Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Collecting Myself


Today, I was shocked to discover that there's a book missing from my shelf — must have vanished during the move.... it's "The Ultimate Mallworld". So I visit amazon.com thinking, I'll just order a couple of copies. The cheapest copy on amazon.com is about $35. Doing more research, I find a German website selling it for almost $500.

Help! If this book is indeed such a rare and valuable classic, why hasn't someone reprinted it? I may have to end up doing that myself ... but to do so I will need at least two copies. Does anyone out there have extras? Let me know.

Yesterday, whilsy squatting for a crap at the well known Fortune Town shopping mall, stall #1, I looked up and saw an ominous scrawl on the bathroom door:

"Wanted - red shirt protesters - 3000 baht each!" and there was a phone number to contact to be paid and be issued your shirt. There was also a slogan about Thaksin, but part of it had been wiped off and was incomprehensible.

What does this show? One of two things:

(a) the accusations that the red shirts are being funded is absolutely true.
(b) it's a dirty trick, put up by the yellowshirts in order to "prove" that the red shirts are corrupt.

I guess I should have called the number to find out.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Fiddling while Rome Burns.... (2)


And this is what my family were doing while Rome burned....

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Fiddling while Rome Burns....


Last night, a Venus-Jupiter conjunction over Bangkok turned the night sky into a smiley face. On my radio show, I played the lullaby from my Pridi Symphony and scenes from Rigoletto, plus a scandalous rap song composed by Bruce Gaston. I only realized as it was playing how subversive the song was even after a twenty-year interval.

I now read in the paper that the anti-government protests are winding down now, and that the future looks brighter in some ways. Whether this is a consequence of the smiling moon, I know not.

I also read the following in the paper: "After the search, police found many weapons together with narcotics such as weeds and cough syrups. "

What an astonishing combination of illiteracy and puritanism! For a moment, I almost thought I was back in America, in the dark times of Dan Quayle's potatoe. I've not encountered any widows wearing narcotics in a while, but I assume that with hemp-based cloth, such mourning might be possible.

(That is, assuming that marijuana is a narcotic. Cough syrup, now, that's another matter. I was once told by L.A. teenagers that if you drink several bottles of , you will have hallucinations. They also told me that boiling morning glory can produce a heroin-like substance. Perhaps that accounts for the popularity of Phra Ram Long Song, Thai dish made with morning glory and curry sauce. The teenagers in my former neigborhood in L.A. sure knew a thing or two. Here in Thailand, all the teenagers I know are too busy playing piano concertos and composing operas to have to learn how to inhale the nitrous oxide from whipped cream cannisters....)

Today, the airport has opened, and it is the birthday of the King of Thailand. A frightening air of normalcy hovers over us. One suspects the worst....

Sunday, November 30, 2008

'Oi Varvaroi


'oi varvaroi na fthasoun simera.
Or words to that effect.
The barbarians are coming today.
Am I worried?
Not really.
Maybe they won't come until tomorrow.
Dec 2 looks like a big day; the ruling party of Thailand might be kicked out of power by the judicial process.
However, I am too busy composing and moving my office to really notice what is going on....

I have now returned to one of my "ancestral" houses, a townhouse originally designed and built by my mother years ago. It's being retrofitted to encompass the thousands of books, CDs, and DVDs that were originally spread out all over the 7-bedroom rented house we used as the Bangkok Opera offices. Moving into this space is hell but this time I will probably stay put. Adding the additional space makes my home into a sort of rabbit warren, perhaps a little bit like Harlan Ellison's house which keeps growing in weird organic ways.

An interesting Freudian slip in the website of The Nation, I think, sums up the entire insanity of it all. Basically, the Telegraph has named Thailand one of the "most dangerous places on earth" (though I am not quite sure what criteria are being used to make this claim.) The headline in the website blares out this sobering piece of news, but in the body of the text, the newspaper states instead that Thailand has been voted one of the most "generous" places on earth...

Schizophrenia runs rampant!

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Curious Nature of Inspiration

Work on my requiem for the princess has been proceeding very slowly for months, with dramatic reversals such as the swallowing up of various movemets into the aetherial nothing. But suddenly, a few days after the cremation, the requiem is simply pouring forth.

I wonder whether the flames that carried the princess up to heaven did not accidentally spread, like in Götterdämmerung, to engulf the entire country as well. There is certainly a lot of "Bangkok is burning" gossip going on right now. I have a huge Hong Kong choir flying in to perform here, and I wouldn't be surprised if they found themselves singing in the air while circling the airport hopelessly waiting to land.

Buddhism tells us that all is illusion. Well, as far as my immediate surroundings are concerned, all I can say is it better be true.

And yet, coccooned as I am in my creative little pocket universe, I am decidedly not experiencing any negative entropy here.

Here is an excerpt from a note I have sent to some members of the Bangkok Opera board:

This is an update on the composition of Somtow's REQUIEM PRO MATRE MUSICAE (Requiem for the mother of music) which I have been working on for the last 11 months. I call it "for the mother of music" because of Princess Galyani's importance as the mother of all classical musicians in this country, and also in reference to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

As you all know the work has been going slowly, and it is as if something was holding me back. But suddenly, after the royal cremation took place, the inspiration has been flowing in a constant stream. This week, I finally completed the Dies irae, kyrie, recordare, and lacrimosa movements of the requiem which mean that the first half ... the introit and sequentia ... are completely done ... about 40 minutes' music from "requiem aeternam" to "pie jesu."

The second half of the requiem consists of some very big movements: Domine Jesu Christe/Hostias, Sanctus/Benedictus, Agnus Dei/Lux aeterna, and finally Libera me/in paradisum. It will be about another 40 minutes so the estimate of an 80-90 minute requiem is not far off.

Most requiem composers leave out the libera me/in paradisum section, but I promised Brother Martin I would include it, and it's my aim to make this requiem mass absolutely liturgically complete.

Because of the stage I am in now, I believe that it is now safe to plan to do a performance of the work that will truly do justice to the memory of HRH. This requiem is music about redemption and hope and it could appropriately be performed in May, HRH's birthday. The choir will need about 4 months' rehearsal and the work requires an adult choir of about 100 people plus two boys' choirs (children's choirs) of about 24 people each. The composition is specifically designed for a large cathedral such as the ABAC cathedral with balconies (for the off-stage brass section) and an organ plus an orchestra of about 90 pieces.

This requiem is a sort of "ultimate statement" on my part, using the entire variety of musical techniques and influences that have shaped my creative output. It is equally Asian and Western, and equally archaic and modern. It's also full of very memorable tunes that can easily be hummed by non-musicians. I have been very aware of the historic importance of this work as the first piece of complete catholic latin liturgy to be set by a Thai composer and therefore I think it is very important that the premiere be a highly significant occasion which reaches out to the catholic community as well as to the musical public.

So you see, in a way, life is just peachy for me. Of course, I am completely penniless, but that is another matter. I have lent every penny I have to the Foundation, and this past two months I have had a singularly appalling experience ... two secretaries, one after the other, helped themselves to the Bangkok Opera's till and split. It's only a small piece of the remarkable string of catastrophes that befell me ... escalating as we grew closer to the royal cremation. Yet somehow, that inner part of me that speaks directly to The Light is now transmitting in my head, and I'm receiving the music loud and clear.

Today, I am doing the fugue which tradition dictates must appear at the words quam olim Abrahae promisisti in the requiem. Fugue is not really my thing (though the same could be said of the wildest fugue writer of them all, Beethoven) so I'm clearing my head by writing this blog. I hope to have swept out the cobwebs by this evening.

Perhaps we'll have a new government, too.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

When did the PAD lose me?


Anyone can edit Wikipedia, but I was once astonished to read, in the entry about myself, that I am a "harsh critic" of the Thaksin regime. I am in fact almost absurdly apolitical when it comes to politics in this country. In fact, I decided to edit that entry myself, removing the word "harsh". Yes, I confess, I have tampered with my Wikipedia entry (I've corrected other mistakes too, like the one about the Swiss boarding school ... I think they had me confused with far more blue-blooded members of the Thai aristocracy.)

