CROSS MY HEAT:WHAT’S THE STORY?
THE COVER ART
The artwork on the cover is a picture of a shadowbox I made in the early 2000s. When I first went to art school in the late 1960s, I was immediately drawn to the mixed media work of British pop artist Peter Blake. Blake went on to do the cover of the Beatles album `Sergeant Pepper.’ My first attempt to do something inspired/influenced by Blake was a `Hero Board’ collage celebrating the life and work of Who guitarist Peter Townshend.
Over the years, I have explored other artists and artisans who work in this way….from the mixed media `combines’ of Robert Rauschenberg or the mysterious shadowboxes of Joseph Cornell to images of altars in the Mexican `Day of the dead’ tradition. In some cases, popular and vernacular imagery is placed in a new context and reframed in an ironic light. In other cases, such imagery is assembled and combined in heartfelt commemoration. I hope my shadowbox comes across as the latter.
As for the album’s title (and subtitle), I believe it to be self-explanatory.
I have a number of sources I draw upon when creating sound loops to go behind the poems. I have a library of a couple of dozen minidiscs made up of `found sound’ recorded in different locations in Asia and Eastern Europe……Often I would just walk through a street market and turn the recorder on. On a couple of occasions, I actually got someone to sing for me…….in one case, a lady practicing Chinese opera, in another, someone singing a traditional Eastern European folksong. Another `database’ I use for my sound loops is my own older music/song recordings. Sometimes I even combine those loops with other sounds from my minidisc library.
PERHAPS WE ARE THE DREAM
In 1994, I spent a week in Yogyakarta, central Java, and I made a point of seeing as many traditional puppet shows as possible. In the mornings, I would go and watch open-air performances of Wayang Golek (three-dimensional puppets) near the museum at the end of Malioboro Street. In the afternoons I would go to the Agastya art center and watch student/intern puppet masters rehearse both Wayang Golek and also Wayang Kulit (Shadow play) In the evenings, there were `tourist shows’ in local hotels and restaurants, as well as traditional performances on certain nights in the museum.
The poem `Perhaps we are the dream’ is based on one particularly rainy afternoon excursion to the Agastya art center.
I was back in Yogya (and then Bali) in the early 2000s. One of the sound loops is a snippet from a recording I made during a traditional shadow play performance. The other loop is of a friend, who is up on all things Wayang, explaining some of the personality and behavior of a couple of the puppet characters.
WITH ANY LUCK and SPEAK
What you have `With Any Luck’, musically, is a fragment of some people talking in an Asian night market and a rather slowed down section of one of the tracks on the album EMPTY ORCHESTRA. The poem is based on my recollection of my daughter’s bedroom when she was about three or four years old…….and a postcard I sent back from the Netherlands (see below) that said WHY SHOULD I TIDY MY ROOM WHEN THE WORLD IS SUCH A MESS?
For `Speak’ I used a chopped up/glitched up fragment from my song `Shadowplay’ (found on `LOST HORIZON’) and combined it with a bit of the instrumental passage in the same song. The passage is running backwards.
The poem `Speak’ was one of the poems included in volume 3 of a chapbook series of travel based poetry and prose called `THE BOUNDARIES’… This volume, called `OUT OF ORDER’ was an account of my experiences touring in the Netherlands in the early 1990s. This tour was to support the spoken word album `THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT’…..and this album, plus some of the other material performed, drew upon some of the poetry and prose in BOUNDARIES volumes 1 and 2 (India/SE Asia and Russia respectively)
Many of the poems in `OUT OF ORDER’ were inspired by the images on the postcards I sent home. . `Speak’ was based upon a night time photograph of a brightly lit bridge over one of the canals in Amsterdam.
The overall volume title `OUT OF ORDER’ was inspired, in part, by the way the postcards arrived home `out of sequence.’ This rearranged timeline gave me new material to draw upon in subsequent writing, composition, and performance.
HOW MANY WORDS FOR SORROW?
In 2002, I was in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for the first time. One day I visited the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum. I had a very basic point and shoot camera with me. I took a few snapshots of the grim interiors. They had walls of photographs of suspected enemies who had been tortured and executed. Many of them were children. The image in the shadowbox on the cover comes from one of my pictures. . My visit to this museum, and then making this mixed media piece inspired the poem `How Many Words for Sorrow?’
On another day, I was visiting villages on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. I was walking across a field, attracted by some music coming out of a nearby building. Suddenly the sky opened and I got drenched in torrential rain. I ran and found shelter in a temple. Here, in a classroom, some children were practicing on traditional Cambodian musical instruments. I wanted to test my camera and minidisc recorder to make sure the downpour had not damaged them in some way. Thankfully, they still both worked, and I was able to make some recordings of the children practicing. I later created a sound loop out of some of their efforts, and that is what you hear anchoring the track.
