezing and coughing) that I went to our doctor on Friday. Yikes, it turns out that I have allergies. I haven't had anything like this since I was in grade school. I've heard that this year was particularly bad, but how could I have allergies? Easy -- I have a rebooted immune system. As I said in my last post, the good with the bad.
As I lay there, looking out the window, drifting in and out of consciousness, I thought: this is the reality of the contemporary academic buzz-word "embodiment". It was being in the world. It was being of the world. It was embracing the world. I felt alive, and a good alive.
I'm a fan of Richard Rorty's philosophy. Much of it makes sense to me, and I also find it congenial with what I imagine my musical mission to be (maybe more on this later). However, what I read as his notion of the linguistic contingency of our beliefs and cultural values didn't always square with my 'embodied' experiences; experiences where I felt connected to something that was 'out there'. I have read most of his collected writings, but I somehow never got around to going through one of his most famous books, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. I'm about halfway through now.
Rorty writes that yes there is a universe 'out there', but that universe it is utterly alien to us. We try to make sense of it through our language-facility, but the notion that we can identify universal truths or eternal cultural values through the very languages that we invent is ludicrous. I used to wonder how the world appeared to The Looch, our good old dog. I analogize our attempts to explain and understand the inhuman/implacable universe to Loocher's understanding of the world we inhabit. Our brains have certain capabilities, but they also have certain restrictions. Maybe what we cannot fathom is best labelled "god". That doesn't make it a timeless truth. When we attempt to do that, we bring it into our self-constructed language, and it is diminished. That's probably why my 'embodied' experiences seem so ineffable. I can't describe them.
Looch would often howl at big sounds, things that she could not comprehend. Like Looch I also howl in my own embodied way at the cosmos, but lately it's been a good howl. Or at least it was this morning.
I think back to how I was feeling last year at this time -- occasionally I get these strange flashbacks, triggered by a smell, a sound, the way the light reflects on something -- and perhaps the simple fact of writing the banalities of existence is the lesson here. I look down over our back yard. The peonies are blooming, yellow primroses are out, and the infinite variety of the color green is beyond my real comprehension. This is it. Here I am. What could be better, right now? Perhaps it is the simple act of recording these things that forms the grandness of life I somehow hope to communicate. Yikes! Taking it all so seriously!
I'm also not posting much here for an inadequate reason, something that also affects my teaching at Columbia: I always feel like I'm repeating myself. To be sure, this is probably true; the various "stories" I tell to friends, colleagues and students are near-legendary in their repetition ("stop me if you've heard this one before!"). But more to the point, I often feel that I should always write or teach something new. The problem is that, in classes at least, new students haven't encountered my diatribes against the assumptions surrounding things like "concerts", "art", "composition/composers" (oh yeah...) and how we define 'success' in these various endeavors. Given some of the recent articles I've read, these issues still have currency in today's happy world.
Finishing the Rorty book mentioned above, I realize that he repeated his core message throughout several decades of writing. Of course, he was able to spin intellectual variegations that were marvelous to apprehend, but I doubt he worried too much that he was repeating himself. In fact, I think he was very much aware of his restatements; it was part of how he made his arguments known. So I guess I'll still keep writing and talking, repeating my repetitions, and something will result even if it is a demonstration of a trite and clichéd existence. At least it's mine, and that may be the point.
Then it happened: I felt like I could see through to the quantum world. The two clotheslines we use when possible cut through the scene of trees and sky, and something about their linearity caused a diffraction, or maybe more a diffusion of light between them. I felt like I could see into the putative seven dimensions beyond the three or four we experientially inhabit. It almost seemed as if I could reach out and touch this parallel world. If I did, what would I find? Immortality? A way out of time?
In the meantime, I'm structuring time in various ways. I'm getting a lot of good programming done, and I'm working on several new pieces. This is fun!
I'm sure that through life I overlook many things like this that I should do or should be doing. If I can catch at least a few, then that's at least a few better.
Lian was there, Daniel flew out with us, it was a good gathering. To be honest, we didn't really do all that much, and that was just fine.
So much seems to have happened since the last time I wrote anything here. I finished a new piece, Daniel is going great guns at Dave's lab, Jill is dealing with NJ DEP fun and producing stunningly beautiful works of ceramic art, my sister's beloved dog Casey passed away, friends and neighbors gather here in Roosevelt for various things, I've had visits with far-flung old friends, and I haven't written about any of these.
I think about writing a lot, and in fact that's one of my biggest obstacles to getting things done. When I think of something, I can almost pretend that I've done that something. A disease of academics, for sure. I have been getting a lot accomplished, though: programming, music, paper-reading. But I've also been withdrawn. I believe I recognize this -- my sabbatical year is starting. I need to write about it. Happy Independence Day, by the way!