Although it was fine, just, and fair to call the Thaksin government to task on corruption issues, there were much more serious issues, and ones that didn't involve the pot calling the kettle black. The extrajudicial killings of alleged drug dealers, the heavy-handed suppression of Muslim dissent, and the misuse of libel laws as a means to silence press opposition were all specailities of the Thaksin regime, whereas corruption and vote-buying were common to all. The Thaksinites were just better at it.

Still, I always did sympathize with most of the PAD's grievances. Civil disobedience has always been a useful tool ... look at what Gandhi achieved. And their protests were a lot of fun, with great music, delicious food, and fine, fiery rhetoric. Everyone in my family went. My nephews had their pictures taken with Sondhi, who is a fine gentleman who once put up money to help me make an art film.

They began to lose me when they suggested that the government be reorganized along less democratic lines, diluting the peasant vote with appointed members of parliament who would presumably safeguard the values of the intelligentsia. The point about the peasants being too uneducated to grasp the issues, and liable to be bought off, may contain an element of truth, but in a modern society, to say such things is simply not politically correct. You can absolutely NOT begin any political dialogue with the assumption that all humans are not equal. You may secretly believe it, but you have to have the political savvy not to simply state it blatantly. The minute you do that, it's all over in the court of international opinion.

The point could have been made subtly, and international opinion saved. For example, they could have suggested that a new system provide a larger investment in education for the provinces so as to inculcate in hoi poloi a greater understanding of the wider world. They could have proposed zero tolerance legislation on vote buying. There are all sorts of ways to say that you think the poor are too stupid to vote that don't make you look stupid.

But, there is also the alarming proposition that the poor might not be too stupid ... they might just have other priorities ... local priorities which you yourselves have been too stupid to research....

Still, I think they all realized that they had said too much, and they seemed to be backing off. And then this airport thing happens, and it is, to say the least, disappointing. Because it means that, after all, the opposition might be just as selfish as the people they are opposing, and that it is possible that neither side has the country's best interests at heart. I no longer think that any of you want to achieve anything meaningful for the country. For this joke of a government to declare that it must stay on in order to defend democracy is a joke. For the PAD to say that it has to defend democracy by disenfranchising non-members of the bourgeoisie is equally a joke. It looks suspiciously like another, very Thai thing ... neither party wants to lose face.

But no one is going to save face at this juncture. I think that all of you, pro and anti, should bite the bullet and realize that for things to get better, you will all have to agree to lose face rather than dragging the country down into the abyss. That you will all lose face is in fact now a given. Just face it and deal with it. You will all be the better for it, and the rest of us can get on with our lives.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Sucked into Heaven - Again


A few months ago I had the appalling experience of having two movements of my new Requiem sucked into the aether at two different times ... by some kind of computer glitch or something. Complete movements these were, just at the moment of completion ... in one case, something I was sure the best thing I had written in 20 years. Well, it just happened again. But this time, it's only about 20 bars, because I did have a backup on a different disk ... but still, it's three days' work to redo, because those 20 bars didn't come easy.

... but now I have been redoing for about 24 hours and, guess what ... this time I can clearly say that it's an improvement on the lost 20 bars. This time, whatever supernatural purpose is behind all this is working in my favor. At least, I must believe these sorts of things or render my life devoid of meaning....

I read in the paper today that Tim Geithner might become treasury secretary. The idea that someone who, in my mind's eye, is a 15-year-old ISB student and the young child of one of my most beloved friends, would soon be the most financially powerful person in the whole world, fills me with awe. Time is fluttering away quicker than I can catch it....

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Dead


I decided some weeks ago not to ask for a special seat at the cremation of HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana because my feelings are profoundly personal and private and because I thought I might have an emotional breakdown if I was there in person. Even several miles away from it all, as I am now, I am terrible affected by it and trying not to be seen by anyone.

I'm not there now, but I am still on the verge of a breakdown, because I'm thinking back on a wild, almost unthinkable seven years of my life. In those seven years I've experienced a Sophoclean tragedy ... from hubris to massive achievements to ignominious yet heroic self-destruction. I seem to have reached, rather messily, the end of (or the beginning of) a period ... or Period, I suppose, since the lives of us Artists are supposed to be divided into Periods. (The final Period of P.D.Q. Bach's life, according to Dr. Schickele, is "usually referred to as 'Contrition'."

For months now I have been seeing the Dead (mostly in dreams, and occasionally in the flesh). The night before Trisdee left to go to the cremation (unlike me, he did ask for, and received, a seat in the special VIP area ... and many of my other family members are there too, right now) ... I dreamed about them again.

I think I was at some huge hotel or reception (in the dream) I somehow I already knew that aliens had invaded the earth. In any case, travel had become difficult, and a young man asked me for a ride home. In my dream, I realized that this man was Andros Sturgeon, the son of someone I have always loved very deeply and still think about; he died more than twenty years ago, and after he died, I never felt "young" again; Ted Sturgeon's death really did change my world. Well, the thing is, in my dream, Andros was the same age he was then, so my dream was happening in a sort of between-place, half way between life and death. It was a sort of haunting by proxy. I am wondering where to put him because I am living in a small apartment with Jay.

Well, he asked me for a ride home, and I agreed, but I found myself hitchhiking on a huge motorway. The aliens were eliminating - or transforming - all life in the world. A huge motorcade of uniformed generals was riding past, on their way to the Big War against the Aliens.

And at that point Andros had disappeared somewhere and it was Jay I was hitchhiking with. (This makes sense I suppose with the temporal duality of this dream, because I always felt that Ted Sturgeon was like a father to me, and Jay is like a son to me....) As the generals rolled past, in tanks I think, I looked up at the sky. There were flocks of birds. Huge flocks.

We managed to climb into a car and headed for a city. We flew right through the flocks of birds and I realized what was so different about them. These were not birds at all, but skeletons of birds, flying without flesh.

We finally reach our apartment which is in this strange city, in a tawdry neighbourhood. As I open my door, the smell of cat piss assails me. There is a paper on the floor explaining that if you are human, you will be reanimated as half human half animal, but birds can have four different alternatives including half airplane. There's rubble everywhere. It really is a disaster movie.

My cat is in a plastic bag next to a filthy kitchenette. My pet bird, or rodent, is being kept under huge pile of debris. There is another side room with another dead animal. As I pull the dead cat out, perhaps to bury it, I notice that it is pissing, even in death. The urine is absolutely steaming and smells awful ... and the cat stirs a little in the plastic bag ... it's not entirely dead .... As I turn, I see that my dog, Leilani, is also dead by the door, but now she is also stirring and pissing.

All very very disturbing. I wonder what it all means....

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Election (and the Erection)

... well, first, the Election. My absentee ballot arrived this morning. Luckily, the State of California allows you to vote by fax, so my vote had already gone in.

Although I didn't vote for McCain, I felt that the single most moving thing of the evening was McCain's concession speech. I wish that every election loser in Thailand would watch that speech so that they can finally understand the difference between democracy and whatever-the-hell-it-is-we-have-in-Thailand.

Today is November the 4th. I'm going to go into hiding for a while. The upcoming cremation of HRH Princess Galyani is really getting to me. Perhaps I will blog again afterwards.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

And the winner is .... SALIERI?


Yes ... amazing, isn't it? But in the competition between Mozart's "The Impresario" and Salieri's "Prima la Musica" it seems quite clear that Salieri, just like in 1781, proved to be the winner. Well, it is certainly obvious that Mozart simply dashed it off, whereas Salieri's opera is a quite splendid spoof of the opera seria conventions of the time, and makes fun of a number of works which no one today has ever heard of, including an immensely popular Roman costume epic by Giuseppe Sarti. "Giulio Sabina". Who the hell was that? Well, apparently he was the fifth Roman Emperor in the year that had four emperors ... the one that didn't actually even make it to the throne before being done away with. Nancy Yuen did a creditable job in her first ever director's gig for an entire opera. Clips on youtube by now, I expect....

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Crying on TV



I never thought it would happen, but Thai TV caught me crying in this latest interview in which I talk about my new requiem for HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Intermezzo



In this time of wild stress, I had a curiously idyllic dream. I'm driving a tuk-tuk from my old house to my new house, and in the back are my two Thai children, Trisdee and Jay. My new home is Sukhumvit 33 (also my old home) but where I am coming from looks like the Queen Sirikit Convention Center. On Rachadapisek rode I am driving as I normally would, in the middle of the lane. It's when everyone is stalled at the big right turn to Sukhumvit that I realize I'm only a tuk-tuk, and I can swerve within the lanes to get where I am going to, and overtake all the normal cars.

