Commission Music

Commission Music
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Wednesday, 3 October 2007


Yesterday, the first business day of my Birmingham residency, I got my student ID card and worked out how to get on the campus wifi network with my laptop, but, alas, not my n800. Given the way the network manager (doesn't) work, I dispair of ever getting my n800 onto the network.

Then I went to the sole rehearsal for the John Cage piece Lecture on the Weather which I will be performing in on October 12. For those of you unfamiliar with this piece, it was commissioned by the CBC (Canadian National Radio) in honor of the American Bicentenial and premiered in New York in 1975. Scott, my supervisor, explained that the CBC New Music folks were a bunch of Vietnam War draft dodgers, which explains why Canada was celebrating the spirit of '76. (America declared independence from England in 1776. "Spirit of '76" refers to this declaration.)

The piece is made up of text and squiggly lines. The squiggly lines are treated much like Scratch Music. The text comes from Henry David Thoreau and includes random selections from Walden, Journal and Essay on Civil Disobedience. Cage points out in his preface that the last of those inspired Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. The first of those names, especially, might explain why NONE of the Brits in the piece had ever heard of Thoreau.

One of the greatest philosophers in the United States completely unknown here. Good gods.

I don't know how I feel about the piece. The text is ok. Actually, it's alarming how much it continues to resonate. I just read the novel Affinity by Waters (author of Fingersmith) and it's largely about mistreatment of women in prison in the UK, 30 years later than Thoreau. I can read that and think "thank gods they fixed those problems! It's a great relief that it's not like that anymore." But when I read Thoreau, I think, "Arg, nothing has changed." Constitutional originalists continue to plague the land. The US continues to wage aggressive wars. Our taxes are still used for evil.

But it's just weird hearing it read in British accents. by people who have no idea what they're reading. Who hear the phrase "Walden" and think nothing. Who say "Concord" and have no association with it.

Anyway, after rehearsal, I got access to the school studios and a bank account. Yes, a bank account on my first day here. I'd feel very proud of myself, except that they really bent the rules for me, but were unreasonably strict when it came to the many Chinese students waiting in line. Racist bastards. After I get my student visa, I'm switching banks. In the meantime, though, I need a bank.

I feel disappointed with myself. I should have probably told them to fuck off. But, complicating my perceptions, the gate keeper who was giving a hard time to the Chinese students was white, but the guy who actually opened my bank account was black and had Jamaican parents. He was wearing a wrist band praising Marcus Garvey, one of the 117 national heroes of Jamaica.

Today: cell phone unlock, household crap, make posters advertising music commissions.

I'm raising my prices to £10 ($20.25-ish). Order before the prices go up!

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