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.