A man who's just walking in the street reaches out to steady the tuk-tuk and helps to guide me to the turn lane. I turn with the traffic.

I go down the odd side of Sukhumvit ... and I accidentally make a wrong turn into a blue house that looks, remarkably, like the house I slept in at Eton. But the detour is over soon and I am on my way home.

***

It's odd that I would remember such a dream because most dreams I remember have some disturbing apsect, whereas this seemed almost restful. No corpses, no scary houses, no shrinking princesses. I think it's telling me this: that my chosen vehicle may be eccentric and slow, but it also means I don't have to take the highway lanes everyone else takes. It means that strangers will guide me in unexpected ways. And it means that to get home, I must take a detour through my childhood.

***

A new season of the Bangkok Opera is about to get going, and now, I am hoping, the opera will REALLY get going ... with a fine new board in place ... and money promised ... though none, as usual, in hand.... once more, on the verge, peering into the keyhole, stepping on the bus ... now what?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Lunch of the Living Dead


Well, not really, but it was one of the more terrifying experiences of my life. Yesterday I was a guest speaker at the British Women's Club. It was as though I had been transported through a time warp. The sun dresses… the hats … the ambience of the Oriental Hotel … aaaaah!!!!!

One of the most interesting things to happen at this lunch, however, was that I was seated next to a Scottish lady (indeed, the entire management of the BWC seemed dominated by the Celtic Fringe in general.) One of the Oriental's epicurean delicacies was a miniature shepherd's pie-looking thingie in a cup, with chopped and spiced chicken beneath the mashed potatoes.

"I don't know what it is," said the lady, "but it tastes like haggis."

My whole life, I have been used to being proferred peculiar meats, from frogs to rattlesnakes, with the admonition to "Go ahead … don't worry … it tastes like chicken." To have someone say of chicken, that most anonymous and neutral of meats, that it "tastes like haggis" was a fascinating cultural (not to mention culinary) commentary on the entire Scottish nation.

I have always had a healthy terror of haggis — more from the legend than from the experience, since I haven't actually ever brought myself to eat it. I used haggis in my short story "Anna and the Ripper of Siam"… in it, Jack the Ripper, visiting Siam in the nineteenth century, used the "freshest ingredients" he could find to substitute for a sheep's stomach … my assumption in the story was that the very word "haggis" was enough to produce a frisson of stark terror in the average American reader of the story.

Because of this gentle lady's innocent utterance, I now know that haggis tastes like chicken. One day, I may even be brave enough to try it.

Not that I've ever eaten any of the other things that taste like chicken … iguana, cobra, et al.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Excrementum piscis


Politics as usual in Thailand today, with prime ministers slipping in and out of power, getting busted for cooking, and so on. At least they lifted the state of emergency, though it must be admitted that it wasn't much of one.

The boredom of politics was temporarily alleviated over the weekend by the biggest orgy of Cajun cooking I have ever experienced. There's this guy Doug, who owns a Cajun restaurant next to a transvestite cabaret, about a mile from my house … (yes! We're in Thailand!) and to celebrate the 22nd birthday of the restaurant Doug put on an all-you-can-eat spread with every conceivable piece of New Orleans home cooking one can possibly imagine ... for six bucks. Believe me, you cannot get this in New Orleans. Not all the etoufe, jambalaya, gumbo, prime rib, bbq, shrimp, oysters, pecan pie, etc etc etc you can eat for six bucks. The ability to eat a vast and authentic Cajun meal at this price exists only, as far as I know, in Bangkok. That's why Bangkok is the true center of the universe.

With Trisdee in Holland and missing all the fun, Jay and I spend the evening eating and watching a curious phenomenon: a shitting fish.

The tank was right by our seat and it was difficult to ignore the fact that our piscine friend was having a lot of trouble dislodging an extremely lengthy faex. Indeed, it was longer than the fish itself and it was therefore a curious irony to be stuffing our faces whilst observing the extrusion. We were taking bets on whether the fish would be able to shake it off, but it couldn't. A gaggle of shrimp were hovering nervously below, perhaps waiting to catch the morsel if it fell.

From this, I believe I have learned a valuable lesson in life. That fish, thrashing around trying to free itself from its own excrement, was in fact a trenchant and profound metaphor for the human condition. On the one hand, there I was gorging myself, stuffing goodies down my gullet … how long would it be before I was like that fish, dragged down by the weight of the shit I made for myself? Food is life ... but life eventually ends up as food.

Not only was the fish a metaphor for my personal life, but it could equally have stood as a symbol of this country's fledgling democracy. Unable to swim freely until it can squeeze out the baggage of its past, the fish was caught between past and future, between promise and fulfillment.

You see, some people look at a shitting fish and see only a shitting fish, but being the Eminence Grise that I am, I also see the birth and death of Nations, and the dark heart of the human psyche.

Tune in tomorrow for another stupid metaphor.....

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Emergency Reddux


Welcome to day 7 or 8 of the so-called "State of Emergency" which, as I understand it, is being lifted soon for the official reason that "no one seemed to notice it."

At 2 pm, I was due to appear at a press conference about something other than politics. Chulalongkorn University Radio was promoting its new CD of music commemorate our beloved Princess Galyani Vadhana. I was surprised that the press was there, because at 2 pm, the court was also due to announce its verdict on whether our prime minister should be kicked out of office for the heinous crime of — gasp — cooking on television!

It was a lovely, beautifully organized press conference. Music was played; good coffee was served; VIPs came out and spoke movingly about the princess. I got a chance to discuss the requiem I am composing with the press.

It was a few hours later, when I returned home, that I learned that, according to the Christian Science Monitor, Samak had "cooked his own goose." Ah well. In a way, being ignominiously expelled from his post for daring to host a cooking show on TV is a face-saving mechanism, since he doesn't have to play chicken with the protesters....

What a country! One day I shall have to explain it all to my American friends, but that will not be today; tomorrow I have a big recording session, and I have to deal with the fact that a hard disk crash may have lost me the files of everything I have ever written or composed in the last twenty years.

***

In one of those huge pendulum swings of which my life seems endlessly to consist, a few hours after I wrote those words my hard drives were saved by applying the advice of my old friend Ryan from L.A. My worries about how to pay for the recording session of Trisdee's Eternity and my Pie Jesu were averted at the eleventh hour when friends pitched in. I might survive this annus horribilis after all....

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Comedy of Errors


Well it's not really a comedy, but I seem to be down with some kind of stomach flu. The comedy is that last night I reached for what I thought was Immodium, only it wasn't. In my blurred state, I just saw the "Mo" part and took a couple of Motilium, an anti-vomiting medicine. You're supposed to take Immodium again after an "loose stools" so I dutifully did so between each sojourn in the "little chamber". By about two in the morning I was starting to worry because my symptoms were only getting worse and worse.

Today I'm absolutely groaning in horror, but I did finally realize that I was taking the wrong medicine and refrained from "One Mo Time."

And so it goes — another day in the life of your now "officially" geriatric enfant terrible.

Friday, September 5, 2008

My Canonization


Well, this morning I woke to find that the rumors of the government calling it quits were untrue, and instead they've decided to tough it out. This is getting boring, and of course, scaring the tourists even more. While I'm hardly one to advocate yet another coup, this constant bickering is getting on my nerves. Indeed, the moral status of either side is getting murkier by the minute.

Of course, the main event today was my receiving this huge national award, the Silpathorn Kittikhun Award, at a dramatic ceremony not too far from the demonstrators. The Silpathorn award is for mid-life contemporary artists who have international achievements and so on, but, since I have reached the age of what Isaac Asimov used to refer to as "slightly over thirty", my winning that award was a little bit of a problem.

The solution was quite a typical one for Thailand; the committee voted six to one for me to win the award, so I couldn't un-win it; instead, they created a "higher award" -- the "Distinguished Silpathorn" Award, and gave it to three people including yours truly. Since this award can be given to such geriatric recipients as myself, it places itself in direct competition with the National Artist Award — and indeed, the director-general of the contemporary arts department specifically stated for the press that certain major artists are too "controversial" ever to be granted that honor by the old fuddy-duddies who run the show.

