Sunday, August 30, 2009

That Elusive Cup of Coffee

Someone or other has voted and guess what? This blog is in the Top One Hundred of all blogs written by horror novelists. That and a 35 cents will buy you ... oh, no, it won't. Not even in Thailand.

My novel, "Vampire Junction", is also on the Top Forty list of all-time-greatest horror novels, right up there with "Dracula" and "Frankenstein" ... indeed, a French newspaper recently reviewed the movie "Twilight" and said it was a watered-down version of my novel ... That, and 35 cents, will...

Muriel, on Facebook, has just pointed out that if there were a Top Ten list of horror novelists who also compose operas, I'd probably make that one too.

Have I got enough for a cup of coffee yet?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Somtow and Bruce • The Return

In only about 6 weeks, my Thai-language book, "Phasaa mai kaengraeng - volume 1" is going to come out. It's the first volume of a autobiographical trilogy that discusses my coming to terms with being a creature of two cultures.

The first book deals with the period up to 1978, and it therefore contains a lot of material which is incredibly important in the history of music in this country, yet which is no longer remembered or taught ... or rather it has been so subsumed into the collective soul of Thai music that no one realizes that there once a time when the wheel had to be invented.

I constantly am reminded of how much is forgotten. The renewal of the creative partnership between me and Bruce Gaston is, I think, going to awaken those memories. But we also have to get rid of 32 years of accumulated conventional wisdom.

I read in the paper recently a reference to what Bruce and I contributed to music in Thailand in the 70s. The paper, in all innocence, spoke of Bruce's creation of the fusion between Thai and Western music ... and of my passion to bring opera to this country ... as two important elements of that revolution in the 1970s.

The reality is, of course, in some ways its opposite. This is why Bruce and I so often are amazed at how we have ended up as mirror images of each other.

In the 1970s, when I first met Bruce Gaston, he was completely Asian, and I was completely Western. He was a student of Boonyong Ketkhong and in some ways the premier proponent of Thai classical music. I arrived and it was Bruce Gaston, the American, who in fact opened my ears to the sound-world of Thai music, but it was I who began incorporating elements of that music into my very western music, creating the ancestral (and not terribly great) work "Views from the Golden Mountain" in 1975 for a controversial TV broadcast. I went on to start imitating Asian musical techniques on Orff instruments which I found lying around in the Goethe Institute, producing the 1976 composition GONGULA. This then cross-pollinated back to Bruce Gaston and we produced a succession of works in which the styles became ever more fused ... until we ended up with our co-composed HEXAPHONY in 1977.

On the other hand, it was Bruce who first conceived a style of opera that could be comletely done within the resources of Thai music and his opera CHUCHOK was really what set all that in motion. My involvement in opera at that time was a music director of the BOS, an expat amateur opera society.

When the alliance started to fracture in 1979 with my departure for the U.S., I was left with opera, whereas Bruce was left with fusion.... we were in a sort of role reversal.

So yes ... today, Bruce Gaston is known for the Thai-western fusion which his band, FONG NAAM, symbolizes. And I am mostly known in Thailand for opera. But the truth is, we each started what the other continued ....

It's complicated, and it's all coming in my book....

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Well, it seems that the first really really public display of the renewed partnership between Bruce Gaston and me will take place in an incredibly high-profile arena ... as witness the above TV spot....

Here's a version in English....

Friday, August 21, 2009

The governor....

Well, there I was at the grand opening of the BACC and here I am with my dear mama, and the governor of Bangkok, who loves to tell the story of how I deliberately flunked out of Oxford by telling the interviewers I'd rather go to Cambridge. On October 7th, however, the "real" story of this will be told when I deliver the toast to Oxford at the annual Oxford and Cambridge dinner....

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Immodest Proposals

Today I happened to read, in the paper, the petition signed by 3.5 million people asking H.M. the King to pardon Thaksin Shinawatra.

I'm a bit saddened by the text of this petition because it's not only a request for a pardon but also a political tract disputing the legitimacy of the current government. While I do agree that the coup was a misguided and ultimately self-destructive reaction to Thakin's shenanigans, the current government's hold on power, tenuous though it may be, is entirely constitutional and within the normal operating limits of a democracy. Almost every democracy in the world has had coalition governments such as this where no party possessed the ability to govern alone. "Almost" a majority is not a majority.

