Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Robert Bly told me I had "a beautiful face."

This past weekend I was at the Ottawa International Writers Festival reading with Angela Rawlings and John MacDonald. I'm about to leave for Between the Lakes: an Interlochen Symposium for Readers and Writers. I'm doing a lecture/demonstration on my music and writing as well as two readings at a school in nearby Traverse City, Michigan.

I went to Grade 11 & 12 at Interlochen Arts Academy. I studied music & writing as well as all the usual high school stuff (American civics?) They have a dedicated Creative Writing building (that's the picture with this post) and a specific writing program.

When I went there, my room mate used to be able to quote from memory the entire The Wasteland. We also had visiting writing teachers like Mark Strand and Robert Bly. It was really incredible.

One really interesting little rule that they had in the Grade 11 writing classes was that you weren't allowed to use plurals or abstract nouns. This made you either ground your writing in concrete images (and avoid many of the vague, mushy pitfalls of high school writing) or have to argue for each abstraction or plural.

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And now, for your literary diversion (why bother going through all that soul searing, and brain searching) here's a cool link that will generate poems from your first line:

Here's mine:

my shoes are angry

thinking why oh why have I committed such a crime.

Reality is a staircase leading nowhere.

Still I warble in springtime.

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And one more thing, here's a fascinating site that regenders webpages. You give it a URL and it switches the genders of the content. Really an amazing little subversion.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


These are the liner notes I was asked to do for the new CD by arraymusic, the Toronto new music ensemble. I was thinking of Fred Wah's Pictograms from the Interior of B.C. while I was writing them. The music was like pictograms. In some parts I imagined I was doing like Wah and transcreating the pictograms into text, trying to capture something of their way of being, their flow, their "logic."

There's surprisingly little connection between Canadian new music composers and writers. Writer's ears are surprisinging conservative when it comes to new music. Ya want post-semotic, the new sentence, aleatorics, "uncreative" writing, etc. Check out much music from the middle of the 20th century and later. And likewise, many composers don't know much about modern writing. They are more apt to set Whitman to music than bissett. One recent notable exception, and a fascinating work it is, is the Ferneyhough/Bernstein opera entitled Shadowtime based on Walter Benjamin.

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I RECEIVED THE NEW ARRAYMUSIC CD IN THE MAIL TODAY. Started listening on my Walkman and remembered the first time I saw a cassette Walkman about 25 years ago. How I was amazed that music could be carried around, how it played in my head wherever I went. How music could travel, become a soundtrack.

Walked out to the backyard, listened to Walter Zimmerman’s Northwest Passage in the hammock. Clarinet, high trumpet, violin negotiating fractured ice. In the yard, birds, warm sunlight, squirrels. Over the fence, someone cutting with a saw. The path of the music evading straight passage, slicing through narrative fissures, following crevasses toward some backyard Beaufort Sea. Warm September afternoon, a fractal archipelago of ontological melody, frozen, crystalline, arctic.

Later, coffee and Diagonal Forms at the kitchen table with Linda C. Smith. Raindrops fall upwards. Doleful birds head toward the clouds. Morton Feldman climbs the stairs and I’m wading through the trumpet waters in a clarinet bathing suit, wearing a marimba for a watch.

There’s that tree again, coffee-coloured. A double bass. A piano flies the clarinet sky like a kite. A breeze and a chord emerges through a cumulus of sound. We glide down on a piece of paper.

Trees swim into the ground, bury themselves in the earth. A trickle of trumpet and clarinet. Chromatic breathing rustles grass blades. There are many ways to end, to become quiet, to breathe, to watch, to listen. The lungs, wooden twins, put themselves to sleep. Only thoughts move as the trumpet sun sets behind the piano clouds.

There are also many ways to begin.

The dog needs a walk and so Tenney’s Spectrum 1 comes with us to the woods. The dog has nothing particular on its mind, but I’m creeping through a prismatic forest with a camera lucida. I’ve got a pocketful of broken glass, a trumpet, marimba birds in the violin sky and a clarinet is a tree. There’s a bunch of things splashing. Metal water. Leaf edges. River ripples speak in echoes.

Here I am again taking the tone road less traveled, getting out of town in a pair of stochastic shoes. The forest starts from a single tree. Branches are the partials of a single trunk. The leaves, timbral, shimmering, prismelodic.

Many things change between the branches. I can hear the forest in the trees.

At the sink after supper doing dishes to Wolff’s For Si, My daughter jogs into the room. Small horses in the kitchen. Their legs separate, trot about. A plaintive ear wanders over to the TV. Behind a trumpet, Stravinsky sits in a small wagon and bumps along the trail. A low clarinet bird. Something rattling behind the green train-set mountain. It solos. An HO scale dance. A miniature darkness in the tunnel as the train slows, a shipment of arco bass in back. Suddenly thoughtful, my daughter asks, “What would it be like if I were that small, if I climbed through that tunnel?” The horses’ legs regard each other from the room’s distant corners. Together? Apart? Fast? Slow? Trembling leaves from the piano. Breaks apart, clatters, imitates (piano, trumpet, clarinet, bass) but wonders. Stop. Tender. Sad. Hmm. A small hymn considers. Drums begin thundering, or another dance perhaps. All’s well that.