Therefore, this award is sort of positioned to go "head-to-head" with the National Artists -- to be almost an "alternate" National Artist Award.

Am I a little worried about being the poster boy for a sort of "agenda" war within the ministry of culture itself? I guess so. But it's too late to worry about that now. And I can always sell the award. Unlike most awards I have received in the writing world, this award is intrinsically valuable: it contains 9 grams of 22k gold, a .15 ct emerald (maybe lab created) and .39 cts of vvs1 diamonds, E color! Plus, Princess Siriwanari, universally known as the "fashion princess", liked my tie!

The ceremony was a charming affair. It wasn't hugely high-profile, like the SEAWrite Awards, nor was it particularly tacky, and there was a huge exhibition set up of the award-winners which included excerpts from their works and so on. That was all pretty amusing. My mug shot of the day shows me in front of the Somtow exhibition.

One of the strangest things about the event though, was that there was a bizarre guy hawking Buddha amulets. He wore the elaborate uniform of a government civil servant, and he sidled up to me in the middle of the event, as I was standing in front of the Somtow exhibit, and he pressed four Buddha amulets into my hand. "Just look at these!" he said. "I want you to have them." I thought they were a gift from a fan or something (after all, this was a grand official occasion in which I was supposedly one of the guests of honour) so I thanked him, and then he asked me for 400 baht. I was so thrown by this I didn't know what to say, and I asked Trisdee if he happened to have 400 baht on him. He only had 300, but the guy said, "I'll take it" and slunk away.

He also tried to sell the Buddha images to Bird, the guitarist, who was just trying to take a leak, in the bathroom. However, Bird had a lot more presence of mind than I did.

That was, in a sense, the oddest thing about the whole ceremony....

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

From the Emergency Room.....


An interesting quote from The Nation this morning:

"As more protesters poured into Government House, where music continued to play and defiant speakers continued to address vociferous crowds, the state of emergency declared by Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej Tuesday morning seemed to have serious effects on only one person —himself."

The Bangkok Post's front page had a huge red-bordered editorial that began "We strongly disagree with the declaration of a state of emergency...."

So … the day after Samak's huge parliamentary debate on Saturday, my mother went to the Sunday market (Jatujak), where she saw Samak buying salted fish. To her amazement, she watched the fish merchant express sympathy for the embattled PM. "My blood was boiling," she told me.

This goes to show just what kind of a state of emergency we have here. The besieged head of this government seems to have no trouble picking out fresh produce in the world's largest open market. He's not exactly surrounding himself with armed guards. Meanwhile the protesters are apparently quite pleased that the military is in charge. Far from running in terror, they're all saying, "We'd rather have the army; we trust them more than the police."

And that -- for the benefit of my friends checking into this blog from foreign shores -- is the size of it. Watching paint dry is, I believe, about the level of excitement experienced by the average person in this town. Should you decide to fly into Bangkok tonight, you will find the temples, massage parlors, ripoff DVD stalls, and exotic fruit markets all thriving, and you will be hard pressed to locate the "action". Indeed, it really only centers on two buildings: a TV station and government house … quite far from the urban bustle.

In fact I spent today at a curious little music competition at ABAC (Assumption University) itself a curious (but not little) institution, a huge mini-city of monumental, slightly Spanish looking architecture, a vast chapel which is a scale model of the Basilica of St Peter in Rome (complete with copy of the Pietà of Michelangelo) and acres of gold and marble. This incredible building will hopefully be the site of the production of my new Requiem: pro Matre Musicae which I am composing for HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana.


This is really an astonishing spectacle and one which I believe will be an incredible venue for the piece I am composing which involves about 200 performers. This is the piece of which two movements magically disappeared from my hard drive and into the aether. I have never had so much technical trouble with a piece of music, and it's either God's way of telling me to stop, or one of those Job-like tests.

A new rumor: apparently, at 7:30 am, Samak will address the nation ... according to the rumor, he will resign. Another rumor says his wife is making him do it. Well, I guess we'll know in a few short hours. I am going back to composing now....

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A Child's Eye View of the State of Emergency

ve
Well, as I said earlier this morning, I woke up to find the city in what was dramatically described as a state of emergency. I read on the internet that schools are all closed, so I looked in on Jay, but he wasn't in his bed.

It turns out that the schools may have been closed, but nobody bothered to tell them, so all the kids were in school anyway, by which time it was too late, so they just had school anyway. "Bummer," the kid tells me when he comes home from school. Tomorrow he was skipping anyway, because he has a violin competition, which, by the way, they also forgot to cancel.

So far at least, no one much seems to be aware that some huge political drama is going on. I've received an email warning from my embassy (I mean the U.S. one) telling me to exercise caution while going to the mall, but that seems to be about the size of it.

I'm afraid that scaring away the tourists is probably not the most effective way of dealing with this country's ills.

I read in the internet that party leader Banharn offered to mediate the crisis. He and I have the same dentist.

Tomorrow I am due to receive the singular honour of being made a Silpathorn Kittikhun, that is to say a "sort of national artist but not exactly." The award is being handed to me by a royal princess, and there will definitely be more than five people present: the media for one, plus ministers and high officials, plus all sorts of celebs.

If we are arrested for having more than five people at a meeting, it will be the most celeb-infested holding cell I have ever been in. (Well, all right, I actually have never been in a holding cell. Sorry. Not even in the Sixties.)

Emergency, Schmemergency


To my surprise, I woke up to find the city under a state of emergency. No one, however, seems to have noticed. I have of course been fielding the usual worried phone calls from friends in foreign lands watching CNN, to whom I have to explain for the umpteenth time that it's really no big deal. Most people around me think the fuss has gone on too long already; after all it's been a quarter of century since the time of radical demonstrations in Thailand. Of course, there is really no limit to human idiocy, so anything could happen. My maid was surprised I knew about any of this since I don't watch television, so I had to explain that it was on the internet. I asked my secretary about whether she had been affected and she said, "Oh, that's not on my way to work."

The last time a PM declared a state of emergency in Thailand, as I recall, he was simply ignored. Indeed, I find now that my blogger is no longer blocked, and the Bangkok Post website this morning was very careful to state in its reportage that it had not been censored. Surely this state of emergency has not been declared solely in order to get my American and European friends to call me! Surely there are larger issues involved than vanity and stubbornness, but I haven't noticed them yet.

Trisdee returned from Holland yesterday and immediately said he would cook. He hates the food in Amsterdam and has taken to making Thai food himself. He has acquired a passionate interest in cuisine.

A couple of months ago, my mother and I were guests on a radio show in Bangkok, one in which the hosts often discuss herbs and spices. In the middle of the show, Samak called into the show and started discussing food and cooking with passionate enthusiasm.

When Trisdee went on and on last night about the lunch he was going to make for me today, I wondered whether the art of cooking could serve as a new kind of transdimensional gate, and whether I might wake up the next day with Trisdee as Prime Minister and Samak giving the next harpsichord recital....

Oh well. Tonight I'm taking a choir rehearsal. If more than five choristers show up, and we discuss politics by mistake, I'll be blogging from the gulag.

So is this another blockage?


It is tempting to believe that my access to my own blog is being blocked by my server as a result of the current political situation, but I am not sure about that. There's no popup saying it's blocked, just an endless rotating thingie....

Maybe everyone's just trying to blog all at once.

I for one will always tend towards the most paranoid interpretation....

***
an hour after I wrote this, it is still impossible to get through. Perhaps it is just an Aeschylean silence, and I will soon be faced with the wrath of Achilles.

Or not.

***

Ten minutes later .... almost 5 am ... blogger is back! So maybe it was just overloaded. Or maybe my server has blinked.... and the thought police are at the gates.....

***
By the way, the above photograph is not me. A reward to the person who guesses its identity. The nature of the reward depends on my mood.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Doing Nothing


Today, Saturday, is the first time in a very very very very long time that I have spent the entire day doing nothing. It is an extraordinary feeling. I shouldn't have been doing nothing, of course; I've got operas and requiems to compose, a trilogy to finish, and god knows what else besides, but I have to admit it really felt good to be away from it all. Last night, I didn't even dream.

This is probably the first day I've done nothing in in about two years. I hope to do so on Sunday as well. I really need this!

