May 31, 2008

Adorable Hellhounds

cd-apr-08-007.jpg I’ve had a friend here all day, a member of the way too extensive subgroup of ‘haven’t seen in too long’ and it’s been great.  I’m hoarse with talking, not to say ranting, and not to say stiff with gesturing in a passionate Mediterranean manner.  It’s all good, except for the minor fact that I’ve got NO WORK DONE.   Therefore, being obsessive*, I’ve been working over dinner** instead of writing something for the blog.  Shock horror.   So, barring the odd footnote***, I thought I’d give you an Adorable Hellhound photo.  Cormac, poor man, who sent me a CD of hellhounds with Photoshopped degreened eyes right after Hannah et al were here, then emailed and said, wait for the second one, I’ve figured out how to do it better.  And then the transatlantic postal disservice stepped in, as it will, and the second CD arrived only yesterday, having been something like three weeks in transit.†

            But aren’t they adorable?

* * *

* which is one of the things my friend and I have in common.  I know by the size of her shoulder bag/briefcase that she’s working on the train:  although having said that, she had one of the early all-singing-all-dancing palmtops and it was her example that fatally inspired me to buy one of my own.  It’s one of those, Aaaaugh!  Can’t EVER get away from work! mixed blessings.  We talk about how we both need to do something about our shared compulsion. . . . 

            Also the battery on my palmtop, which doesn’t sing and dance as extensively as hers either, is not entirely satisfactory and I don’t always remember to check.   Which means that every few months when I go to turn it on it doesn’t turn on.  I know I could set it to beep at me when it’s getting low but the warning would go off in the middle of the night^ like the smoke alarm did about a week ago.  And I come awake hard in response to any faint whimpering noise that might be translated by the sleep-addled brain as the sound of a hellhound in trouble.

            Fortunately however my palmtop is a retentive little beast and all my lovely urgently necessary info returns from etherland when the battery has been juiced up.  I do remember to back up to my desk top . . . pretty often.  And I don’t drop it on its head very often. 

^ The middle of my night which is a bit later than some people’s

** Not that he would stop me^, but Peter plays bridge most Saturdays so I’m left to my own devices. 

            Saturday evening at the opera is one of the high points of my week.  Usually.  The Saturday afternoon at the Met series is over and tonight we had Harrison Birtwhistle’s new one, The Minotaur.  Urrgh.  I don’t really do modern opera.  The one that everybody mentions, I liked the first act of Nixon in China, had my doubts about the second and lost it completely for the third, and I don’t get anything much out of Klinghoffer.  I like Tippett and Taverner, neither of whom I think have written a full scale opera, but I like a lot of their vocal and choral stuff.  And Benjamin Britten, who certainly wrote opera, is in the process of becoming one of my gods.  But Birtwhistle . . . well, I rather queasily like the sheer murderous energy of his Punch and Judy, but The Minotaur . . . I can hear Pollyanna trying to fight her way out of books and come dashing over here to save me from betraying myself on music.  Okay, here’s a mere visceral reaction:  I flatly refuse to accept even an anti-hero who rapes his food before he tears its head off and eats it.  You’re supposed to feel compassion for the whole half man half monster thing.  Nope.  Oh, and I don’t think a lot of the libretto either.  All right, Polly, calm down, I’m stopping.

^ Not that he hasn’t been known to try.  He thinks I have a compulsion.

*** And my footnotes are always odd.  Okay, okay, you saw that one coming.

†  And I’m still waiting for my Edward Gorey t shirts.


 This composing thing is quite a . . . thing.  Which illustrates one of the problems.*  It’s music!  Which is also to say it’s not words!  In some ways the process is astonishingly like writing prose, which is one of the reasons I have embraced it so readily.**  In some ways it’s nothing like at all.  In some ways it’s both.

            After Oisin had sent me away twice to keep working on the time and rhythm of Song II *** I began lately to feel that if I bash away at it too much more I might start losing my sense of it–which is a very writery thing.  I don’t rewrite a huge amount in my day job–my stories usually go through roughly three drafts–because I start to lose my sense of the story.  It gets muddy, like dug-up-and-trampled ground.†  

            So I decided to start setting something else.  Peter had suggested three of his poems to begin with, and Song II is one of them.  But it’s very sad, particularly the way I’ve set it–or anyway it makes me all melancholy, it may not anyone else.  And the other two are just as bad and one of them is worse.††  They’re also longer. †††  So I went leafing through The Weir [ : both Song and Money Spider are here] for something a little lighter and have landed on Money Spider.  And this time I was going to pay attention to speech rhythm from the outset, in fact this is one of things that attracted me to this poem, the way the voice rises and falls, and the totally weird things Peter does with the punctuation and line breaks.‡  Also, it being not ballady at all and not mournful, I have finally got out of the minor key.‡‡   

            The only drawback to listening quite so intently to the voice is, however, as I discovered today playing it (right hand only, and pretty much one finger) for Oisin, is that I’ve set it so close-focus line by line that there’s no progression.  There’s no beginning, middle and end.  Which is interesting:  this is something else that happens in prose, the risk of a series of perfect paragraphs adding up to meandering mush, but I’ve been prosing for decades and my long-focus function is on automatically. ‡‡‡  I hadn’t realised I was going to have to build a new one for writing music, or anyway add a few buttons § to the old one.  But nearly everything about writing music is new and strange and formidable and thrilling, even the mistakes.  And this doesn’t even feel like a mistake.  It’s just, oh, this is what I need to do now.  This is barely the first draft.

