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: 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....