By Monday morning, I should have arrived at a Zen-like serenity and be ready to deal with the next crisis.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Vox Dei


You can rationalize it how you like, but it's still just about the worst thing ever to happen to me in my entire life. I am referring to another hard drive malfunction (or was it that? nothing else seems to be affected) which annihilated another complete movement of my long-awaited Requiem (by whom?) ... causing me to have to reconstruct the entire piece from memory and a few scraps here and there.... is this the Voice of God telling me not to compose this piece of music?

The last two days have been more full of spectacle than usual. It began with Amitha's article about me in the Bangkok Post - a very big piece indeed and in the words of two people who wrote to me about it, "grudgingly laudatory" ... yes, they both said this, which shows you the lexical likemindedness of the kind of people who consider themselves to be my friends. Despite a few minor cavils, I was very glad of this article because it brought a number of issues out into the open ... things like the famous evil spam that circulated two years ago in an attempt to destroy my career ... and so on. And the various vicious attacks I have to endure, and so on so forth.

So that night, the under the aegis of the very generous Khunying Patama, one of our benefactors, the Bangkok Opera was co-hosting the funeral of HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana at the Grand Palace along with other organizations also sponsored by the Khunying. It was a solemn and beautiful occasion. Except that one of those vicious attackers happened to be present — he runs one of the largest, though in some ways the least artistically successful, conservatories in the region. So there was a bit of unpleasantness when the Khunying beckoned all the heads of the various organizations to be photographed, and this gentleman refused to be in the photograph because of my presence; he also went off in a huff with his whole team and sat in the back of the hall.…



This kind of thing is symptomatic of everything that's wrong with the arts in this town. But hey, I'm used to it now. So let's talk about things that are right with the arts here.

The next day, I had to appear at a press conference to announce the Silpathorn Awards. But the most exciting thing (to me) about this press conference was that it took place in an art gallery on the other side of town (rather near to where a large crowd is protesting the government). The gallery was having an exhibition of art by kids — aged 6 to 18 or so — and it was one of the most thrilling art shows I've ever seen, full of brilliant colour and — to my amazement — trenchant social and political comment.

For instance, look at the picture I have just posted (above) - by a 17-year-old kid. It shows the seduction of Sita by Ravan (from the Ramayana) being performed by traditional puppets, while Superman busts in through the wall and old superhero costumes lie around. Not only is it very well executed technically, but it seems to say a LOT about modern Thai society. And the title: "Don't pull my strings" — adds to it. It's a really thoughtful picture about the collision between traditional values and pop culture.

And it's got irony. I always thought that the arrival of irony would mean the final maturing of the arts in Thailand. It's good to know that young people are developing a healthy sense of it.

So, though I was bummed out with the quarrelsome and backstabbing old people, I felt a sense of excitement and renewal when I looked at the work of young people....

Vox Dei? The funeral service was beautiful, as it always is, despite the childish behavior of the aforementioned. But I didn't feel the same emotional frisson that I felt before, at those midnight services many moons ago, with the virtuoso chanting. This was a more public mourning, heavier on spectacle than those other, intimate services.

Friday, August 22, 2008

More about Chiang Rai


Jay (pictured above in front of my office computer) got his first official concerto gig while in Chiang Rai … he will play a Bach concerto with a visiting Belgian orchestra next year. So that's one of the big things that occurred while we were up there. The massages were much cheaper too. There seem to be several reasons for wanting to move up there and enjoy an idyllic life and all that. But … I am a city kid.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Chiang Rai and the Ogre

Today I'm in Chiang Rai, which is defined by many Bangkokians as the other end of the universe. But last night I had an excellent prime rib in my hotel, and this evening we ate at an Italian restaurant every bit the equal of those in big cities, at a third of the price. I also sampled the local espresso, grown by members of various hill tribes, and found it exquisite.

I was actually here to see a performance of the Chiang Rai Youth Orchestra ... an interesting collecting of young string players trained by the indefatigable Geertje Podevyn, a crazy but dedicated Belgian. At the last minute I took Jay with me, and he joined the orchestra and played with them on a single rehearsal.

I feel new vistas opening up here. I"ve had another dream. This was in the Wiang Inn Hotel up here, which by the way served an enticing prime rib that night. I have a feeling this is a dream that bodes well for a complete renewal of all I'm doing.

So in this dream, an orange ogre has taken over the entire world; he's sort of cartoonish, a bit Tolkienesque as well, and he lives in a gigantic monopoly board in a lakeside estate. There is a casino on the monopoly board, and a huge wrought iron fence around the entire development, and I can't get home.

Across the lake, a gigantic two dimensional orange tiger stands hard, and an orange lion lies in repose. They are both made of paper and as tall as the skyscrapers that line the horizon. The lake appears to be Lake Rachada, near the Sirikit convention center.

Some school friends and I have managed to squeeze in through the gates, but we cannot do anything until we create a magic missile which we lob over onto the estate. It is a magic missile because it "makes us who we truly are."

The paper tiger and the lion become real! They come to life! I notice for the first time there is another paper lion right in front of us, blocking our entrance to the homes (they are sort of row houses) and the ogre is now affected by the missile and starts to grow into his true, monstrous size.

He becomes too uncomfortable to sit on the monopoly board. He swells and swells and he is sweating. At length he rolls up the monopoly board and as he does so, the parched soil beneath begins slowly to sprout vivid green grass. He vanishes into a corner and disappears, taking the paper lions and tiger with him. Peace returns.

***

The dichotomy between orange and green is an interesting one. Is this catholic vs protestant, Holland versus ... I don't know, something green? I do seem to associate orange with the Dutch and I am haunted by certain elements that come from Holland ... are they in fact paper tigers? Interesting that the dream should choose a Maoist dialectic with which to address me. Is the dream telling me that "a dutch ogre and his threatening paper tigers will no longer possess a monopoly on my life and will get out of the way so that I can get home (ie find my true self)?"

Or is it something else entirely? It is interesting that the dream came in the stress-free environment of Chiang Rai. Now I'm back as I finish writing this. Stress is once again the normal condition of things. This morning I find that I have once again lent my last penny to the opera foundation, and I am as far as possible from the stereotype of the grand old man/eminence grise as can be imagined. However, in a couple of hours they are coming to interivew me about the Silpathorn Award - (Kittikun Level) which I am about to be presented with. I will have to pull myself together and appear as the pontificating one, the seer, the latchkey to the gates of truth.

***

Oh, last night I played both Subbulakshmi amd Stockhausen on my radio show. I wonder if there is anyone listening!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Back from the Radio Station


... and already have one email from one Jo Cadilhon, a tenor in the opera chorus who seems to have enjoyed the show. In advertising they say that one response equals 1000 people, so I'm assuming this is a decent approval rating.

However, I have to say that running a talk radio show in Bangkok is pretty weird. For one thing, being witty, urbane, and being able to use sesquipedalian vocabulary isn't something that comes entirely naturally to me in Thai. For another, whenever I did any talk radio in the States, it would actually go on air at the advertised time. In Thailand, however, they tell you when you arrive, "Oh, it'll be a half hour or so," and rather than telling you that your show will end at ten pm, they say, "Oh, just go on as long as you want." This whole laid-back attitude made it very easy to work there, and Mr. Aw, a seasoned talk show personality, was appointed to keep the thing moving and to fill up any dead space if I ever forgot some simple Thai word.

So, there were a few amusing gaffes — I hadn't realized, for instance, that every hour on the hour, the show automatically cuts to the news. In the middle of a long concerto movement, I suddenly realized that Trisdee's pianistic flourishes would soon be interrupted by a blaring disco beat with the latest stock market figures, serial killers, and political movements. In despair, I pleaded my case in the control room. And guess what they said? "The news is pretty boring right now, it's just Thaksin or something; we'll just skip it."

What a grand feeling of power, to know that one's musical whims could overrule, if but for an hour, the public's Need To Know about the latest political scandal!

Well, I managed to play MOST of the music I had pcked out for the show despite rambling too much and being interrupted by commercials. It was a hilarious bag of eclectica, including music by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan as well as Alessandro Striggio, Prokofiev and my humble self. Pontification was fun! I think I will hold off on allowing call-ins ... for a while longer ... until I have become a little more confident....

