Saturday, December 31, 2011

Songs Confucius Sang: a demo

Tools of the trade: poem, field deck, guitar.

We got started on a new poetry score during my recent visit to Los Angeles. Matt Fuller and I started scoring one of the books of ancient traditional Chinese odes; and Meghan Gohil recorded simple acoustic guitar and vocal sketches of eight of our new songs.

We are working from Ezra Pound's English translation of the 305 ancient odes. We are scoring odes 55-64, a book Pound called "Wind of Wei," more commonly known as "The Odes of Wei" and anthologized in the "Folk Songs" section of the canonical Chinese Classics.

According to legend, the ancient odes were anthologized and scored by Confucius. Though scholars no longer believe that Confucius single-handedly set these 305 odes to music and collected them in their present form, he did know the odes and sing them. He often is heard discussing them in The Analects, a collection of sayings attributed to Confucius and his circle. Confucius' only son, pestered by disciples for something The Master must have told his only son, said the only thing his father ever told him was, "Study the odes" -- know the old folk songs.

The musical settings that Confucius knew and sang (and may have composed, in part) have been lost to time. At any rate, we don't aim to reconstruct the songs as Confucius sang them five centuries before the birth of Christ. Poetry Scores translates poetry into other media, with a strong preference for cross-cultural modulations. Matt Fuller and I write music from a shared set of sources in American folk and rock music, so we'll present the old Chinese odes as American folk and rock songs.

Confucius himself played a stringed instrument described in English as a lute or zither (I like to think of it as a guitar) and stone chimes, something like a xylophone made of rock. Matt and I have started writing and recording on acoustic guitar, the contemporary American version of Confucius' ancient Chinese lute; and I feel compelled to add in overdubs some flourishes of xylophone (I have a good one made calabashes in Ghana) or even stone chimes, if we can get our mallets on a set.

"The Odes of Wei" is a cycle of ten songs, though our poetry score will have more songs than that. Several of the songs are long and varied enough to be treated as suites, with several component songs; of the songs Matt and I wrote this week, "Soup of mud" scores only a fragment of Ode 58, which will yield three of four separate songs in our score. Also, we always include instrumentals that are titled after phrases in the poem. Pound was an oddball who sometimes attached his own titles or epigraphs to the odes, and I'm inclined to use Pound's interpolated texts as titles of stand-alone instrumentals.

Pound's oddball status as a translator is a plus for us as songwriters. His frequently weird, densely impacted English workings of the songs Confucius sang just beg to be treated as fragmented rock lyrics -- the kind of songs Matt and I like to sing. Pound's Confucius could pass as a lyric sheet for Guided by Voices, Pavement, the Afghan Whigs or the earliest R.E.M. This stuff is fun to sing to guitar!

The UCLA scholar L. S. Dembo gave Pound some tough love in The Confucian Odes of Ezra Pound (University of California Press, 1963). Dembo points out how Pound used false etymology for words in a source language he imperfectly understood and played around with slang and Americana in ways that damaged the tradition Confucius loved and respected with "whimsicality and bathos". We suspect that our folk rock workings of Pound's Confucius will drift even further from the ancient shore, but we hope as these old poems travel with us, they make new, unexpected friends.

Dembo wrote that Pound "destroyed a folk song ... in order to create a sophisticated Western lyric." What we are trying to do is now restore some of the demolished folk song, sung in the voice of another place and time.


Songs Confucius Sang
Translated by Ezra Pound
Demo versions

"No room for doubt"
(Confucius*, Fuller, King, Pound**)

"Soup of mud"
(Confucius, Fuller, King, Pound)

"No bamboo long enough to reach you"
(Confucius, Fuller, King, Pound)

(Confucius, Fuller, King, Pound)

"Sung far?"
(Confucius, Fuller, King, Pound)

(Confucius, Fuller, King, Pound)

(Confucius, Fuller, King, Pound)

"To last out all time"
(Confucius, Fuller, King, Pound)

Recorded by Meghan Gohil (Hollywood Recording Studio) in Los Angeles, California on December 29, 2011.

* Confucius: as noted, Confucius most likely wrote none of these songs, but since their authors are of unknown ancient Chinese origin, we take the liberty of crediting Confucius, a name that says "ancient Chinese" in the modern global village.

** Pound. Pound's English translations were published by Harvard University Press, which has (I assume) renewed its copyright; we'll need an agreement with the university press before making any commercial release of this material. In fact, I hope to enlist this great press as a colleague and partner in the project.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Our names in Turkish lights: Exdergi 4 (Contemporary Istanbul edition) is out!

So, like we were saying, our sister citizens in Istanbul got us into Contemporary Istanbul 2011, inspired by Poetry Scores' announcement of its first sister city, the great Istanbul.

Our sister citizens publish the magazine Exdergi, and the new issue Exdergi 4 is now out.

It's published in Turkish, for the most part, as one would expect, but is beautifully designed and pleases the senses even if the mind doesn't penetrate the language.

As a benefit to people who worked on the first Poetry Scores movie Blind Cat Black, which screened at Contemporary Istanbul, this issue has our Turkish show poster, with two details from the poster. Open that PDF of Exdergi 4 and scroll down to pages 23 to 25.