            Meanwhile, back at Song II, I’m hoping it’s settling into a framework.§§  I’ve started putting the left hand in, and have made another of those sinew-snapping leaps about what I’m willing to try in terms of complexity.§§§  Well, I had to.  It didn’t sound right, simple.¤  But I made Oisin play it, so we could hear, indeed, what it sounded like, as opposed to the Long Pauses Between Bars method that I am obliged to employ. 

            I can often hear Oisin not saying things.  He does not want to crush the delicate flower of my musical creativity.  Yeeeeep.  Which is very noble of him.¤¤  I am sometimes curious about what he’s not saying . . . but not curious enough.  I have thirty years of book reviews to teach me that if someone is kind enough to keep their mouth shut, let them.           

            But occasionally he says something appalling.  Today he mused over Song II for a while and finally said, I think it’s time I called your bluff.  I think you need to finish the accompaniment and then record it so you can hear if it’s what you want it to sound like or not.  And I recommend that you start singing it, now, as you work on it.  It will help ground you in the music which, by definition, is ephemeral.  And when you’ve recorded it, bring it in, and we’ll analyse it together. 


            A day or two ago radio three played what the announcer named Mozart’s first song.  He wrote it when he was twelve years old.  It’s several minutes long and completely charming, lively and catchy and frilly, and the piano accompaniment is bright and brisk and full of twiddly bits.  Sigh.  Oh, well, Mozart. . . . 

* * *

* The one, major, top of the league problem being TIME.  I want more time! I howled to Oisin today.  I want two hours a day for the piano!^

            Cancel the blog, said Oisin.

            Write me some guest entries, I said.

            . . . I consider this stalemate.

^ I used to say I wanted two hours a day when I was only playing.  I should be saying I want three hours, now I’m trying to compose too.  Or four.  I need one for reading+ other people’s scores.  But I know that four hours is ridiculous.  I can abuse myself over the two hours, which I feel I ought to be able to find.

+ Reading, well, cough cough cough.  I don’t read music.  But I can hit it with a hammer and then pick up the little bitty pieces and look at them individually.  Note by note, chord by chord, even bar by bar.  Even bar by bar with both hands.  But there tend to be long pauses between bars.

** I say nothing about the quality of my composing.  Only that I can scribble notes on a piece of music paper in a manner that doesn’t make Oisin throw me out, shouting, Never darken my door again!  And the horse you rode in on!  And you’re ugly and your mother dresses you funny! 

*** I have told you I’m setting Peter’s Song, haven’t I?  Which for my purposes becomes Song II since my first completed piece is Song I, because although it doesn’t have any words (yet) it obviously should.  I know I told you that

† Like ground that has just withstood the wettest day in four years.  Like ground whose rainfall thus far this year is running at 210%.  How wet is it?  A few days ago I pulled a Monster Weed out of my neighbour’s border before it seeded and blew its seeds onto my little border:  this is up at the garage at the cottage.  It’s a two car garage, and one half is mine and one half is one of my neighbour’s.  Each garage also has a tiny flower border.  So I pulled the weed out and dropped it in the driveway, and I keep not getting around to picking it up because my hands are always full of hellhound leashes.  It is lying in the driveway and it is still alive and growing.  The tip has turned up toward the sunlight and the beastly flowerhead is getting ready to open.

†† And one of them has this great thundering scary hortatory conclusion that I’m not sure I’m up to yet.  Especially not the ‘singing’ part.

††† Also this fricking dadblatted business of speech rhythms means you can’t reuse your music nearly so easily.  I thought I was going to be able to reuse verse one’s music for verse three but noooooo.  I will certainly use it as a basis for tweaking, but at my level of incompetence tweaking is almost as bad as starting over from scratch.

‡ Poet’s prerogative.  Right.  Composer’s prerogative:  complaining about poets.

‡‡ Oh, twelve pink tigers.  I forgot to ask Oisin about D minor without the B b.

‡‡‡ It’s happening right now with PEGASUS.  It’s saying, remind me what this little digression is for?  You do have a plan, don’t you?

§ And possibly a new sleeve

§§ Not cage.  Not, not, not cage.

§§§ I keep remembering Oisin saying, quite a while ago now, that he’s enjoying watching me reinventing the wheel.

¤ Remember we’re still talking tricycles here, not Bugatti Veyrons.

¤¤ And believe me, I don’t pay him anything like enough to make it worth his while.