I've come home and while randomly surfing the web discovered that a story of mine, Little Red Caplets from the online magazine Aberrant Dreams, has made StorySouth's "notable stories of 2007". It's a story which sat on a hard drive for seven years, unsent to any publisher. Maybe I won't give up writing quite yet.

As for the above photograph, no prizes for identifying which of the three persons depicted is the author of this blog.

Somtow's World Goes On The Air


The rumours are true, I'm afraid! SOMTOW'S WORLD will go on the air TONIGHT on FM 98.75, and every Monday night thereafter. This is sort of a classical music and cultural show, and I will be playing all sorts of eclectic music ... and having weird guests ... and all that stuff.

But I should warn the readers of this blog that the show is in THAI....

8 pm to 10 pm .... Monday nights ....

and furthermore, a TV spinoff is coming soon....

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Less Humiliating Experiences


Last month, I reported a humiliating experience — I went to give a reading only to find an audience of zero.

I thought I would sit back and catalog some of the less humiliating experiences of the week — maybe that will lend a fresh note of optimism to this blog. It is perhaps sorely needed after all this talk of death.…

• Here's something. A signed copy of one of my books is selling for a thousand bucks on some website in Minneapolis. I stumbled on it ... Here's the link. Who would ever have thought it? Now if someone would actually PAY that.... Someone's also selling a copy of my "V" tie-in book for $284 ... heavens!

• The Czechs have struck back - now I am to be a judge in the competition on their home turf - where they have promised me something like 160 choirs will be competing! They even offered me a conducting dig for their local Philharmonic.

• I did win this vast national award that seems, according to Wisekwai's blog, to have been created especially for those who would have won the National Artist Award if only they hadn't been so "controversial".

• I have a new radio show opening Monday night – 8 pm, FM 98.75, called, for some strange reason, "Somtow's World". Plus, my much touted TV show might open next week as well ... I'll let you know.

• None of my hard drives have crashed this week.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

A Day in My Life



I believe this video really speaks for itself. Or does it?

Seeing Dead People (Again)

My house is now full of ghosts. So I am told. Everyone who lives here seems to have encountered one.

Lights mysteriously turned on and off while Trisdee practiced the harpsichord in the dead of night. And these were not power failures; the switch actually moved. Jay heard music playing from the music room … the Chopin A flat major etude … only it was in the minor key. But no one was in the music room at the time.…

While performing my office in the lavatory, I distinctly heard a Jewish chant coming through the pipes. There is indeed a synagogue in the neighbourhood … half a mile away!

Now, my orchestra manager, says he's had some kind of "experience" too. But he's too frightened to explain it. So, it would seem, terror is stalking the hallways of the Bangkok Opera.

As reported in my dream diary, themes of mortality and dead people seem to be recurring more and more in my dreams.

For example, two nights ago I had a familiar dream of being lost in a labyrinthine science fiction convention hotel. It was a huge hotel — in fact, I think it was the Fontainebleu in Miami, where I attended my very first worldcon. I'm lost after some huge party and trying to get to my room.

someone tells me it's faster to go down one floor, turn left and go all the way to another elevator located at 21J. I go there and find the elevator — it's dimly lit and old-fashioned. maybe a service elevator — take it, find myself in a completely different hotel.

And now, I am running towards what I think is my room. It's a dank alley outside but I reach the end and I see row upon row of white houses, built with wooden facing, all with motel room like doors. The walls have white wooden planks which I call pickets, though even in my dream I know that pickets are not planks on walls. They do have picket fences as well. The houses are a bit like a cross between suburbia and Auschwitz barracks. They are dreamlike, perfect rows, scrubbed clean, sepulchre like, I run like mad and I am thinking, Why do I always see these houses in my dreams, and never dare to go in?

You see, it has become a lucid dream. I am aware of everything, even that it is a recurring dream and I can change something.

And so I stop and push open a door.

It's dark. A row of dormitory beds. Someone in each bed, completely covered in a brownish greyish blanket. They are like shrouds or body bags. I shout, "Someone say something! you people never say anything!"

All the blankets move at once to reveal a row of bandaged, mummy-like heads, they simultaneously lift their heads to look at me. As I wake up, I realize they are dead, yet they are staring at me.…

... Yes. My house has become full of ghosts.

Friday, August 1, 2008

What do I really think about Preah Vihear?


Last week I was invited to be one of the judges at a huge international choir competition in Pattaya, organized by some Czechs. When I got there, the competition wasn't so huge after all ... although there were five categories, the number of contestants had somehow dwindled to just two. One of the two was an Indonesian youth choir. Naturally, they were a bit put out.

Well ... I asked what happened. Oh, they said, "recent events" had made all the European choirs pull out in fear. What events, I wondered? Um, the earthquake in China. So, if there was an earthquake in Bratislava, you would forego a choir competition in Madrid? I asked, marvelling at the geographic wisdom of the typical European. They hemmed and hawed, and eventually I figured out that the average person in the west thinks that we are in the middle of some huge war with Cambodia.

That would of course be impossible; my country's skills at war are such that generals outnumber privates two to one, and Siam is the only country in the world to have lost both sides of the second world war. (Or won, depending on how you look at it.) The likelihood of anyone here attempting a real war with a country one tenth its size, which just happened to defeat the greatest military power in the world a mere 40 years ago, is not too high. There are much more important social issues in Siam to address. For instance, a school out in the remote boondocks became the first to install separate toilets for transvestites. Let no one in the world accuse Thailand of being behind the sociological curve!

My dad is one of the few people alive today who was on the legal team during the infamous Preah Vihear case. The other day he gave a talk on it and elucidated with great clarity the complexity of the issue. But you know, what I really think is that we could go on forever laying claim to this and that. Maybe the best solution is for Southeast Asia to become a borderless federation in which the exact delineation of a few square meters of land is truly irrelevant. (Of course, such a borderless federation would de facto be ruled by the biggest, meanest member of the family … whether that member is going Thailand is really a question of what Thailand's self-image really is.) Ultimately, the sour grapes over this temple conceals a far bigger thing: the sense of fury and frustration at having lost all those thousands of square miles of land to France and never having got it back. But no one is really saying this.

The Austrians have laid claim to Mozart, Mahler, and Sigmund Freud. Mozart came from Salzburg, which, at the time, was not in Austria, but was an independent country. Freud and Mahler actually came from what is now the Czech republic. England thinks that Handel and Mendelssohn are the most quintessentially English of comnposers.

I believe that what we need is a new way of looking at the concept of ownership. For the entire recorded history of humanity, ownership has been largely thought of as belonging to whoever managed to actually squat on the land, keep the jewel in the hand, have the power of life and death over ... it has been thought of as dependent on the ability to exercise power over something.

But when you think of things that way, then there is generally always a "rightful" owner with a prior claim to everything. Thailand can certainly claim that it is the "rightful" owner of ninety thousand square kilometers of territory now inside other countries, because the treaties under which it was handed over to colonial powers were signed under duress, and we don't believe in international piracy, aka colonialism, anymore. But then it could be said that all this territory was conquered from the Khmer Empire by the Thais, and should be returned to the Khmers; and then Thailand should get Southern China back because of the depredations of Kublai Khan, and so on. Italy should get Somerset, because the ruins at Bath are clearly Roman ruins, but shouldn't Wales get England, because the Anglo-Saxons stole it from the Celts?

Perhaps, in this new millennium, we should be thinking in terms of a new kind of ownership: virtual ownership. As Buddha once wisely observed, nothing really exists. Why should not owning the idea of a thing be as real as having the physical thing under one's control? If we could all believe in virtual ownership, we could all lay equal claim to our past. Of course, this is a dangerously radical notion, so I should shut up before I get censored again.

Meanwhile, the Czechs are having another go at putting on this choir competition next year. I intend to help them get more people … and hopefully convincing people in Europe to look for Thailand on the map before they panic....

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A confusing entry for today's Dream Diary


Dreams can be terrifying at times, especially when they contain guest appearances from God. I haven't posted on my blog for almost three weeks but it's only been one of the more eventful three weeks of my existence, even if you include being incapacitated with the flu for about two weeks.