THE GIFT OF TEARS
In 1983, I spent a little time in the UK before returning to live in America permanently. Good things came out of that rather unsettling, liminal time. I began writing the music and songs that eventually ended up on `LOST HORIZON.’ I spent weeks in Cambridge attempting to write a novel. Nothing much came of that except a manuscript that bounced around a few publishers and is now safely buried somewhere, never to be seen again. During those weeks, I went out for a daily walk and did the rounds of bookstores and newsagents. It was here that I flipped through a TIME magazine about all things Japanese. I read a short article on cultural trends, and became (very) interested in the novelist who merited a brief mention. Shusaku Endo. I began to hunt down everything I could find by this and very quickly snapped up used and new copies of `The Volcano’ `The golden country’ `Wonderful Fool,’ `The Sea and the Poison’ and….yes, `Silence’.
One of the bookstores I would hang out in in Cambridge was the SPECK (Society for Propagation of Christian Knowledge) bookstore. One particularly hot August day I ventured down into the basement where I found a small exhibit on display. This exhibit was called `The unforgettable fire’ (I think) and was of Japanese children’s art recalling the bombing of Hiroshima/Nagasaki. On the other side of the room was a rack of pamphlets and booklets about prayer, contemplation, and the Desert Fathers.
A few days later (August 6 to be exact), I stood on the banks of the river Cam. Members of the local branch of the CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) were releasing small paper lantern boats to honor the memory of those who suffered because of that bombing.
August the 6th is also the Feast of the Transfiguration in some Church calendars…..hence the juxtaposition of those two sets of events in the poem.
Some of the language and imagery in the poem is influenced by Matsuo Buso’s novel `Black Rain’
The sounds include 78 rpm record crackle, a piano phrase that got stuck in my head, and a fragment of Japanese Imperial court music.
WATCHING FOR WINGS
I took the title and some of the imagery/language from Roger Grainger’s book(s) about his chaplaincy work in a mental hospital in the UK. Other parts of it, however, are based on conversations, recollections….
The loops are taken from a song called `The Descending of the Dove’ included on the album `MORE THAN A DREAM’ The first loop is simply from the introduction to the song. The second is the song’s chorus, in reverse, and slowly faded in.
This is a poem about the arrest and Crucifixion of Jesus, as seen through the eyes of one of those involved in the arrest. True story: Some of the imagery, although a bit buried/reworked, was taken from notes I scribbled down after a conversation with a man who was concerned for his young daughter. She, apparently, was having a hard time in competitive gymnastics. She had trouble completing some of her routines because she would freeze up with fear of letting go and falling
The loops are from a live recording of Mike Roe’s guitar intro to a performance of my song `Flesh and Blood’ (included on `MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION’) the loops are layered and reversed.
THE ALTAR AT ISENHEIM
In 2011, I went to the city of Colmar, in the Alsace region of France. It was January….and freezing. There were not many tourists. I can imagine it being busier at other times of the year. I thought the place beautiful, with its cobbled streets and pastel colored buildings. To tell the truth I spent most of my time walking to and from the Unterlinden Museum, where I spent hours each day lost in reflection in front of the various panels of Grunewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece.
This altarpiece had been originally commissioned for a monastic order that felt called to minister to sufferers from a mysterious illness known as `Saint Anthony’s Fire.’ The painter gained direct knowledge about `the look’ of this illness from these sufferers, and worked this information into his depiction of the Christ figure.
A very good book on the significance of this altarpiece in its historical context is `The Isenheim Altarpiece: God’s Medicine and the Painter’s Vision’ by Andree Hayum
The sounds include a church bell recorded over ten years earlier in Eastern Europe. I also took a recording of someone singing me some traditional folk songs from that region and I digitally layered different parts of the singing until it sounded like a singing trio or group….and mixed the results in with the bells and the keyboard during the last part of the poem.
Who was Lilias Trotter? You can learn a lot about her from this Wikipedia entry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lilias_Trotter
This young Victorian woman tore down the barriers between art and life in surprising ways. Against her mentor John Ruskin’s advice, she abandoned a promising career in art, and went to North Africa to pour out her life in ministry among the Algerian Muslims
As well as drawing some of the imagery and metaphors for the poem from Lilias’s own writings on the spiritual life, I also alluded to some themes and symbols in the work of the Sufi Muslim poets, Hafiz and Rumi.
There are three `Father figures’ in the poem: The first one is her own father, who died when she was twelve (the `one star that fell’.) Then there is John Ruskin, whose famous aphorism on the centrality of `seeing’ I quote towards the end of the poem.
The third Father figure is the God of Abraham, who in the Genesis accounts was given the name `El Roi’ …`The God Who Sees Me’ by Abraham’s maid Hagar after she and her child Ishmael had been driven out into the desert upon orders of Abraham’s wife ,Sarah.
The last line of the poem is the approximate English translation of the nickname `Lalla Lili’ that Lilias acquired working among the Algerian Muslim women.
I made a sound loop from part of my recording of a street musician in Yogyakarta. I added keyboards.
These notes may be subject to further revision/expansion/streamlining. Stay tuned…..