Had the petition simply been a heartfelt outpouring from those who love the ex-PM and weren't bothered by the tax evasion, pocket-lining, Muslim-bashing, extrajudicial killing and press muzzling that occurred during that administration, I would applaud the signatories' right to present it. After all, love is blind. It may well be true that such petitions should only legally be presented if the guilty party has served a little time and shows penitence, but in my opinion, anyone can write a letter to anyone else, even a head of state.

But the text of the petition isn't such a heartfelt outpouring. It''s a provocative attack on the legitimacy of a government whose democratic credentials are at least as strong as that of the pre-coup government, perhaps more so in that the last election may not have been quite so blatantly purchased as the one ousted by the coup. Therefore I'm saddened that those who may well have loved the ex-PM may have been manipulating into signing a political manifesto. In the end, this erodes the entire purpose of having an entity beyond politics.

Last year, I protested, and they removed, a Wikipedia entry that said I was an anti-Thaksinite. The reality is, I'm ambivalent. The man is clearly a genius, but genius does not automatically come with goodness. Otherwise the term "evil genius" would not be such a cliché of B movies.

Still, as much as I supported the yellow team's motives until they actually blatantly said that "the poor are too stupid to vote," I supported the right of the reds to petition ... until I saw that petition not only asked for a pardon, but also that that pardon include an implicit royal sanction of one view of the political situation. What was wrong with having it just say "Please pardon you-know-who?"

Well, I'd better shut up, or I'll find myself back to having only one passport ... (and it won't be the Nicaraguan one) I think that Purukanda's rap-style commentary on the Thai political situation says it all far better than I ever could. So look for it on youtube and I'll go back to talking about opera.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Shopera till you Dropera

One of the exciting events this week was the opening of the "Bangkok ShOpera" at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center. For the next 2 months, creative people and music lovers will be able to hang out and get to know each other and we will be able to hand out information about the opera. We've already met all sorts of fascinating people and of course, all our DVDs are available at the Bangkok ShOpera as well.

Soon Bruce Gaston and I will be giving a wild John Cage concert in the lobby outside using all the different levels of the museum to hide musicians in.

Today, the boyband classical string quartet that I created welcomed a new member because Boom, who we all know and love, has been shipped off to Fargo, of all places, for a year. The kids themselves voted to invite Top, one of Byrd's pupils, as their fifth member. I guess a five person quartet is like a four book trilogy, but it is useful if one person is stuck in Fargo. Top is a very charismatic and musical boy. The celebrated Andrew Biggs dropped in on their rehearsal because he's figuring out a way to package them for TV.... we might expand the membership to 8 kids, which would mean that one quartet could be touring all over the world and doing TV gigs while a second quartet could be shoveling snow.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Brief Update on the Coffee Cherub....

Thanks to all those who wrote expressing interest and sympathy for the case of the coffee cherub ...

Well, as most predicted, I recently heard from him again; or rather, my housekeeper did. He called here and asked if he could have a meeting with her. She went off into the wilds to meet with the boy and his mother.

Well, the CC asked the housekeeper if she thought there was a chance he could come back and work for me again, but before she could respond, the mother said that he could only be allowed to do so if she could collect three months' of his salary upfront.

My housekeeper immediately smelled a rat and told her that she believed I would say that he could certainly come back, but he would get paid in the normal course of events and if at that point he chose to give her his entire paycheck, that was really up to him, but there would be no more calls demanding that he beg me for money and take it to her in the middle of the night, whether to feed a drug habit or for any other reason.

I think that was the right answer to give though had I been there myself I would probably have succumbed to the extortion...

The coffee cherub continued to insist that he really wanted to come back to work, so we will just have to see what happens ... things that are "meant to be" have a way of happening regardless of what you say or do ... we will see.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A Mahler Clip

We have received a lot of positive attention as a result of this Mahler initiative. Great press, I'm told, is on its way.

Meanwhile, some lovely emails have come including half a dozen from members of the orchestra, thanking me for giving them the opportunity to realize their life's dream of playing Mahler's Fifth.

Here's an excerpt ... well, the whole first movement, anyway...