God does appear in dreams. Or I assume so when it's a tall old man named Ely. A thin, white haired gent whom I meet at a cocktail party. It's obviously God, and I know so even in the dream itself, because of "Eli, eli, lama sabachthani" and other popular quotes. This cocktail party is on the stage at the Thailand Cultural Center and it's on the occasion of the production of some spectacular new play (maybe, as it is on stage, the cocktail party IS the play.) He is a charming gent who sort of oversees the party and he is not just a gent, he's an AGENT. There is also a fat playwright, thinning hair, elegant suit. I mistakenly call him Ely. Big mistake.

In the wings, downstage right, there is a shed. Trisdee and I camp there. We have our own sleeping bags. I tell the playwright we always lie down there to watch the plays unfold. Trisdee have a discussion about whether we should send free tickets to Achara, the chairperson of the Bangkok Symphony.

I leave early. I find myself alone.

I walk around, get lost. I am walking along the edge of a canal, and it is the dead of night. I realize I have been pickpocketed. I hail a taxi. I am stressing. All the credit cards are gone. I get out my cell phone. It is pink. It is the wrong phone. The numbers don't work and there is a strange message.

Panicking, I believe they have substituted a phone as well as taking all the cards and money ... not that much money, about 8000 baht wich I had just got from the ATM, but I won't be able to pay the taxi.

The taxi -- fat bully, intimidates me hideously -- in my confusion, I ask for Soi 52 (ny old house number, from my childhood) then soi 25 ... before getting the right one. He says he will take me by a different route because of the traffic. i say anything as long as I get there. I worry how to pay. Everything is unfamiliar. It's dark with the occasional garish neon.

I find my real cell phone hidden deeper in my pocket I pull it out. I think about all the people I have to call to replace the credit cards. I call my mother. I wonder if she's at home to pay the taxi.

I say "Are you at home?"

In a shocked voice, she answers, "Are you planning to move out?" (She misunderstands, thinks I am going to give up this house and move to Soi 33, the real house that is in my name) I say No, I would never move out, do you happen to have any money .. How much she says, obviously thinking it will be a fortune ... "taxi money" I say....

The taxi moves through alien territory.....

***
This is a dream of immense complexity that deals with many issues from the Oedipal to the Cosmic. It also deals with the nature of reality and illusion. I associate the pink phone with Jay, the young violinist who is now living in my house, because that's his favorite color, so the dream is also about members of my family, both blood and adopted. It's also about how familiar territory is actually an alien country. And the notion of God as an agent....

***
This week came the official announcement that I have won a new national honor, the Silapathorn Kittikun Award, for my contributions to the arts. The award has come to me, I suspect, through an enormous amount of political maneuvering (though not on my part) and signals a dramatic change in the Ministry of Culture's attitude towards me. I feel that perhaps my career at this point has something in common with that of Prokofiev, who fled to America and enjoyed great artistic freedom, then felt impelled to return to his native country where there was always a certain ambivalence at work. The Heisenbergian shifts in my landscape, both inner and outer, are confusing to say the least. But if this award somehow makes it easier to achieve my vision of a huge artistic renaissance in this region, then it must be worth it.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A Humiliating Experience



Last week I went to give a reading at the Neilson Hayes library, and nobody came!

Now, the background to this is that I'm supposed to give a bimonthly reading from my new novel in progress, JADE, which for some bizarre reason, none of my New York publishers seem to want. The first reading was attended by a huge rainstorm as well as by about a dozen drenched enthusiasts. The organizers moaned and groaned ... the rain had ruined everything! Could I do a second performance for the people who had not managed to make it because of the storm? I agreed.

This time, the weather was sunny, the afternoon highly conducive to an hour of storytelling, yet the library was ... empty.

The moral of this story is that when the weather's nice, people have better things to do than to listen to the ramblings of some writer who used to be big in the 80s....

So was it Big Brother?


Maybe not. Yet it does seem that blogspot was unavailable to people in Thailand for about 48 hours, though not everywhere. And when I accessed it through aol, usually a surefire way of reaching anything in America, it came up with a German menu. Now, the political scene is calm again. And blogspot is accessible again. The coincidence seems remarkable and I wonder about a possible connection. The above picture shows how I live in constant terror. It actually does depict the desk I write and compose at. And I do write in the nude, a trick taught to me by the late Theodore Sturgeon. It makes you more vulnerable to the raging psychic storm around. Or something.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Big Brother?


Well, all day I haven't been able to read my own blog, or anyone else's for that matter. I wonder if Big Brother's been at it again.... nah. Couldn't be. Surely, after last year's youtube flap, they couldn't risk looking like idiots all over again ... or could they?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Royal Anthem




I suppose every Thai composer gets the urge to arrange the Royal Anthem at some stage. This is one I did which was premiered last week.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Divine Intervention

It might as well be revealed for the first time on this blog … everything else seems to be. I am composing a requiem at the moment. I've been working on it for a very very long time … for months and months. It's the first really major bit of Latin liturgy set to music by a Thai composer. It's a gift for HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana, who, I am sure, continues to preside over the classical music world here in Thailand from above.

When the princess left us, it seemed like everyone around here rushed out to exploit the occasion, throwing together memorial concerts left right and center. Some were beautiful; others seemed put together with little consideration for the princess's own tastes in music, which were not only eclectic but highly intellectual. (One of her favorite symphonies, for instance, was Mahler No. 6 — hardly the choice of a dilettante.) These concerts were all very public, very self-conscious, and I suspect that some of them were not that deeply felt.

It occurred to me that if were to compose something in memory of this person who was not only a major figure in the classical music community, but also my personal benefactor, I ought to try to create something that would make some attempt at being a worthy memorial. This is why I started to compose this requiem: without any guarantee of a performance, and not particularly caring about possibilities and practicalities. It has many things in it which might not be possible ... a boys' choir singing from a gallery, an offstage brass band, and an organ in addition to the 150 or so other performers that come standard in such works.

All week I have been composing the Sanctus of this Requiem, which is, for me, a very new idea: over an extremely soft G major chord that sounds, shimmeringly, throughout the entire movement, four sopranos sing strange melismas, weaving in and out of each other in simultaneous different modes. I got the idea from the fact that the words "sanctus, sanctus, sanctus" are supposed to be uttered by the four cherubim as they face the throne of God. If that scene were to be perceived by a human being, surely, the ecstatic cries of the cherubim would be heard only as a faint echo, and the immutable glory of God would be a glowing single major chord that never changes though being subjected to endless textural and coloristic variations. So last week, Trisdee complained to me, "Why are Sanctuses all so loud?" and I was able to say, "Not the one I'm writing."

So, at three am yesterday, shortly after I finally finish what seems to be to an incredible breakthrough, and actual vision of the the divine, I experience a hard drive crash. Hours later, after running every conceivable data recovery program, I get the drive back (both of them, actually -- two of the crashed.) The only file that will not open is this Sanctus ... both it and its two backups have been incomprehensibly reset to zero bytes.

Now. after 24 hours of mindboggling work, I have managed to rewrite the movement. Trisdee and Jay, who both heard bits of it while they were being composed, recalled a few snatches of the soprano solos. It is not the same movement as the one I lost. It's by no means done but the outlines are all in place and Trisdee told me that maybe this was fate's way of making me add some better ideas to something I thought was perfect. He said that it might even be a bit of intervention from on high — and that this version is probably even better than the lost one.

It may well be better. Right now I am feverishly putting in the finishing touches. This may well be the version that is "supposed" to be heard. It does have a better overall structure than the first version, perhaps.

But I can't help thinking that the lost version contains some kind of absolute reality that can now never be grasped. I can't help believing that the Holy Grail was in my presence, and when I reached out to touch it, it blinked out.

I draw comfort from the belief that the person for whom the Requiem is being composed must assuredly have heard it. It is a gift for her, and its vanishing into thin air fulfills my secret wish, that this composition not be a big public display of crocodile tears, but a private and entirely personal offering.

Meanwhile, the public will hear another version; the movement as seen through the veil of a flawed human memory, just as the words "sanctus sanctus sanctus" are themselves heard as an echo, not from directly gazing into the divine Presence.

I'm beginning to accept that this is what was always intended.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

When Worlds Don't Collide


My concert last Sunday, "Opera without Divas", turned out to be one of the more successful events we've had. Bravos, two encores, and my almost losing my pants in mid-concert all contributed to the excitement. We also sent five of our sexiest young opera stars to Bali for a high-profile "popera" sort of event (pictured below).