I, for one, love to see this string of names of St. Louis actors in the Turkish lights:

Contemporary Istanbul coverage starts on Page 18 and includes some of Murat Nemet-Nejat's translations of Blind Cat Black into English that got this whole thing started.

Exdergi is edited by Ipek Tuna, with design by Ali Riza Esin; and we are very fortunate to be mobbed up with the creative people.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Poetry Scores and Exdergi do Contemporary Istanbul 2011

So as we were saying, Poetry Scores started a new Sister City program and announced Istanbul as our inaugural Sister City.

Right away this helped to make good things happen, as our sister citizens in Istanbul with the magazine Exdergi launched furiously into the project of getting us accepted into Contemporary Istanbul 2011 as an Arts Initiative, and they succeeded.

Here is a little bit of evidenec.

The Contemporary Istanbul catalogue. We're on Page 122.

An artful blog post. The blog scrolls right, as well as down; scroll far right and you get a glimpse of how our space looked at Contemporary Istanbul.

An artful video. This is a time-lapse piece on Contemporary Istanbul getting set up and then going down in style, edited to "The marching band of his friend and of death" by Kennebunkport Jazz Workshop, from our poetry score to Ece Ayhan's Blind Cat Black, translated by Murat Nemet-Nejat.

We got so excited we thought we'd rush so we could make a big announcement of another Sister City project between St. Louis-based Poetry Scores and Istanbul. We put that all together, involving a band in Istanbul scoring a Nobel laureate poet ... then decided not to rush and announce it at the festival.

So we'll wait a minute on that.

And Contemporary Istanbul, we hope to see you in 2012!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

St. Louis arts organization formally states kinship to Istanbul

Introducing: Poetry Scores’ Sister Cities Program

Starting from its roots in rock bands and a field recording collective, Poetry Scores always has been a people-to-people, artist-to-artist endeavor. From its infancy as an official arts organization that translates poetry into other media, Poetry Scores always has deliberately varied its focus, year by year, between American and International poets. And we always have been scavengers for collaboration, seeking and accepting help from any quarter in turning poetry into music, visual art, movies, beer, whatever.

Add all that together and one thing you might get is what we annouce now: The Poetry Scores Sister City Program. Starting in 2011, each year we will adopt a creative Sister City for Poetry Scores (and our beloved hub of St. Louis, Missouri). As we always have done with our choice of poets to score, we will alternate between International and American Sister Cities, starting this time with the Internationals, since in 2011 we happen to be scoring an international (Irish) poet.

And the Sister City that Poetry Scores adopts in 2011 is: Istanbul, Republic of Turkey.

The immediate occasion for this choice is Tunca Subasi of Istanbul accepting our invitation to show in the 2011 Poetry Scores Art Invitational. Tunca also is lending his penetrating artwork about the American atomic bomb project to the movie we are producing now, Go South for Animal Index, based on Stefene Russell’s poem about The Bomb. This marks our first collaboration with an international artist in an Art Invitational or a movie production.

But Tunca stands on the shoulders of giants when it comes to the creative relationship between Istanbul and Poetry Scores.

Poetry Scores has its earliest roots in the rock bands Enormous Richard, Eleanor Roosevelt and Three Fried Men. The songwriting core of these bands set to music the poetry of Orhan Veli – a great genius of Istanbul – as translated into English by a son of Istanbul, Murat Nemet-Nejat. We were guided in this work by Defne Halman, a Turkish/American actress now based in Istanbul.

The second poem we scored as Poetry Scores was Blind Cat Black, one of the greatest poems ever written (however allusively) about Istanbul – by Ece Ayhan and translated into English by Murat. Blind Cat Black was the first movie we made from one of our poetry scores. Then Ipek Tuna, Onur Karagoz and others brought our movie Blind Cat Black to Istanbul in 2010. Through this exchange, a creative dialogue, affection and friendship has started to evolve between the underground artistic community of Istanbul and our large collective of (mostly) St. Louis artists.

What does it mean to be a Poetry Scores Sister City? We expect what it means to evolve over time, but going into it, we accept a responsibility to reach out to artists and audiences in our Sister Cities as we go about our work. Just as we do spontaneously and pragmatically with St. Louis, we will look to these cities for our talent, our audiences, our ideas, our friends. It’s not a one-shot deal, either – once a Sister City, always a Sister City. The relationship is cumulative and ongoing. In the case of Istanbul, this amounts to a formal statement of an existing relationship; but there is value in formal statements.

For specific starters, in addition to Tunca joining our Art Invitational for Incantata and movie crew for Go South for Animal Index, Ipek has committed to chairing a committe to translate Go South for Animal Index into Turkish, and Poetry Scores has committed to use this translation to edit a subtitled Turkish edition of the completed movie.

Artists and audiences in our Sister City of Istanbul, we hope to hear from you; and you can expect to hear more from us – people to people, artist to artist, friend to friend.

Poetry Scores * *


Photo from EUROsimA.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Poetry Scores Art Invitational FAQ

I've been receiving some questions about this year's Poetry Scores Art Invitational, which is a good sign -- new people must be hearing about it. So here is an FAQ.

When does it start? How late will you be there?
The Art Invitational is an art auction. Doors and bidding in the silent auction open at 6 p.m. this Friday, November 11 at Mad Art Gallery. As bidding wars take shape, we will go live with the auction on the contested pieces. We expect to start moving to live auctions some time after 7 p.m. and have all art sold around 9 p.m. The party is likely to last until 10 p.m. or even later.

