Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Something Weird This Way Comes

Here's a complete (not yet sound-sweetened or edited) recording of the first episode of Avatar Dvadas, a meta-symphony created by me and Bruce....

And here's the blurb from the paper....

t's a meta-symphony being created right in front of your very eyes and ears, music woven out of the very fabric of Bangkok's newest hub of creativity. The piece is designed for Bangkok's Art and Culture Center, using all the spaces, shapes, and angles to be found within it. "Bangkok: Twelve Incarnations" celebrates a city that is constantly reborn.

In their first co-composed composition since 1977's "Hexaphony", Somtow Sucharitkul and Bruce Gaston are putting together a year-long artwork, one movement or "incarnation" every month, timed with the constellations of the zodiac. the work will be collected into a gargantuan video set.

It's a new kind of art which could only have been created in Bangkok. Part improvisation, part environmental music, part kinetic art, the work is designed to be experienced live. Once the twelve "incarnations" have been performed, the work will be collected into a gargantuan video set.

The first "incarnation", inspired by the constellation Virgo, can be experienced on September 20 at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center at 7 pm. Bruce and Somtow will co-conduct members of the Siam Philharmonic and Fong Naam ensembles.

The meta-symphony can be experienced from many vantage points in the BACC, but we recommend the lobby or one of the balconies.

Donations will be accepted for the Bangkok Opera HIV Awareness Project.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Getting All Cosmic

I dreamed that I was in a room learning about the speed of light. It was a beautiful sepia-toned room and we were examining the world through special magnifying glasses. The room ran on clockwork. It was full of cogs and gears. A voice told me that when you pass the speed of light, you may not know it right away. You won't feel any different. Albert Einstein is somewhere in the room. It must be Einstein's voice as it has a sort of German accent.

Then I am in the sea, training to swim faster than light. I swim past huge obstacle course of shark fins, and then, mysteriously, the sharks becoming flying diplodocuses. And I careen into the stars, past the diplodocuses. The universe whirls around me, brilliant sparkling objects, and I think there is a fleeting glimpse of God. When I wake up the whirling universe is still spinning, only slowly subsiding into the darkness of the night.

The day before, I was at the opening of the Indian cultural center. The great scholar Karan Singh recited Sanskrit poetry and then reminded us that we are all insignificant specks of dust perched on an insignificant speck of dust suspended in the infinite void. Boy, talk about a 60s flashback. I could have sworn there were sitars and the voice of George Harrison bleating softly in the background, and a wafting whiff of mary jane.

But no, this was a high society event, and soon the Thai minister of culture spoke, though his eloquence was not quite on the level of Mr Singh's. We soon retired to the murgh malai and samosas being served in the library. It was there that I had another cosmic vision.

There's this huge and splendid collection of Indian poetry and literature there ... everything from Kalidasa to Tagore. Plus ... one copy of Frank Herbert's DUNE.

Why? Did it just somehow fall into the boxes that were being shipped to the cultural center from India? Or is there some more profound meaning that we're not getting? Or is this, as suggested by Star Trek editor John Ordover on my Facebook page, "Because DUNE is in Sand-skrit?"

You see, as Isaac Asimov once told me, all the mysteries of the universe can be reduced to a silly pun.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Moral Ambiguity in Thailand and Sudan

Thai women don’t wear slacks on temple sites,
Not to piss off the pious, or inflame
The appetites of our chaste cenobites,
Or drown our morals-conscious town in shame.
But if a girl forgets, and dares to flaunt
A pair of jeans before our sacred Buddhas,
She’s but to rent a skirt from those who haunt
The doorways, making money as do-gooders.

There’s no such ambiguity in Khartoum,
Where pants in brasseries can be a pain,
The wrong attire can spell a woman’s doom —
The lash for Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein!
If Christ got 39 for freeing man,
What’s one more lash for freedom in Sudan?

read more of Somtow's sonnets at

Friday, September 4, 2009

Who am I?

I've been reading an interesting discussion on Wikipedia that started when someone edited the page about me and removed the word "American" from the phrase "Thai American." Then this person and that person chimed in on the discussion page (one of them even claimed that I had had to have royal permission to change my name to S.P. Somtow). When I butted into the discussion page myself to explain that I am one of those two-passport people, someone said it wasn't a reliable source. In fact, they went on to say that I should have to declare my nationality on this blog before it could be deemed a reliable source. As someone whose works frequently get printed in Asian American anthologies or appear in Asian American Lit Course reading lists, and whose novels are listed in the Library of Congress catalogue under "fiction, American" ... I think it's rather late for this to suddenly be a matter of controversy.

Western culture always likes to think in polarities. You have to be right wing or left wing ... black or white ... true or false ... a man or a woman. In Asian cultures, people often have no trouble holding simultaneously opposing beliefs, understanding that they are often simply different perspectives on a reality that can never be wholly subjective.

I, and my work, are a living embodiment of the polarity between having to have polarities and not having to have them. Does this make it a meta-polarity, or simply an n-dimensional one? Is it recursive? Or is it subversive?

I would answer your question but I must warn you that I'm not a reliable source.