So, in a very real sense, we're coming up in the world.

Despite the horror.

Then again, there are times when I feel very distant from "reality" ... at least, the former reality. For example, last week I went to pick up a pile of movies at the software pirates' mall. One doesn't ask and they certainly don't tell. My 5 am pre-bedtime movie viewing has been incredibly eclectic, as it is basically whatever one picks up. Last night I popped in some feel-good movie about a single guy adopting a kid. (Second Best was a really searing example of such a film, but this one, by its cover, seemed more in the comedic vein.) So, I'm just sitting around watching the movie and sipping a Diet Coke, and I suddenly think, Wait a minute. I know these people. John Cusack seems to be playing David Gerrold. Not a close friend of mine, but certainly recognizable. And -- heavens -- isn't that movie kid a stunningly accurate portrayal of David's adopted son Dennis? And gee whiz — they even have those names in the movie. I am having a Twilight Zone moment until I suddenly think of looking on the DVD case, where it says that the movie is adapted from a book by David Gerrold.

If I had been living in L.A., I would know they were making a movie about the life one of my colleagues in the science fiction community. Everyone I know would know it too.

And perfectly commonplace things would happen in Bangkok, but I would be blissfully unaware of them....

My worlds do not collide. In fact, they drift further and further apart....

Friday, June 6, 2008

Somtow's World of Music



This is a demo for a forthcoming TV show. It was edited by Trisdee. They wanted it in 24 hours, so we ran around filming our friends and using our existing footage....

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The View from the Clouds


People like me are often accused of having our heads in the clouds, but this isn't really true. Our heads are where everyone else's heads are. It's just that clouds seem to form around them.

I've been having a very cloudy month. First, the Bangkok Opera is going through a massive reorganization which is going to have, it is hoped, the end result that I will only have to worry about the "vision thing" and not about juggling admin, fundraising, PR, and so on. They actually have meetings in which I am asked not to say anything and I'm sure my friends realize how well I take to muzzling.

Yet, it all seems to be working. They really have hammered out a plan, and things for the opera have never looked better. I feel as though I've led the opera to a hill overlooking the promised land, and yet.…

We are still so far from utopia. Recently, a very powerful crop of dreams would seem to indicate just how far. To understand this you must realize that I'm desperately allergic to vinegar. If I can hold it down at all without vomiting, it often leads to violent attacks of peristalsis (aka Montezuma's revenge.) Last night's dreamfest was a veritable orgy of eating and eliminating. I suspect that when one's dreams deal so intimately with eating and eliminating, then we are engaging with the most basic levels of our being. (After all, even sex isn't strictly necessary, but those two functions are....) I talk about these dreams in my last blog, but I have to admit they are haunting me far beyond their apparent content would indicate.

Now, this temporary committee has done its work and we must move forward into a brave new world.

An opera blog in Singapore recently commented — "Why is opera in Bangkok and even Hanoi so much more adventurous than in Singapore?" (In the case of Hanoi, they were referring to the Bangkok Opera taking Rape of Lucretia to the Hanoi Opera House.) — I half-jokingly posted that they should lobby to have me run the Singapore Lyric Opera. This has prompted a bit of a conversation as you can see if you go here: http://themadscene.athenarts.com/?p=350 Now, I say "half"-jokingly because at one time I did offer to run it, but they didn't answer my letter!

Siegfried Idyll from Bangkok



Here's the Siegfried Idyll from last week's concert ... not quite as perfect as in rehearsal, but it does show how my revamped orchestra is after six months....

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Recapturing the Vision Thing


It's a sort of cliche that a child can penetrate to the central truth of things, and at the onset of puberty this ability fades away. This rule of fantasy is the very essence of hundreds of novels from the Golden Compass to my own Riverrun Trilogy. And even if it were not true, it feels true.

As a child I know I saw visions and heard voices, more vividly than anything in my adulthood. Ghosts were real to me and I spoke directly with God ... or at least to the Gods ...

I am convinced now that when you get old, when you start to realize for a fact that you're going to die, the power starts to come back. Because, it seems, one's dreams again become predictive, and one's inner eye is open once again.

Perhaps this is just some foolish way to ward off one's fear of death.

Dead people and barbecues have figured in my dreams all week. Both of these are a little frightening ... death of course, is self-explanatory, but barbecue because I'm violently allergic to vinegar and the smell of barbecue is something I find absolutely horrifying. In both cases, too, a dead person was somehow mislabeled, or given a wrong identity. Both dreams were also strongly connected to the world of science fiction. This, too, I think is about recapturing the past....

So having said all this I suppose I have to describe the dreams (even though bodily functions do figure in them,)

Last week, the dream is about a huge open-air barbecue. It's on a hilltop somewhat like the artificial hill in the house I used to live in as a child. This is a restaurant, however, and there is a huge trough of chicken legs in those metal dishes they have in buffets. So, I seem to be a special guest at this restaurant and I'm in fact the ONLY guest there, so they have in deference to me replaced the barbecue marinade with an Indian curry sauce. But they didn't clean out the metal trays completely and I keep finding as I move further and further down the aisle to the right that there's vinegar clinging to everything … that there may indeed be no chicken for me to eat.…

Later on, I give a lecture in a library on science fiction. A wildly successful one. I am lionized and applauded, but I have an attack of diarrhea. Desperately I run to relieve myself. In fact, my trousers have fallen to my ankles by the time I reach the toilet, which is outside and is shaped like a giant mausoleum, all marble … more mediaeval crypt than lavatory. I am banging on the door, embarrassed that I might have soiled myself, and I finally get in. Caught at this most private of moments, a fan looms up. An old man, towering over me as I try to defecate. "I loved your lecture," he tells me. "And I adore Cliff Simak." The man in fact, resembles Cliff Simak in some way. The stoop, the gray hair, a sweet but slightly skull-like smile. And I say, "I know Cliff Simak. I wonder what he's doing now.…"

And I wake up. For my musician friends, who know naught of the science fiction world, Simak was an important writer who wrote of, among other things, talking dogs from the future. He was a kindly man whom I knew a long time ago, but he is long dead. In the dream, it seems to be Cliff himself who meets me in the lavatory-cum-crypt.

So, only a few days later, in another dream, I am in a very nice hotel in Phoenix. Some people (I don't know them) have invited me to a huge barbecue buffet. I can't of course eat barbecue but I am being polite. I tell my guests I have stayed at this hotel many times and I was never more popular than at the 1982 Worldcon in Phoenix which was at this same hotel where I stay frequently. (Another wrong fact; my dream-self seems unaware that the 1982 worldcon was in Chicago. It was the last time I was ever nominated for the Hugo Award.) The buffet is in a huge marble restaurant; vast vistas of diners.

The buffet is full and they escort me past a huge balustrade to a diferent restaurant reachable by climbing over huge gargoyle-like stone things; I can't keep my balance and instead squeeze through via a post office. We're on the second floor of a shopping mall and it's ANOTHER barbecue restaurant. The owner is Greek and long flowing hair, fat, beard. I jump and embrace him and shout Kalimera, and he says "good to see an old friend." As we sit down I explain that Sharon Webb and her husband Doug always took me here. (Sharon's husband's name was in fact Bryan). The name Doug appears in conversation several more times before I wake …

Again you see, the dead figure, with mistakes about the past, and with food I'm allergic to. What are these dreams telling me? At their most obvious, it's like a prediction I'll soon be joining my deceased friends, perhaps after a bit of food poisoning....

But it all seems more complex. The dead, it seems, aren't being properly remembered. The gargoyles and sweeping balustrades of the second dream are clearly cousins to the crypt of the first. Gothic spectacle, bodily functions, and mistaken identities of the dead.... and then there is also the Thai belief that when you see dead people in dreams, you will shortly win the lottery.

I post this blog today because I've had a worried email from another Brian, this great guy (from Phoenix!) whom I've known since he was about 12 or so and always used to see at conventions. He's worried about my health because I haven't blogged in a long time and wants to know if I'm okay.

There are actually about 6 half-composed blogs in this computer; they will at some stage be finished and posted. But the truth is, I'm going through a number of crises; political, artistic, and what not. The news will probably squeeze itself out, a bit at a time....