Where is this place?
Mad Art is located at 2727 So. 12th Street in Soulard. It's in a former police station, so look for the POLICE sign. Mad Art has extensive directions on its website. From downtown St. Louis, go south on Tucker/12th Street. Just under 44, Gravois darts off to the right and 12th Street continues to the left with a left turn. Go left and drive on 12th Street through Soulard towards the A-B brewery, and Mad Art is on your right just as you near the brewery. It's on the south edge of Soulard, east of 55.

Does it cost anything?
It's free to come in. There is a cash bar. (Contributing artists get two free drink tickets each.) If you bid on art and win, you'll need to be prepared to pay that night and take your art home with you. We accept cash, check and credit payments.

How does this thing work?
Poetry Scores has asked more than 50 artists to make art inspired by the same poem. The artists are required to title their piece after a quote from the poem. We then hang the work in the space according to where in the flow of the poem the language chosen for the title appears. Poetry Scores is dedicated to translating poetry into other media -- in this case, visual media.

How does the whole bidding thing work?
It's easy. Next to each art work is a tag with the artist name and title of the piece. On a table near each piece will be a bid sheet, identified by artist name and title, that states the opening bid price for the piece. If you are the first bidder, just bid the opening price or anything above it. If there is a previous bid, then beat it. Add your phone number and email address to be safe, but don't go anywhere. Watch your bid sheets. As bidding wars get going, we will move to live auctions right in front of the piece that is moving to live auction. Be prepared to compete in the live auction until there is a sale. If there is no live auction, then all silent auctions will be concluded at 9 p.m. Be prepared to pay as soon as bidding on your piece is closed.

What if I have the high bid but I need to leave?
Make sure all of your contact information is on the bid sheet. Tell someone at the pay station you are leaving but want the piece(s) where you are high bidder and will settle up right away. If you really want the piece, tell the person at the pay station to appoint a proxy bidder for you and set a proxy bid ceiling (how high you are willing to do) in writing with the pay station.

Isn't original art expensive? Can I afford anything?

Original art is expensive, by many consumer standards, for good reasons. Because our Art Invitationals tend to attract other artists, we get a high-concept but typically low-income crowd. Therefore, each year we encourage our artists to set their opening bid low, in the $50 or $75 range. Many (but not all) artists go along with these ridiculously low opening bid prices, or even lower prices, though it's an auction, so the price can climb. All told, most people agree that our show is the art bargain of the year in St. Louis. We like it that way; we'd rather make less money and see all of the art go home with buyers than make a killing off a few sales at gallery prices.

Is this a benefit? For who? For what?
Proceeds from all sales are split evenly three ways: between the artist, the gallery and Poetry Scores. This limits how much we benefit, but it reflects our cooperative spirit. The portion that goes to Poetry Scores will be used to release our projects. We also translate poetry into music (i.e., poetry scores) and movies. At the moment, we need to reprint one poetry score CD that is sold out (Stefene Russell, Go South for Animal Index) and are producing a new movie (in fact, based on the same poem, Go South).

That sounds great, but I can't make it on Friday. Can I bid anyway?
Yes! We accept proxy bid ceilings. Here is how that works. You tell us how much you are willing to spend (set a proxy bid ceiling) and what you are looking for (particular artists, styles, colors, etc.). We will appoint a proxy bidder to manage your money conservatively, inching up on bids up to your bid ceiling. We then collect upon delivery of your new art if you win. Email Chris King at to establish a proxy bid ceiling.

This sounds great. I want to support it but have no use for original art. Can I donate? Is it tax-deductible?
Yes, and yes. Poetry Scores is a Missouri non-profit corporation with 501(c)3 federal tax status. All donations to the organization are tax-deductible. Contact creative director Chris King at

My kid (nephew, niece) went to a SCOSAG workshop and has art in this show. That's what I want to see. Where is the kids' art?
This year, for the first time Poetry Scores partnered with the South City Open Studios and Gallery (SCOSAG) to involve children in the show. Seven children were signed up for a workship where they made drawings of things mentioned in the poem -- honey, salmon, nightmarish, bride, three frogs' karoake; you name it. Each of the seven child artists has at least one piece in the "big people's show" hung in the main space of the gallery. Like all of the art, their drawings are hung depending on where in the poem their titles appear. The rest of the children's art is hung according to the same principles inside the jail cell in the hallway between the front door and the main space.

Is the kids' art treated like the adults' art in terms of the auction?
Yes and no. The child's art in the main space will be auctioned off like the rest of the art in the show. Bid on your drawing and pay attention for when the auction goes live. The child's art in the jail cell costs $2 each. Just take the drawing you want and bring it to the pay station in the main space to pay.

Any other quesions? Email Thanks!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Wrapping a fish, as in fish actor, with Herr Doctor Professor & the vintage car

The first shoot yesterday, on a very long and ambitious day of shooting on our movie Go South for Animal Index, also was the last shoot for a workhorse -- or rather, workfish -- actor, who now has been on this job more than a year. Yesterday I began to call this goldfish, a stray resuce from the bait tank, "Leopold," after an orchestra conductor character played by Bugs Bunny in a Loony Tune. I enticed the man holding the fishbowl, Richard Edwin Skubish, who grew up with me in Granite City watching these cartoons, to whisper in excited awe, "Leopold ...!" every time the fish came out of the prop shop for a take.

