Sunday, August 31, 2008

Dogwood Lodge

My sister Lynn and I drove down to Dogwood Lodge yesterday, and all the memories of living there for a year (1971-72) rushed back as we rumbled across the little bridge and into the heart of of the property, in her tiny 1991 Mazda convertible with the top down. The original Lodge (where Zelda Fitzgerald was known to attend parties, a fact confirmed yesterday by Laura, the great-great granddaughter of the owners) tragically burned to the ground, a victim of wicked Alabama lightning, twenty years ago. The great room was subsequently partially reconstructed around the original walk-in fireplace, where I'm standing with a drawing of the original Lodge (one of a numbered edition of 50, by Sue Blackshear-Bowen). When I lived there, we used all four screened-in porches on the upper level, and I gave piano lessons on my beloved Kawai piano in the huge great room, to pay for my second year at the University of Alabama. We sometimes cowered from seriously large snakes prone to hanging out in the dark bathroom, lounging on one of the enormous logs and peering down. Huge red wasps were also attracted, year-round, to the Lodge---living there was a lot like camping out, but in a spectacular structure. The Lodge was notorious for annual pig roasts that became parties stretching out for days on end, fueled by beer and rock music, and occasional recordings of Stockhausen (Momenté was the one I used), to vary the sonic ambience---always an adventure to see how long that would last. Thankfully there are still gatherings of owners and their friends and family every year in this relatively untouched paradise of forest, creek, and wildlife.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

sweet home alabama

Composers need to maintain healthy family relationships. That's what I'm doing for the next couple of days, and in the Deep South, photo ops abound. Just off Bee Branch Road (near Cottondale and Coaling, between Birmingham and Tuscaloosa), a day-glow (i.e., glows in the daylight) orange yackety-yak shack for sale. Down the road, on the grounds of the legendary Dogwood Lodge, we discovered feet growing in the forest---a cast-off art project, reincarnated as raw material for a campfire horror story. Yvonne and I arrived in Birmingham last night, put up in high style by my sister Lynn at her palatial abode on Wildwood Lake, and are seeing old family, new family, turtles, frogs, fish, ants, and giant dragonflies, More to come on the Lodge!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Julie and Doc

The knock-em-dead bassoonist with an immense lyrical gift, Julie, holding Doc the cat, in freakout mode thanks to the perpetually anxious white terrier, Ginger (in heat, and not pictured but nearby). We feasted on fresh zucchini, eggplant, cucumbers, and one fig from her expansive garden yesterday, while the koi gorged on their own appetizers, swimming in bright knots.

Off to Alabama today---Cottondale, where I used to live in the legendary Dogwood Lodge, Zelda Fitzgerald's old haunt---to visit family and sink deeper into surrealism and psychogeography during the long flight.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Flowing through Sundrenched Canyons

With stacks of books, scores, cds, dvds to peruse and organize for my fall courses, I'm often in a pretty stationery position. Composing also being primarily a desk-bound endeavor, getting outdoors for hikes or down on the mat for stretching are great releases. My personal mix tends to center around a core of canyon and paseo walks, supplemented with yoga two or three times a week, alternating and complementing the yoga sessions with a regimen of weight lifting and swimming laps in the backyard pool. In my twenties, I taught yoga to college students when it was practically unheard of in Alabama, having learned from the rare practitioners who traveled through the South and honing my knowledge further when I joined up with the Ananda Marga group. Now, I'm once again a student of yoga, but not quite a beginner, and especially like the down-home "90 Minutes of Yoga with Wade Zinter" podcast...always a challenging workout, vinyasa-style. The twists feel divine when they finally come toward the end of these long sessions.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Tarantula on the Loose

The last time I saw a tarantula as big as a hand was on a highway in Texas in the 70's. Today in a late afternoon walk in the nearby canyons, like a black mirage, the hairy monster lumbered across our path. Upon close observation, it displayed its large stinger with abandon. EUWWWW.

That was the nature highlight of the week. Fortunately there were cultural highlights as well: the always elegant and versatile Arlene Thomas and Gene Brundage (above), who entertained the members of The Dominant Club at Decanso Gardens on Sunday evening. These are two of my absolute favorite singers living in LA---soprano Arlene sang the part of 'Blue Eyes' in my opera, Wet, and Gene was hilarious as basso beer-swigging Lumberjack.

The other concert of the week attracted the film composer / performer community, packed into the M-Bar. My dear friend, composer and meltingly beautiful singer Kathryn Bostic conducted musicians during a rehearsal and performance of her music for an animated film. She was one of three featured composers; each was allowed a rehearsal without video, then a rehearsal with video but no dialogue or sound effects, and finally the taping with everything included. Kathryn gave a bewitching performance last year in The Hague, singing the part of Marie Laveau in scenes from my opera, Phantasmagoriettas from Crescent City. It was a joy to work with her on that project, and a blast to hear her music for film earlier this week on the BMI-sponsored program, 'Songs, Shorts, and Scores.'

