first portrait

I’m going through stuff here in Spencer’s house in LA.

physically, I mean — but of course in every way.

there are thousands of books, not really exaggerating — only half the books from our parents’ house, but still, way too many books. I’m not capable of just dealing with them wholesale: I go through each one, deciding which to keep, which to sell on Amazon, which to donate. I enjoy the process, really: finding Joyce’s annotations in Virginia Woolf, a copy of an obscure anarchist novel next to pretentious right-wing Russell Kirk (my parents’ politics are inscrutable), it’s all cool.

so here’s what I came upon in a copy of Jim (not yet James) Beard’s Casserole Cookbook of 1955:

Here’s what I can tell you about this piece of paper. The writing is my father’s, from the summer of 1958, and it’s a slightly mysterious set of accounts of income he expects for August of 1958. I can figure out Interlochen (where he taught that summer), and various music publishers: Holt, E B [Marks], Peters, for whom he did music copying work. Here’s a close up view of the accounts:

The reverse side is a blank form (mimeographed I think), for the service music choices at the First Methodist Church in Plymouth, MI, where my mother was the organist. (I was baptized there in October of 1958.)

So of course, the line drawing below can be none other than a pre-natal portrait of me by my father. I was born 22 July 1958, and my guess is that he was working out the numbers to be sure he could pay the hospital bill for my birth.

I love this portrait of a fetus reading. love it completely. and it makes me patient with this whole process of sorting through books. but I guess I was set up to be bookish from the start, no?!

Music for Bicycles

I am perhaps slightly re-inventing the wheel (groan) by considering music for bicycle wheels: a quick internet search uncovered "Eine Brise", by Mauricio Kagel, and "Travelon Gamelon" by Richard Lerman. Here's a review of a performance of the Kagel last year in Los Angeles. Both of these pieces involved multiple bicyclists actually riding the streets, a lovely idea, no?! This stationary bicycle wheel roulette/altar is quite different, of course, more about the connection of wheels and spindles, necessary and otherwise....

the sirens of plaquemine

I’ve been away for a while being sick with what felt like an endless case of bronchitis, and I am better now, for which I am totally totally grateful, but the good part is I pretty much stayed home and played around in music-land the whole month of January, which was a very fun thing to do.

So here’s a little taste: a piece I’ve made out of a recording of the sirens in Plaquemine, LA. I had heard the monthly warning siren test when I was there with Mac in December 2009, but I only caught the last bit on my recorder, so I got Bill Kelley, a fine engineer and musician based in Baton Rouge, to record it for me in December 2010, and it’s inspiring lots of siren pieces.

Some of them will be part of the Archives of Exile project with Richard Steadman-Jones that’ll be going happening in Sheffield in July, but of course they are part of the River Project as well, so I hope you enjoy this taste of The Sirens of Plaquemine.?

(I think you might want to listen to it softly: these particular sirens aren’t warning you, exactly…)

(The siren bowl pictured above is at the University of Mississippi, how cool is that?!?)

Poe, Sir Thomas Browne, Suetonius, Tiberius

Despina, an inveterate mystery reader, mentioned that the epigraph to Poe's Murders in the Rue Morgue is this line from Chapter 5 of Sir Thomas Browne's HYDRIOTAPHIA, Urne-Buriall OR, A Brief Discourse of the Sepulchrall Urnes Lately Found in Norfolk.
What song the Syrens sang, or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among women, though puzling questions are not beyond all conjecture.
Sir Thomas appends a note that says "The puzling questions of Tiberius unto Grammarians. Marcel. Donatus in Suet."

So I went to Suetonius and found the following entertaining bits about Tiberius and exile, along with the question about the sirens:

10 At the flood-tide of success, though in the prime of life and health, he suddenly decided to go into retirement and to withdraw as far as possible from the centre of the stage; perhaps from disgust at his wife, whom he dared neither accuse nor put away, though he could no longer endure her; or perhaps, avoiding the contempt born of familiarity, to keep up his prestige by absence, or even add to it, in case his country should ever need him.... At the time he asked for leave of absence on the ground of weariness of office and a desire to rest; and he would not give way either to his mother's urgent entreaties or to the complaint which his step-father openly made in the senate, that he was being forsaken. On the contrary, when they made more strenuous efforts to detain him, he refused to take food for four days. Being at last allowed to depart, he left his wife and son in Rome and went down to Ostia in haste, without saying a single word to any of those who saw him off, and kissing only a very few when he left.

11 From Ostia he coasted along the shore of Campania, and learning of an indisposition of Augustus, he stopped for a while. But since gossip was rife that he was lingering on the chance of realising his highest hopes, although the wind was all but dead ahead, he sailed directly to Rhodes, for he had been attracted by the charm and healthfulness of that island ever since the time when he put in there on his return from Armenia. Content there with a modest house and a villa in the suburbs not much more spacious, he adopted a most unassuming manner of life, at times walking in the gymnasium without a lictor or a messenger, and exchanging courtesies with the good people of Greece with almost the air of an equal.


13 He also gave up his usual exercises with horses and arms, and laying aside the garb of his country, took to the cloak and slippers; and in this state he continued for upwards of two years, becoming daily an object of greater contempt and aversion. This went so far that the citizens of Nemausus threw down his statues and busts, and when mention was once made of him at a private dinner party, a man got up and assured Gaius that if he would say the word, he would at once take ship for Rhodes and bring back the head of "the exile," as he was commonly called. It was this act especially, which made his position no longer one of mere fear but of actual peril, that drove Tiberius to sue for his recall with most urgent prayers, in which his mother joined; and he obtained it, although partly owing to a fortunate chance. Augustus had resolved to come to no decision of the question which was not agreeable to his elder son, who, as it happened, was at the time somewhat at odds with Marcus Lollius, and accordingly ready to lend an ear to his stepfather's prayers. With his consent therefore Tiberius was recalled, but on the understanding that he should take no part or active interest in public affairs.


70 He was greatly devoted to liberal studies in both languages. In his Latin oratory he followed Messala Corvinus, to whom he had given attention in his youth, when Messala was an old man. But he so obscured his style by excessive mannerisms and pedantry, that he was thought to speak much better offhand than in a prepared address. He also composed a lyric poem, entitled "A Lament for the Death of Lucius Caesar," and made Greek verses in imitation of Euphorion, Rhianus, and Parthenius, poets of whom he was very fond, placing their busts in the public libraries among those of the eminent writers of old; and on that account many learned men vied with one another in issuing commentaries on their works and dedicating them to the emperor. 3 Yet his special aim was a knowledge of mythology, which he carried to a silly and laughable extreme; for he used to test even the grammarians, a class of men in whom, as I have said, he was especially interested, by questions something like this: "Who was Hecuba's mother?" "What was the name of Achilles among the maidens?" "What were the Sirens in the habit of singing?"

[I should mention that Sir Thomas Browne is one of my favorite guys, I wrote a piece many years ago based on The Garden of Cyrus, which oddly enough happens to be being performed tonight in NYC(!)]

post camping

I’m just back from a month of camping on my land in VT, and I’m in the midst of trying to catch up with lots of email and paperwork and all that, but luckily I came across this really excellent piece by Monolake (Rob Henke), called layering buddha, which is keeping me calm and happy even as I try to figure out how to pay the bills!