Skoob, as his friends know him, plays the scientist who dies at Lost Almost, our fabled version of Los Alamos. I can't believe it's taken us this long for us to shoot this scientist entering Los Almost with his family, one of the first things viewers will scene in the completed movie, but we got it done yesterday morning at our prop shop.

Then it was a long haul from South City out to North County to shoot one of the last scenes in the movie: the widow of the dead scientist and their daughter driving into a sunset that becomes a nucleur sunset with the successful test of the nucleur bomb spreading behind their car. Our fearless crew of V. Elly Smith, Kraig Krueger, and Dan Cross walked up the road to get in position after I figured out the stretch of road where we should shoot.

Kraig ended up setting up further down hill for an amazing wide shot, but Dan got more of the roadside zoom.

Marty Luepker, who rented us this beautiful 1940s car for a song, drove up and down this hill for many takes. We were shooting at the spread of a generous friend who was out of town, yet allowed not one but two movie crews to shoot on his property yesterday. We have mutual friends in the other production and they sweetly and carefully coordinated with us so no one drove into one of our shots. No one ever did.

We still needed to shoot the widow and daughter, played by Stefene Russell and Claire Eiler, climbing into the car from the woods for that final drive-off, so we drove down a woodsy side road and shot that as well.

We have some footage of them walking together in some other wooded environments, but we shot them walking through these woods as well while they were there. The widow, by the way, is played by Stefene Russell, the poet who wrote the poem Go South for Animal Index and did voice-over work on the poetry score. Stefene was an indie film star as a younger woman. Claire is carrying an empty bird's nest. Her character's discovery of this empty nest is one of the turning points to her emerging from her grief over her dead father.

In the movie, these events happen at dusk becoming dark. Dan and Kraig were set up to shoot "day for night" where you filter your shot to look blue-ish, but Elly was not. So we peeled Elly off to get the bamboo/woods transition shots. I wanted someone from the military base and someone from the tribal people walking from Missouri-esque woods to bamboo and vice versa. Thom Fletcher's soldier character did this three ways: workmanlike, dead tired, and dead drunk.

Martin Sophia's tribal mystic character did the same, both in ceremonial garb and in his outfit as a menial comissary worker on the military base.

Martin is carrying an African doll he uses in one healing ceremony for the sick child in the tribe (sick, we are supposed to conclude, from uranium exposure). We shot that scene before the spider totem in the courtyard at Atomic Cowboy, with a background of bamboo lining a fence. We turned Atomic Cowboy's unique, bamboo-lined courtyard into a movie lot after my all-volunteer crew balked at driving all the way out to Cuba, Missouri every time we needed to shoot. That's what created the need to have some characters physically connect a bamboo landscape to what looks like Missouri woods. What puzzles me is that the man who sculpted that spider totem for Atomic Cowboy, Wesley Fordyce, is the same man who let us wander in and out of the bamboo and Missouri woods on his property.

Next, Elly and I took Thom and Martin to Atomic Cowboy to pick up a shot we needed at the quonset hut there, which stands in for our military comissary. When we were still shooting in Cuba, Thom's soldier dives into the woods to trade two hamburgers for moonshine distilled by a tramp in the woods, Coyote (played by Kyla Webb, aka Sammich The Tramp of Beggars Carnivale). My shooting script called for the soldier to pick up these burgers at the comissary from a tribal mystic working his menial day job on the base. Got it!

Our two movie units regrouped, with just about an hour of natural light left, down on the Mississippi riverfront, where Marty Luepker's parents live and garage their vintage vehicles. Stefene Russell can't drive a stick shift, so we needed a safe and secure place to shoot her "driving" while Marty pushed the car.

Not that Marty complained, he is a joy to work with, but after a point we decided we could just roll the car downhill to acheive the same effect.

The other thing we badly needed to shoot was in-car interaction between the widow and grieving daughter. In their storyline, they wander on wheels after being put out out of Lost Almost when the father/husband with the job in the physics lab died. We need to show a gradual, slow arc of coping with grief -- in two sets of costumes.

With the time and gear at hand, we mostly had to shoot these scenes with the car in one place and our production assistant Jocko Ferguson creating movements of light to suggest motion.

It was kind of an all-hands-on-deck situation. At the very end of the day, as the sun dropped out of the sky, we had about twenty minutes to capture one of the emotional pivots for one of our one-hour-long movie's four storylines.

As you can see from this frame on Elly's camera, our cast and crew came through.

Very much looking forward to seeing Claire's face the size of a movie theater screen.

Playing the sad emotions was not too difficult at this point for our throroughly exhausted child actor, who pulled a 9 to 5 on a Saturday, acting all day long. Claire will not lack for options, but she certainly has the talent, temperament and stamina to be a professional actor if she wishes.

I also crammed in an evening interior scene, since we are running out of mild weather and none of our locations are heated. For Dan, Jocko, and me, it was back to the prop shop to shoot The Atomic Lady doing her thing in the Lost Almost office. Modeled after the historical Dorothy McKibben, The Atomic Lady is played by Amy Broadway. This character is basically Lost Almost's executive secretary.