¤¤¤ I am not teasing you.  If I manage to write and record anything that I can bear anyone but Peter and poor long suffering Oisin to hear, I’ll post it.  If it amuses you to whine/nag me, feel free.  But what I manage to accomplish, or not, is the only deciding factor.



It’s sheeting out there.  It’s coming down in ruddy great bucketsAnd I didn’t get Souvenir’s raincoat back on in time. . . .  Kill me.  Kill me now.*

            I admit I’d begun to wonder if I was going to succeed after all.  There’s a point where the atmosphere becomes so sodden that the raincoat is superfluous, which is to say spurious–that’s what’s happened in the ‘when things go horribly wrong’ photo:  that particular flower was underneath the first epic tornado-proof cover, but I noticed when I took the cover off that that particular little tenty bit was fairly sauna-like on the inside** too.  But if at that point the weather had cleared the heck off and we’d had some proper sunlight I would definitely have had a glorious crop of Souvenirs;  as the rain and the re-raincoating has continued the likelihood of ultimate success has begun slipping, like Converse All Stars on a muddy downhill slope with hellhounds towing.  There was one day when I had to leave the raincoat on all day, which is Not Good. 

            But this morning when I took her raincoat off again*** and was looking at this particular top cluster I was thinking, okay, we’re still okay, this is still going to work . . . because the forecast is that by the weekend we’re going to have SUMMER again:†  you know, SUNLIGHT, blue skies, warmth.  And having got Souvenir to the critical half-open stage she’d then come out beautifully.  

            And this morning the weather said chance of rain in the afternoon, and my windowsill predictor had its wiggly sun icon showing, and it was all blue and sunshiny†† till lunchtime so we went down to the mews all bright and jolly and . . . suddenly it clouded over†††, and then the rain started.  I even came tearing back to the cottage, but it was already too late. 


Postscript:  Peter has been trying for several days to take me out to dinner.  I keep saying absently, yes, all right, not tonight, maybe tomorrow.  This morning he said, HOW ABOUT DINNER OUT TONIGHT?  Dinner out, I said.  Oh.  No!  Wait!  I can’t go out to dinner!  When will I blog?‡   And then I thought–cheerfully–oh, I’ll do my Souvenir-thus-far series. . . .

PPS:  And if anyone dares say anything to me about next year I will abolish them forever.  I will declare them spam and dispatch them to outer darkness.

* * *

* Or I’ll be forced to drown myself in one of our unsatisfactory-for-the-purpose ponds.  Oh, hey, who needs a pond?  I can just lie, face up or face down, anywhere at all on the local landscape right now, and drown very adequately.

** Then there’s the dreadful question of air holes and wind vents.  You don’t want to create a sauna, and if you’re too clever with your clothes pegs the wind will just lift the whole little tenty structure right off.

*** And I didn’t take this photo then, I thought, oh, she’s coming out really well now, I’ll wait till this afternoon AFTER A DAY OF SUNLIGHT, so the comparison will be nice and dramatic.  So I was out there just now instead in the teeming rain, taking a last sacrificial farewell portrait.  Anguish.  Anguish.

† Whereupon the hellhounds will go all limp and fretful.  How You Can’t Ever Win.

†† And so the hellhounds went all limp and fretful on our morning walk.

††† Okay, ‘suddenly’ may be a bit of an exaggeration.  I was working, and the Sticky Bit Continues, and I may have lost an hour somewhere.

‡ I will have to investigate the possibility of local restaurants with tables near power points.^  When I was still going to London regularly I had a pet café with lots of power points.^^  Since Peter and I see so much of each other we tend to do a crossword puzzle together when we go out to restaurants–one person is across and one person is down–because we haven’t got anything to talk about.  This has been known to cause comment at neighbouring tables.  [In loud stage whisper]:  I don’t think that couple has said a word to each other all evening.  This is a gross exaggeration.  We will have exchanged a few words about the quality of the clues.  But if mere crosswords cause consternation, wait till we show up with duelling laptops.  At least with crossword puzzles we are paying attention, you know, to the same thing, and indirectly therefore to each other. 

^ Wasn’t I just saying something recently about the blog eating my life?

^^ Well, all right, even my laptop battery will probably take me through dinner.  When I was going up to London a lot, the battery did not survive two train journeys and lunch.

And when it all goes horribly wrong

more-garden-may-08-157.jpgYou don’t quite get the true splendid details in this photo, where every packed tissue-paper petal is a slightly different shade of brown.  And this isn’t Souvenir really trying:  she can produce real fungus-from-outer-space flowers when she puts her mind to it.  But this gives you an idea.  And also you need at least one sacrifice to the flower gods.  We’ve now had the sacrifice, right?  We’re okay now? 

Souvenir de la Malmaison, 111

souvenir-more-garden-may-08-small-156.jpgIT WORKED.  Look at those bigger, fatter, beautifuller buds, cracking superbly open. . . .

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