Now it’s dark. Shh. Loping/wondering around the fridge. Night is earthy, regular, an old horse, a double bass fed on oats and there’s a tune buried under a folk song. At the back of the brain. Trudging from axon to dendrite. Slow summer rhythm. An arch and plod in the non-light. Cup-muted moon, clarinet in the leaves. Piquant hope or humour on a low string. Plough. Stop.

Here we are. Yes! An announcement. Wait. Quiet, there’s time. Everyone has a job to do. One after another. Consider apart, or together. A melody can be or several. Wait. An aphasic articulate Copland pick-up-sticks. Wait. Tied together with. American clarinet, bass, drums, and trumpet uncollaged. We are one, or, at least, one less than many. Ives kindling held together. Flutter and jump. March. The unanswering question. Then again, the unquestion is the answer questioning the unquestioned answer. Gathering moments from the sound horde. A semicolon cadence and then;

There's just time before bed to bring Jo Kondo's Aesculus (Latin for horse chestnut) out onto the deck. A late summer evening alone beneath the trees. When is a tree not a tree?

When it is branches. Stars leapfrog stars on spacetime's infinite Trampoline. Zodiac ballet. A constellation is a melody of unrelated stars. Each note in a husk of its own gravitas or gravity. And joy. The clarinet is forty-seven light years from the Dancing Bear Nebula or the Hunter's Twister-playing Marimba Cluster. The branches of the trumpet, piano twigs, clarinet shine. Melody is a forest lost in the trees of its own harmony. Or there's something else I remember. Molecular nostalgia. A night breeze. Branches move, sway as a human wood. The music is large as a galaxy yet dances on its feet. Then silence.

The next day, I don’t need the Walkman. Music has always been portable. Prosthetic. Live. Arraymusic follows me into the bath. Onto the bus. A quick set-up of percussion gear in the bandshell of my skull and they're ready to go. The little studio of my hippocampus, the proscenium of my corpus callosum, the grocery store. Arraymusic starts playing behind the dark velvet curtains of consciousness and as I pick up my laundry, I discover that the show has begun again. Yes, the show has begun again. It’s always beginning. No batteries needed.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


have lost my way

pull to the shoulder

the door clicks

place my tongue on the highway

taste the road ahead

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


from FOLK SONG IN ENGLAND by R.L. Lloyd:

"We hear of a village in the Antilles inhabited chiefly by women. The men have to seek work in the nearest town. Any messages the women want to pass to their men they confide to a tree. 'Why do you talk to that tree?' asked the visiting folklorist. 'Because we're poor', the women answered. 'If we were rich we'd use the telephone.'

Saturday, April 08, 2006


So here's another editing question.

Here's version one of a poem that I had called "Falled" but have since come to my senses.

leaves lose their branches

shuffling through the park

I am in a dark coat and

a huge oak does not crush me

I find myself in a poem where

friends do not die

I like this sudden verging into emotion or heavy sentiment. At least when Ron Padgett (that wonderful poem where he iterates all the variants of which and each, and then clobbers you at the end) or David McFadden. But still, with my poem, I think I might do better with version two, except it might be overdoing it. I do like the double meaning that this version introduces. For both versions, I also wonder about that meta-poetic penultimate line. In version two, I'm thinking about "no one dies" at the end instead of the line I have. I'm tossing and turning nights, knotting sheets around my fist, gnawing at alarm clocks, making balloons out of dogs. I sure hope I resolve this soon. At least sometime before the new age comes.

leaves lose their branches

shuffling through the park

I am in a dark coat and

a huge oak does not crush me

friends do not die

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


I'm preparing a lecture/demonstration for a conference at Interlochen College of the Arts (in Interlochen, Michigan) at the end of April. The subject is my work integrating text and music. I've done different things: live computer processing, converting spoken word into pitches & rhythms (using computer, or chamber ensemble.) I've written "songs," and various types of sound poetry, but my main interest has been is in setting spoken word. Singing can obscure speech rhythms and pitch contours.

My usual technique when writing for instruments is to transcribe a naturalistic performance of the text into musical notation and then use that rhythmic material to create instrumental parts.

Here are three examples. The first two are pieces I wrote for arraymusic, for chamber ensemble and reciter. One is here and here.

The second uses one of my poems (Psalm) with the vocalist chanting on a single pitch. I don't usually use singers singing (especially those from the classical vocal tradition) but this was an experiment. I've also used oboe, flute, and French horn. It can be found at the amazing over here.

Oh, and since this is a blog, I guess I should tell you that I have a pink plastic fish on my desk, I'm drinking Hamilton water, and one of my shoes is being chewed by the dog.