In our movie, she types up secret passes under orders from Herr Doctor Professor, the boss of the nucleur lab and bomb shop, played by Paul Casey. Paul has not had a hair cut in more than a year, so getting this scene done last night also enabled us to wrap his character and send him, at last, to the barber.

Herr Doctor approves her work -- or not. When not, it's her task to torch the secret documents.

Dan framed some amazing scenes of flames licking at Amy's face and eating away at words from Stefene's poem typed on these pages. The very astute viewer, after repeated viewings, might notice The Atomic Lady burns papers with code words that appear on the secret passes from the two Lost Almost characters who die in the movie.

I saved the best for last. Out at Wesley's we also shot an important scene near the very end of the movie. Thom Fletcher's soldier, after a military career distinguished by drinking secret moonshine and grunt-crawling zombies into the path of test bomb blasts, goes AWOL. He melts into the woods, ditches his rifle and helmet, and digs up his old Vendor of Stuffed Animals hat and bindlestick.

And who should chance down his new route but the widow and grieving daughter, grieving less now after witnessing a successful tribal healing ceremony of the sick tribal child that they stumbled upon in the woods.

The movie opened with The Vendor of Stuffed Animals, before his induction into the military, trying and failing to sell his wares to zombie uranium miners. It ends with him successfully, finally, sealing a deal!

Then he watches them drive off into what soon becomes a nucleur sunset.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Barbara Harbach's composer's notes to "Incantata"

Barbara Harbach speaking yesterday at the mini-conference on Paul Muldoon's "Incantata" and Its Sources.

Yesterday Irish Studies at the University of Missouri - St. Louis hosted the first academic conference on a Poetry Scores project, Paul Muldoon's "Incantata" and Its Sources, which Eamonn Wall organized around a lecture by Guinn Batten, a Washington University professor and Muldoon's first American publisher. Guinn said she would let us publish her provocative lecture here; yesterday I posted my brief presentation; and now I will share the basis of composer Barbara Harbach's remarks at the mini-conference, her program notes for the poetry score she has composed to Incantata, which premieres 3 p.m. Sunday, October 30 at the Lee Theatre in the Touhill Center at UMSL.


: composer’s notes
By Barbara Harbach

I was drawn to the many feelings and emotions in the poem, the cry of heartbreak, enduring love, humor, pathos, giddiness, allusions to music, literature, art, liquor and food. The names of the four movements are taken from a phrase in the poem, as per Poetry Scores’ compositional model.

The first movement, Powers, is a play on Mary Farl Powers’ name, a woman’s powers, the power of nature, and the power of the world. The music begins with a thunderclap sforzando chord followed immediately by agitated murmurings in the cello and viola with two different melodies in the woodwinds, while the piano punctuates the musical fabric percussively. Soon the murmurings and the two melodies start to migrate among the instruments with key and meter changes. A new melody emerges in the winds imitated by the violin, while the piano releases some of the tension by arching arpeggios and scales. Tension returns with murmurings in the lower strings but now the piano joins again with arpeggios and scalar passages. The next section shifts the tensive murmurings to the winds while the horn and trumpet carry the melodies. The three melodies are developed musically and lead to a halt in the rhythmic motion. The bassoon begins a haunting and disjunct melody imitated by the cello. The winds and strings continue with the fugue melody until the eerie murmurings emerge in the flute and viola, ultimately with all the strings and winds playing different melodies. After the instruments drop out, another thunderclap chord leads into the coda with increasing tension, rhythmic motion and intensity ending with the final sforzando chord.

Nocturne opens with night sounds, strange and luminous twitters and chirps from the dark of night eerily portrayed by the woodwinds over open fifths in the strings. The reverie of the night becomes more complex when the piano begins its on melody, and eventually dominates the night sounds. As the piano melody ebbs away, the murmurings of the night again are tranquil. The nocturne theme, a gesture to the Irishman John Field, a composer of nocturnes, is introduced by the violin. The piano picks up the theme followed by a counter theme in the horn. Themes, counter themes, and the sounds of the night intermingle. As dawn approaches, the themes fall silent, and the murmurings of the night gently hush.

Relishing in Irish folk tunes, Composed of Odds and Ends opens with a jig-like rendition of "The Humors of Whiskey" with the melody in the violin, and grace notes with a drone in the accompaniment. A counter melody joins the jig in the upper woodwinds transplanting the grace notes and drone to the lower strings. The trumpet and horn, eager to enter the discussion, begin with the "Liverpool Hornpipe." The next section combines "The Humors of Whiskey" and its counter theme with a new theme in the flute. Next, the clarinet is insistent on playing its own tune, "Banshee," now accompanied by the "Liverpool Hornpipe". A more somber and poignant air opens with the viola, "For Ireland, I’d Not Tell her Name," of course generating its own counter melody. The woodwinds take up the tunes and barely finish before the horn and trumpet with the grace notes and drone accompaniment change the mood leading to 6/8 meter imposed over 4/4 meter with the ebullient themes and counter themes racing each other to the double bar.