Me? I'm spending time living in the past. I've been digitizing a bunch of old records, giving my new Macbook Air a workout. Much of the music I'm hearing as I hack away at RTcmix code come from vinyl LPs that I haven't listened to since high school. Memory lane? More like Memory Boulevard. It's wide and vast. Music just zings me back to my imagined self thirty or forty years ago. Right now I'm hearing Kate Bush' Never for Ever as I type. I can almost smell the subtle mustiness of our basement at 919 North Salisbury in West Lafayette. How do I feel as I inhabit my then-Brad construction? Unsettled. My life was in free-fall at that point; the joy of being twenty-three and having no serious future mapped (I had just dropped out of the Speech and Hearing Science grad program at Purdue). I listened then, and I wondered why I couldn't make music as a living.
I'm also imagining a future past. What will it be like a year from now, the July before I resume my full-time work at Columbia after a year of sabbatical? My imagination helps drive me to get things done. I don't want to recall a 'wasted year', although sometimes what seems a waste is actually a time of metamorphosis (as I listen to Kate Bush sing Army Dreamers). But I have been getting a fair amount of coding done, coding that I need to finish to do my planned sabbatical project. Ha -- it's about music and memory.
I'm also having fun making music, as always. Here is the new piece I finished at the end of June:
As I mentioned in my previous post, last weekend I took advantage of a birthday gift my wonderful wife gave to me. I got behind the wheel of a Lamborghini and drove it around! Yes I can drive cars! Expensive and fast ones, too!
A very silly thing, to be sure, but I had a blast. I think even Jill and Daniel enjoyed it. Exotica cars really are exotic. This is also something that I've imagined my whole life. When I was a kid, I had a collection of Matchbox cars, and one of my favorites was a yellow Lamborghini Miura. It looked really cool, and the name -- Lamborghini -- sounded so exotic (that word again) to a young boy in southern Indiana. When I was older, my friend Pat (also into foreign sports cars) and I used to drive around hoping we might see a Lamborghini or a Ferrari tooling along the back roads of Bartholomew County. Every once in a great while we might catch a Porsche in town, but high-end Italian automobiles weren't much in evidence in Hoosierland.
But here I am, almost 40 years later, driving a Lamborghini Spyder:
Less than a week behind in my postings here. That's a bit of progress. Summer is winding along. It has been extremely hot and humid for the past several weeks, the last few days even getting towards 100°. Jill had minor vascular surgery on her leg yesterday and is doing fine. I had another good appointment ("everything is as normal as it could be") with Dr. Pearse and Karen on Wednesday. I feel kind of lousy today because I had my six-month Zometa infusion also on Wednesday. I'll sit at home and imagine I'm driving a Lambo.
I'm hoping to exploit this aural memory-trigger in the project I've planned for my sabbatical. The other day I was walking around town to go get the mail, and I passed by a wooded area down the street from our home. The sun was shining, and coming from a deep, reverberant place in the trees was the call of a wood thrush. I tried to get a recording from our Roosevelt woods, but it was gone later. Here is the sound of it taken from the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:
Typically the wood thrush is truly a 'woodland' bird; you generally hear it in the deep woods. I used to hear it back home in Indiana, walking through the (sadly now developed) woods nearby, or visiting friends with houses located far off the road. The sound of it immediately brought forth my personal memories of being alive then, being a young kid in Indiana with both an unlimited sense of possibility but with a limited scope of possibility. I really had no idea how life would be, but at the same time my naiveté was offset by a feeling that most anything was possible.
Now here I am, reliving that feeling as triggered by a sound. It is like magic to me that sound and music can do that. My life as audio. That's what I'm aiming for in my sabbatical book-project. I'm fairly certain it will be mainly of interest only to me. But that doesn't bother me, too much. I am lucky that I can do this.
Daniel also got a chance to talk briefly with Dr. Mark and some of the staff about research and medicine, and I enjoyed the opportunity to chat with the terrific caregivers at the Myeloma Center and the main hospital. Several of them are retiring (Patty Garcia the main administrator, yikes!) or moving to new jobs (Alana Surun; she's done most of my scheduling for the past several years), so it was good to be able to talk with them one last time. And the food was delicious.
Then Monday evening my friend Dan Trueman invited me over for a few beers and conversation. That activity in and of itself is nice, but this time was especially fun: Dan was working with Irish Sean nós [traditional] folk-singer Iarla Ó Lionáird. I've been a big fan of Iarla's dating back to his early work with the band The Afro Celt Sound System as well as his solo albums. Son Daniel was also impressed by the invitation; he's also an Iarla fan, mainly because of the Gaelic and Old Irish dialects Iarla often uses on his recordings.
We had a delightful time, or at least I did. Iarla had many good tales to tell (he is Irish, after all!). Just for fun, I did a little piece today using samples from Dan and Iarla's recordings as a 'thank-you' musical gift. The web page about it is here.
Today we're getting an emergency back-up generator installed for our Roosevelt home. Two weeks in the cold and dark last November was a powerful motivator. Jill and I figured that if we actually believe what we say we believe about global climate change, the storms and extreme weather aren't going to get much better. This will provide us with a bit of comfort the next time the lights (and stove, and heat, and refrigerator...) go down.