Sunday, August 10, 2008

summer saturday in valencia

Ahhh...the first non-pressure completely free day since returning from Vienna nearly a month ago.
In retrograde:

watched the chinese team excel in men's gymnastics while getting some emails out;
made salad for dinner with the nippy 'joelle' olive oil from the central valley, a market find;
took yvonne shopping at target;
saw film, wall-e, with yvonne and ed, marveled, tried to hear erika's cello in the string section;
popped blue popcorn and smuggled it into theater;
read chapter on wagner in c. abbate's book, In Search of Opera, to consider for my course;
swam some laps and discovered innards (rat? bird?) on the bamboo rug outside, gift from cat;
laundry and more laundry;
booked flight to birmingham AL over Labor Day to visit sister Lynn and her son's new baby;
short hike in Rice canyon, hot at 10 AM (photo is from nearby Ed Teasley canyon) ;
purchased handsome white wicker hamper, to replace one that died after twenty years.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Bus Träume

Finally a chunk of downtime, starting with seeing the film Dancer in the Dark, lit up by Björk's award-winning, insane performance, as she launches into fantastical Busby-Berkely-inspired numbers driven by the rhythmic / mechanical factory noises. Then early morning hours of nostalgic dreams for the public transportation in Vienna (seeds planted by that Lars von Trier film?). Fortunately I have this photo of bus with soccer ball wheel at the bus stop in Liesing---one of the countless images of soccer balls scattered throughout Vienna (which Yvonne never failed to point out, despite her mild annoyance with the Fussball mania). The city became increasingly obsessed with its hosting of the European Football Championship. Another startling representation (how many people besides us had double takes?): old statues in Vienna with football shoes painted onto their feet.

Back to reality: today started off skyping with Douglas Kearney as we pick up speed with Crescent City, our opera with partial performances on the New York City Opera VOX series (2006), and the Dag in die Branding Festival in The Hague (2007). Yea!!! I've missed living with our characters, especially the divine Madame Marie LaVeau.

After running various errands, and lunch with a friend, today's scorching August afternoon came to a close with a visit to the farmer's market in Newhall for luscious California tomatos and strawberries, as well as freshly baked pita bread, tatziki, and almonds. But the best stand was the goat's milk soap stall with a live baby goat, so adorable with those little yellow slit eyes taking in everything and luring in the customers.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Sucktion DVD and photos

'Surviving' often means surrounding yourself with competent, visionary, and like-minded creative energies. Obsession also a plus. A shining example: the team that our director Nataki Garrett gathered for the production of Sucktion (Elizabeth Brooks, costume design; Michael Gend, lighting design; Marianne Nedreberg, set design), and our post-production ensemble (Aleigh Lewis, videographer, members of soNu, myself, and Douglas Kearney). We managed to pull a dvd together in the past two days---as shown in one of our sessions at my house, yesterday: Sage Lewis, my assistant, Aleigh Lewis, and Nina Eidsheim; to get a couple of trailers out of it; and to post one on YouTube. Look here for superb photo documentation with clever commentary by Elizabeth Brooks: the silvery vacuum cleaner with the band soNu and Nina in her reflective dress. (I've uploaded one of EB's photos, above left, of soNu: Phil Curtis, Nina Eidsheim, and Gustavo Aguilar.)

SUCKTION (trailer)

Celebrating in Koreatown

from left to right: Phil Curtis, Nina Eidsheim, Anne LeBaron, Edward Eadon, and Gustavo Aguilar---musicians, composer, and one member of our 'crew,' celebrating after our final performance of Sucktion. We're hoping that it will be picked up by non-risk-averse presenters so that we can refine the piece and have a chance to share it beyond LA.

The ideas I plan to explore in upcoming posts will mostly relate to the life of a composer in Los Angeles. After spending one-third of 2008 in Vienna, a mecca for composers and musicians, where the stars engraved in the sidewalks, pavements, and U-bahn stations are for composers (and a few conductors)---not for film personalities---I was wondering whether the culture shock of re-entry into a city at the opposite extreme (cars instead of superb public transportation; an hour's drive and parking expense for downtown concerts instead of a five minute walk to the Musikverein; the Danube instead of the desert) would send me right back to Vienna. (Rather impossible, but one can dream on.) My friend Jane Brockman, accomplished LA composer who I spoke with after the performance on Sat. night, remarked that transitioning back here must be less difficult with the all-consuming production of my opera at REDCAT this weekend. She's right, and now that we're in post-production---constructing the requisite video and press kit---all that raw energy invested in seeing the production through will be redirected into other projects---like taking a few minutes tomorrow to bask in the sun!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

LA Times Review of SUCKTION

Link to the review:
Cyber opera with a vacuum: Three women explore their existence in wild performance art pieces for the conclusion of REDCAT's New Original Works Festival. My thanks to Mark Swed for an insightful review of Sucktion in today's LA Times (with my name twice misspelled---evidently a result of all the firings of editors and others): Congratulations to Kristina Wong and to Rosanna Gamson for their excellent works on the program. Tonight's will be the final performance of the festival.

Photos: Nina Eidsheim as "Irona" in Sucktion; soNu backstage: Nina Eidsheim, Phil Curtis, and Gustavo Aguilar; during rehearal, Elizabeth Brooks, our costume designer, introduces the 50's-style girdle to Nina while Nataki Garrett, director, looks on.

Friday, August 1, 2008

SUCKTION opens in Los Angeles

Last night we had a full house at REDCAT, with the first performance of Sucktion sharing the evening with Kristina Wong's hilarious Cat Lady and Rosanna Gamsons's wrenchingly beautiful Tov. soNu, the band for Sucktion, performed 40 minutes of music with difficult electronic changes and a demanding part for the vibes, with a scant five days of rehearsal. They are a phenomenal ensemble. Look for the review in the Saturday edition of the LA Times!

This note about the first performance of Sucktion is the last entry in the 'Vienna' blog, as I'm transitioning back from the composer's mecca to Los Angeles. A new, more long-term blog will take its place, same URL.