Saturday, April 21, 2007


A group of flowering cacti from last week: right side, top to bottom, Strombocactus disciformis, Echinocereus russanthus, Escobaria organensis, Stenocactus vaupelianus; left side, top to bottom, Echinocereus russanthus "weedinii," Escobaria sneedii, Mammillaria viridiflora. Lophophora diffusa off to the side.

So I'm in Chama for the next 4 days, doing two 4th/5th grade opera projects...10 and 11 year olds writing their own operas in a total of ten hours. Chama's project involves football players, aliens and superheros. The big problem: a superhero and an alien both fall in love with the same football player. At Tierra Amarilla, the story includes secret agents, knights and outlaws of the old west. The big problem: a secret agent has created a hole in the time space continuum by using her gadget; a knight falls in love with her and a cowgirl falls in love with the knight. What is up with all this love business? I've done 5 other operas with kids and not one of them involved even a hint of love.

Chama is at about 8,000 feet, along a road (US Highway 84) that turns into NM 17, heading directly for the snowy passes of the high Rockies. An elk, just one, lumbered along the road just outside of town yesterday. Mule deer, Canada geese, huge pine trees. Only a handful of people. The big news at noon yesterday on the local radio station: next year's middle school basketball program is lacking funds, which will mean having to combine Chama and Tierra Amarilla students onto one team.

Tierra Amarilla, by the way, is most famous for the Land Grant rebellions of the 1960s, including the raid on the US Courthouse.

Just outside the town, there's a billboard that says "Tierra o Muerte!"

It's no wonder the knights and the cowpokes in the TA opera get in a fight over who owns the land.

It seems quite a few people have stopped by to download the Duology files (a couple of posts down) but there's been an eerie silence afterwards. I expected some sort of critical feedback (though I didn't explicitly ask for any) and I guess I envision someone downloading them, listening, and being too enraged, disgusted, bored or embarrassed to comment. This is the neighborhood my mind wanders in when it encounters a lack of information.

I don't watch television, so a stay at a motel is always fascinating. Wednesday and Thursday night I mostly watched The Twilight Zone and The X Files, avoiding the incessant and harrowing coverage of the Virgina Tech shootings. I did see some of the shooter's video. Maybe the only clip that I saw of that was when he said "So this is it. The end of the line. What a life. Some life." Or something like that. And I guess the only thought I had was "where is everybody? All along the way, as someone becomes submerged in psychopathic grief, rage, loneliness...where was everybody?"


Dan said...

Hi Peter, I'll have some feedback on the duology tracks soon. I'm the kind of listener that likes to give tracks multiple listenings and really let it stew before I start spouting my views and opinions.

Who funds your opera lessons with schoolchildren? Is that a public school? Pretty cool.

Dan said...

Hi Peter - you asked for it. Here's my thoughts on the Duology tracks. I was able to listen to each track about 5 times before I listened one last time and wrote down my thoughts.

1-Weaver: Unfortunately I've had to listen to all of these tracks on crappy computer speakers, so the low end of the range gets lost a lot of the time, and my listening to this track has suffered because of it. However, I think this one really gels about halfway through until the end and there are some great moments. Maybe it's some kind of instrumental bias on my part but I have a difficult time honing in on what the tuba is really doing melodically, and as such I think I tend to prefer when it played longer tones that created a backdrop for your playing. I love the way this one ends.

2-Zaporah: I wish I could see the visual element of this one because it obviously played a big role - especially when I can hear the audience laughing, responding to some kind of visual cue. I didn't get much out of the vocal interactions, but I can see how your playing might have been interacting with a dancer and movement, especially in terms of tempo variations. I really like the chords you play about halfway through. Evocative. Wish I could make out what your musical partner was saying during the last section.

3-Jonas: I particularly enjoy the soprano playing here. Do you two have a history of playing together? You have an excellent repoire musically, nice interaction without falling into reactivity which can be a crutch in free improvising settings to my ears. Some really nice melodic and harmonic interplay throughout. This one builds nicely as well, it has contours musically speaking. The transition to tenor playing works okay, but sounded unnecessary to my ears - I could have heard more soprano and I don't think the possibilities had been exhausted. That said, it's a nice passage. You obviously have great ears and I dig your playing throughout this one.

4-Bleich: I think I prefer the section with the oud to the percussion. I've always loved the timbre of the oud, and while the percussion section has its moments, I prefer the pace and sound of the oud section more. There are some really beautiful moments between your piano and the oud.

5-Brown: My listening of this one suffered since the bass was lower in the mix (was it amplified?) and for similar reasons to the tuba track: losing the low range of the bass in my crappy speakers. It's too bad because what I can make out sounds great. Your playing throughout is excellent, and if anything that's what I enjoy about this track, you take a more active forefront role. That could be a function of the way I'm hearing the tracks without the bass being really present though.

6-Rowland I really dig this track. I like the way it simmers at first but steadily moves towards a boil. The drummer is great and I love the section where you get up in the top of the register about 2/3 of the way through. You two have a great musical repoire and I can tell that you have a great rhythmic understanding/awareness in the way you play along with a drummer. This one has a great ending too.

Overall thoughts: 6 great improvisations with nice topographies. I like the lengths and sense of space throughout. Great to hear your playing! You should do it more often. Thanks for sharing the tracks with us.

peter breslin said...

hey Dan- I appreciate your take on the Duology tracks. Most of my improvisational musical life has taken place in a total void, so I'm always eager for listener response. (I once did a solo piano show with one paying audience member.....)

I especially appreciate you taking the time to sit with the tracks for a while.