Bitter-Sweet rails against the inevitable before acquiescing, while moments of tenderness lead to the eventual wholeness of spirit. The piano opens with edgy tension, as a scrap of a theme begins the ostinato in the bassoon. Other instruments chime in on the theme until the trumpet erupts with its on theme demanding and growing with intensity, culminating in crashing chords. The cello now begins a mournful, rising fugue theme, followed by the bassoon, violin, and clarinet utterings, until the piano enters with a sweet and delicate theme of remembrance. Woodwinds take up this lush theme, and before coming to a close, the piano softly begins to insert its bitter, edgy tension. A final fugue begins, combines with the piano melody until all instruments become agitated ending with the triumph of the spirit able to survive.


Information on premiere of Incantata.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The madness and method of Poetry Scores (UMSL panel presentation)

Irish poet and UMSL professor Eamon Wall, colorized by overhead projector.

Today Eamonn Wall, Irish poet and UMSL professor, hosted literary critic Guinn Batten (Washington University), composer Barbara Harbach (UMSL) and yours truly (Chris King) for a panel on Paul Muldoon's "Incantata," the text for Poetry Scores 2011 events. These were my remarks. More (much bigger news) from this panel to come!

I am very pleased Eamonn Wall organized this event this afternoon. I knew of Guinn Batten’s interest in Paul Muldoon through a student of hers who follows my work as a music producer, and I have been eager to hear her take on this fabulous poem, “Incantata.”

Eamonn suggested we do this event after Barbara Harbach and I invited him to perform “Incantata” when we premiere Barbara’s score of the poem on Sunday, October 30, here at UMSL. Eamonn, I’ll admit, was my second choice for reader, only because I first asked Muldoon himself. Paul Muldoon fully approves of what Poetry Scores is doing with his poem, and we already have recorded him reading “Incantata” (at a friend’s home studio here in St. Louis) for our eventual CD release of the poetry score. Unfortunately for us, Muldoon was not available for any of our live events surrounding “Incantata,” however, because he is on sabbatical in Ireland. So, in a roundabout way, we get to have this nice event here at UMSL today because Paul Muldoon got to go home.

I’ve really been looking forward to hearing Guinn Batten talk about “Incantata” and my friend Barbara Harbach talk about the original score to the poem that she composed on commission from Poetry Scores. I don’t have any insight or expertise to add on the subjects of Muldoon’s poem or Barbara’s new poetry score of it, but I did want to speak a bit about our humble St. Louis-based arts organization, Poetry Scores, that instigated all this exciting activity around what I consider to be the single greatest poem written in English by a poet who is alive today.

Poetry Scores translates poetry into other media. We named the organization around the musical form which we would like to think we innovated. A poetry score is a long poem set to music as one would score a film. We stumbled upon doing this work when we were a field recording collective, which really was just a rock & roll band that had acquired some recording equipment, lost its audience for the most part, but not lost our romance with the American road. So we stayed on the road, asking people if we could pay attention to them while they played music and told stories, rather than the other way around.

Doing this, we recorded Leo Connellan, a gritty poet from Maine with a lobsterman’s twang who was at the time the Poet Laureate of Connecticut. We recorded Leo reading his long poem “Crossing America” (a bicentenial poem first published in 1976), and when his reading timed out at 37 minutes – exactly half the length of a CD stretched to its limits – we decided to write and commission musical interludes to sequence between each of the poem’s sections. The poetry score was born.

Since Leo Connellan, we have scored the Turkish poet Ece Ayhan, translated by Murat Nemet-Nejat; the Salt Lake City/St. Louis poet Stefene Russell; the Australian poet Les Murray, a fellow Griffin Poetry Prize winner with Paul Muldoon (and, like Muldoon, a poet perenially rumored to be due a Nobel Prize); and just last year, we scored the New Jersey/St. Louis poet David Clewell, who was announced by First Lady Georganne Nixon as Missouri’s second Poet Laureate just after we started to score his long poem, Jack Ruby’s America.

I might add that I serve on Gerald Early’s board at the Center for the Humanities at my alma mater, Washington University, and the Center awarded Orhan Pamuk its Distinguished Humanist Medal soon before he won his Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006. I am more than a little superstitious, and like to think I’m a little lucky, so I was fully prepared for Les Murray to get the Nobel in 2009 when we were scoring his long poem The Sydney Highrise Variations, and almost expecting for Muldoon to get tagged for the Nobel this year while we were on our home stretch of the Incantata poetry score. But alas, David Clewell’s Missouri Poet Laureate gig is the only major accolade for which Poetry Scores can claim prescience.

There is more madness than method to what we do at Poetry Scores, but in terms of method, we do have a few rules. A poetry score can import no new language that is not in the poem. This rule came into play after Barbara Harbach finished her score to “Incantata” and sent me the titles of her four movements. At which time I realized I had not bothered to explain to Barbara our rules! Some of those proposed titles incorporated language that is not in Muldoon’s poem, and after I explained the rule Barbara and I had fun tossing alternate titles back and forth until she settled on title language that is found in “Incantata.”

Another rule is that we alternate scoring poems by U.S. poets with poems by international poets. We always have a number of projects in the pipeline, so we have options, from year to year. Last year we scored David Clewell, an American guy, so it was international for 2011. Paul Muldoon has lived in this country for many years and seems very much at home in Princeton, New Jersey, where we have mutual friends at the university. It occurred to me that I should ask the man if he minded being classified as an Irish poet, for purposes of satisfying our self-imposed “international poet” requirement for 2011. It fascinated me when Muldoon replied we could classify him either way – he really didn’t care if we chalked him up as an Irish or an American poet.

