In the Fall of 2007, I attended a memorial for Natasha Chances. I studied piano with Natasha while I was at Bates (20 years ago), for which I am ever grateful. By the family's request, the memorial included music played by students from across the 40 years of her teaching career. Thank You to Jim Parakilas, who thought to seek me out after all this time and make sure I knew about the event. It's a measure of how we move around through life that although I probably thought about Natasha weekly - maybe more, depending on what music was in front of me - I didn't stay in touch and I didn't know until Jim called that she had died.
I wrote a short piece to play, which became the second of this set (one and three I wrote after returning to Pittsburgh and wanting to frame the piece a little bit).
I don't have a recording from the Bates memorial, but here's a video of me playing at home. (download the score). There's a bit of a fumble at the beginning of the third piece, and the video was shot using my Flip so nothing HiFi about it.
In the fall of 2008, Squonk Opera performed their latest piece, Astrorama. The piece involved an enormous stage construction, all outdoors, all subject to the same forces of gravity, thermodynamics and crowd control that you or I experience. Along with the kind of performance associated with Squonk Opera, there was also for the first and only time an enormous projection of my head - talking out my buttocks, remarkably - about music, extraterrestrials and the like. With generous permission from Squonk, here's my bit. I've tried to include some sense of what the whole environment looked like, but really you need to buy the DVD.
"The Squonk Astro-ramanauts believe that the recent UFO crashes in the region have been a plea for first contact. They also believe that many of our greatest inventions, like the pyramids, zippers and TV remote controls, were the gifts of our extra-terrestrial friends.
To help them send their message to the cosmos, the Squonkers will build a 40' radio telescope dish mounted to scaffold towers, tuned to the galactic frequency of B-flat. Rising in scissor lift platforms and cherry pickers, they will compose a proud message from our species, power up and transmit.
Some scholars and scientists have accused Squonk Opera of invoking pseudo-science, and using smoke and mirrors to create tawdry concert spectacles. "They won't be disappointed!" enthuses Science Officer Steve O'Hearn. "Music is the universal language, and this intergalactic call and response will show the indomitable human spirit."
I thoroughly enjoyed myself in the recording session, mostly because I got to see their studio lined with cutouts, pictures, oddball bits of data all showing a keen and passionate search for whatever it is to be human. And then what to do with that insight. What Steve and Jackie did was create this piece, with it's silly title (sorry), but with a heart open beyond the cosmos and some wonderfully lyrical music There's a beautiful Aria with the singer rising high above the crowd, her body resting on a crescent moon while her voice sings a song of what it is to be lonesome and alive. At least, that's my recollection. The summer night was late season but warm, I had bad chinese food down my shirt and on my lap, and with a few too many Wild Turkeys in my gullet.
I just watched the video clip again for the first time in a while. In the story arc of the performance event, the members of the band have found a crashed UFO, and are trying hard and profoundly to create a response. One that has meaning and emotive power (along with a good deal more party fun than a serious person would countenance).
When the Astrorama website refers to the crash locations as a 'plea for first contact', I cannot help but think of beached whales. Intelligent, gentle magnificent creatures choosing to die upon our shores. This is not a mad unthinking gesture, the result of small brained instincts unable to adapt to warmer water or high does of pollutants. It is a conversation begun with the highest possible intention. Save us. Talk to us. Counterpoint with Whalesong!!
Steve begins twiddling dials on the Astrorama receptor. The very sexy computer announces that it is seeking the best frequency for response. And voila hey presto! there I am with some useful suggestions. You'll notice that my hair is very short, and I have big glasses on. This has been my chosen look for several years, but almost immediately after filming the interview, I lost my glasses, grew a beard and stopped shaving my head. I don't know if the two are connected.
I particularly like extracted from my rambling recording the statements beginning "Equally without a doubt" and "When we wake up as a culture". A really influential read for me was Life on Other Worlds by Steven J. Dick. (I'm assuming no relationship with VALIS by Philip K. Dick. Perhaps the senior generation of Dicks had 26 children, and moved alphabetically through the middle names of their offspring.) Steven J. suggests that in the seventeenth century, clever, thoughtful and visionary people proposed mile-long ditches in the transylvanian forest, filled with pitch, alight with fire and shaped like the pythagorean solids. Surely, they reasoned, the intelligent life on Mars would recognize euclidain/pythpgorean geometry represented in visual light.
Our fascination with radio telecscopes and full sky scans will seem just as naive when we 'WAKE UP' and see the contact ongoing and enmeshed with human culture from the earliest known moments. President Obama, are you listening? I see a cabinet position in this.
Anyway. Thanks to the Squonk group for a very good time.