There is one other thing you should know about Poetry Scores, especially if you think you might want to work with us. We also had an early track record of getting in just before the bell, as in the bell that tolls. Both of the first two poets we scored, Leo Connellan and Ece Ayhan, actually died before we finished their score. Truly, this shook us up. A very morbid feeling of absolutely the worst sort of jinx vied with the more heroic sense that we came along just in time to capture these great poets and put their works to music just as they were leaving us.

More pragmatically, it forced us to release records for dead people. Though in 2011 we find ourselves happily producing a live event with Eamonn Wall standing in for a perfectly alive poet who happens to be across the Atlantic, back in 2003 when we released our first poetry score, Crossing America by the dead Leo Connellan, in the absence of the poet we staged an art show instead. This has now evolved into the Poetry Scores Art Invitational and art auction, which started as the way we release our CDs and has become a stand-alone event, one of St. Louis’ best art parties and art bargains of the year.

I would like to invite you all to the Poetry Scores Art Invitational to Incantata, which will be held Friday, November 11 at Mad Art Gallery in Soulard. More than 50 artists from St. Louis, Chicago, Denver, Boston, New York and Istanbul will present original art that responds to “Incantata” and is titled using a direct quote from the poem, then we hang the work depending on where in the flow of the poem the language chosen for the title appears. It’s also an art auction, and how we intend to raise the money to release our poetry score to “Incantata,” featuring Paul Muldoon’s unforgettable reading of his poem enfolding Barbara Harbach’s adventurous and exquisite musical meditation on “Incantata.”

Since the mission of Poetry Scores is to translate poetry into other media, since we have these musical artfacts called poetry scores, and since we are a bunch of silent film mavens, perhaps inevitably we came around to the idea of making silent movies to our poetry scores. Currently, we are in production for our second feature movie, Go South for Animal Index, based on Stefene Russell’s poem about the making of the atomic bomb. Our first movie, Blind Cat Black, based on Ece Ayhan’s poem about a transgendered prostitute, premiered at the 2007 St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase and has gone on to play three Turkish cities, including the poet’s provincial hometown, where the showing of our movie – which also happens to be a zombie movie – was incorporated into a midnight visit to the poet’s grave on the eve of the anniversary of his death.

We very much hope you join us in the Lee Theatre at the Touhill Center for the Performing Arts at 3 p.m. Sunday, October 30 for the premiere of Barbara Harbach’s chamber piece Incantata and our poetry score, with Eamonn Wall standing in – ably, I am certain – for Paul Muldoon. When you do, I invite you to close your eyes and imagine the silent movie we will make to it one day. If you have any ideas for us, be sure you let me know.


Thanks to UMSL and its various programs in Arts & Sciences for its partnership.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Bridge to premiere of "Incantata" at UMSL (public transit party)

Poetry Scores is privileged to partner with UMSL on our 2011 score, to Paul Muldoon's "Incantata". We will premiere the composer Barbara Harbach's poetry score to "Incantata" (a chamber piece for an ensemble of eight) at the Lee Theatre in the campus' great arts space the Touhill at 3 p.m. Sunday, October 30.

To entice our mostly city friends and fans, Poetry Scores is hosting a public transit party from the city to UMSL for the premiere. We will meet at The Bridge downtown (1004 Locust) at noonish, be on Metro by 1:30 or 2 p.m. at the latest, and be in our seats in the Lee Theatre (inside the Touhill) by 3 p.m. for the concert.

The concert is free, so the only cost is transit and whatever you enjoy at The Bridge, an ambitious tap house with a well crafted menu. The concert lasts less than an hour, so we should be back at The Bridge for a nightcap by 5 pm and on our way home by 6 pm.

Amy VanDonsel and Chris King are your hosts, on behalf of the Poetry Scores Board of Directors.

All invited! Poetry! Music! Public transit! Beer! Fun people! Be there or be very badly missed by rowdy people having more fun than you!

Any questions? or (day of) 314-265-1435.


The 3 p.m. concert sound good for an hour, but don't want to spend all day with us? Then meet us in the Lee Theatre (inside the Touhill) by 3 p.m. for the free concert.

And let us not forget the Poetry Scores Art Invitational (and art auction) to "Incantata" looming 6-9 pm Friday, Nov. 11 at Mad Art.


Image from BridgeHunter.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Zombie bomb scenes with burning stuffed animals and ScareCrone

Yesterday we finally shot the bomb testing scenes for our movie Go South for Animal Index, which is a fable of Los Alamos based on the poem of that name by Stefene Russell. For reasons that would be difficult to explain, the big day began by incinerating a stuffed Mr. Peanut via fireball on an empty keg of beer. Our generous host Wesley was pyro master.

Mr. Peanut bit the dust, so we had to go after him and torch him more individually, a sign of things to come.

None of us have ever torched a stuffed animal before, a strange action that bears a very strangely heavy weight in my shooting script. Mr. Peanut taught us they melt fast, so we'd have to be careful and shoot fast once a critter was on fire. And they end up looking like this.

So, we decorated our fake bomb with stuffed animals and our atomic scientists, led by Herr Doctor Teller (Paul Casey), did what they do.

What they do is direct underlings to tinker with hunks of industrial restaurant salvage we arrange to make look like at least a Surrealist zombie movie's equivalent of a bomb shop or, in this case, a bomb launch pop. In the first of the two bomb tests, a soldier (Tim McAvin) stands guard while Herr Doctor and two other workaday nuke docs (John Eiler, Neal Alster) direct a soldier-technician (Chuck Reinhardt) to fiddle with bomb pod gadgets.

There was an element of atomic scientist strip tease in this first bomb test scene, because I wanted John and Neal stripped shirtless and doing kind of a primitive male fire dance when a bomb goes off successfully.

When John heard this plan, he bought some wifebeater T-shirts for the shoot, and I took the hint. I did not ask my friends to dance shirtless in a zombie movie in our flabby middle age.

On stand-by in a little thicket next to the bomb test pod was a pile of zombies, waiting to be thrown at the bomb test when it was set to pop.

Herr Doctor gave that cue to another soldier (Thom Fletcher) who standing guard near the zombies. I directed Thom to roust the zombies by grunt-crawling through the thicket and pushing them out ahead of him. I didn't notice that he kept grunt-crawling across the field to the bomb until this action was in two takes and he was stuck doing it for half the day.

Zombie walking toward a bomb that is about to explode is an art form, and there are those who have mastered it. Eric Marlinghaus (far right) is such a natural his zombie colleagues had him demo a few of his moves between takes so they could admire them.

Then we blew shit up. As you can see, we made sure our zombie actors were far from harm, though we framed our camera shots so it looks like they were about to get immolated.

Scientists react a little bit.

"Okay, let's do that again with more reaction." I liked Tim's ad lib shot of his rifle into the air.

I was very pleased with the quality of the acting.

I can't remember why anymore, but early in the framing of this movie I saw zombies walking through a field of burning stuffed animals as the image we would shoot around the bomb tests to suggest The Bomb and its apocalyptic future.

The walking-through the fire would have required fire-proofing boots, once we saw how these things ignite, so instead we staged more private interactions of zombies with burning stuffed things. They tended to pull apart, as Alpy does here with her private dance doll -- a suitably creepy image for a movie about splitting the atom.

I had the idea of having the zombie actors pick out from the pile the stuffed animal they would have their private dance with. I'd like to think this brought out a little something extra in the actor. It is certain that something brought out a little something extra in Jocko Ferguson's private dance with his burning stuffed animal.

 Remember, each zombie actor had an audience of pretty much everyone else on the shoot as they went through the death throes of what he came to call their zombie wubbies. Jocko really made a scene. It helped that his bear's head caught fire and burned for a weirdly long time without igniting anything else, with stuffed animal innards bubbling out of the bear's nose like toxic death snot. What can I say, my weird idea worked.

We planned a break between our two bomb shots to breathe some fresh air and let the first fire burn down, so I planned some interim scenes to shoot. There was zombie arts and crafts, for example. Stefene's poem incorporates a quote from the anti-nuke activist J. Truman that "A is for Adam, B is for Bomb, C is for Cancer, D is for Death". Matt Fuller and I scored that as a sing-songy nursery rhyme outro in the song from our poetry score "Atomic Cowboy Yodels". That's where we'll edit this scene.

Tim McAvin works on our scores as well as movies, and he sings that song with me on this score. I called him over to guard the A-B-C-D scene, but they had started filming without him and the scene looked good as a four-zombie tableaux. We did have Tim guard the next scene in what we called a "Captain Morgan" pose.

That scene was the application of Hitler moustaches to the stuffed animals before the bombs are tested on them.

Laurent Torno III and V. Elly Smith shot the whole day for me, a reunion of our original crew on a movie shoot that has dragged on more than a year and now involved about ten shooters.

We also needed to shoot a zombie trundle scene of stuffed animals, since we shot another zombie trundle scene of stuffed animals out in Cuba and needed to have it end somewhere. So we had those same zombies (Joyce Pillow and Jocko, with Lydia McGhee standing in for an actor we couldn't get back) trundle down zombie alley and dump the animals around a bomb set to blast.

We had to set up another match-back scene to something we had shot in Cuba: the suicide of Captain Buster-Jangle (Thomas Crone). After Buster-Jangle ate plutonium from a bomb and died, his corpse was put into a wheelbarrow, trundled, and dumped at the base of a bomb, nested in stuffed animals.

We needed to burn something that looked like Crone. So we had Crone donate the hat and shirt he had been wearing in this movie, and James and Cassi Blackwood spent some down time making a stuffed Thomas Crone -- a ScareCrone.

We knew from the way things were going up in flames that we would need to toss ScareCrone into the fire exactly when we were ready to shoot it burning. I tossed it in myself, and it flopped down upside-down like an upside-down crufixion. I had the wrong camera setting for this still shot on my camera, but trust me -- there was a wow factor and I expect one in the finished movie. It took forever to burn down and looked like a flaming torso the whole time. Laurent and Elly camped out on this mage for like ten minutes!

After we wrapped, Elly took a stuffed animal and roasted it to serve as a demented prop in a future movie shoot. Yes, throughout the day, there was a sick roasted stuffed animals on a stick thing going on. I love making conceptual zombie movies! And it's a great way to make ordinary people put up with poetry!