Sarah called even though she was tired and just got up but decided to call me anyway. She was walking down Franklin Avenue and when she said she wanted to grab the bull by the horns it sounded like she said grab the soul by the horns and it made me wonder if souls have horns and if so I would not be surprised for we are so devilish in truth. Then she affirmed she was still walking down Franklin Avenue and wondered why I wasn’t answering my phone. Franklin Avenue is the border of Bed-Stuy and it is weird to think about a young white woman walking down Franklin Avenue alone without fear and things certainly have changed the decade and a half I have lived here. Every time I think of the decade and a half I have lived here I think myself into an older and older body even though I barely look any older with the exception of my chins. It upset her a little I wasn’t answering my phone. Perhaps I was doing something exciting or important. It touched me she considered this unlikely possibility. She affirmed she was talking to my voicemail as if she were talking to me and wondered if she should leave pauses between her sentences as if they contained my replies. Hey Eric what are you up to. Pause. Oh no way. Pause. Oh that’s awesome. Pause. Well good. Pause. Oh yeah. Pause. She sounded very cheery and the effect was epileptic Midwestern Pinter. Eventually she congratulated me for reaching the end of her exceedingly long message and insisted I prove I had actually listened to the whole thing by answering a question. She asked me what’s your favorite color and insisted I provide the answer immediately upon returning her phone call. Later that night when I replied I replied blue. No yelloooooowww. By text so it was written out thus. This was a Monty Python reference. There are parts of us that remain fifteen years old no matter how desperately we flail at them. Finally she had to conclude her message because they were going to Sleep No More that night. Sleep No More is a sort of performance in which everyone including the audience wears masks. I was reminded of a scene in a novel where Gene Wolfe has one of his alien characters remove her human mask to reveal a disgusting fetid mass beneath from which the torturer recoils. Then the alien removes the disgusting fetid mass to reveal a breathtaking perfect visage beneath and reminds us a mask may be hidden beneath a mask. I have often felt like an alien and often worn invisible masks that grow harder and harder to remove each time they are donned so this brief moment stuck with me as did the scene in the film The Mask where Ben Stein tells Jim Carrey we all wear masks. Not realizing Jim Carrey is speaking of an actual mask. The humor is complicated by the fact that the eponymous mask Jim Carrey wears releases his innermost desires and removes his inhibitions and is thus in fact no mask at all. The Mask instead suggests we are all wearing masks always and what we need to do is remove them. And apparently Hollywood thinks we need a droning Republican to remind us of it. A related theory has to do with Superman. Recall the costume Superman wears is in fact no costume at all but the baby clothes he wore upon arriving from Krypton. It is the suit and tie and glasses Clark Kent wears that is his costume. He makes himself into a weakling for this is how he sees the human race. A weakling race masked in suits and ties and glasses unable to manage its own affairs always looking to the skies for an unmasked alien to save them from themselves. If all this is true it is possible the makeup women wear can be thought of as a mask too. Certain treatments are even called facial masks. Sarah has lately taken to wearing extremely red lipstick and extremely large eyeglasses. When she wears these accoutrements with certain of her clothes Chris laments his girlfriend is turning into a hipster. Secretly he likes it. The following week she and Timo helped me buy the large eyeglasses that were the ultimate purpose of her phone call and now I am hidden behind them as I type. Really everything is a mask one way or another. We cannot show ourselves to one another unadorned. We speak to one another but it is as if we are leaving messages on each other’s voicemails with the understanding they will call us back when they have the time and the inclination. I worry we speak only to ourselves. Sometimes I wonder why we think words have meanings in the end. It’s suggested words are useful for communication and conversation but correlation does not necessarily imply causation. One word follows another word follows another word. A century ago physicists pictured electrons in orbits around atoms’ nuclei like miniature solar systems. Then they began to think of them as clouds of electrons. Now after quantum mechanics it’s impossible to picture them at all.
Erstwhile readers of this fascinating glimpse into the activities of Eric Shanfield will know of my longstanding desire to compose an Arctic Symphony. Because the Arctic is an interesting place and I am interested in interesting things.
I have composed an Arctic Symphony.
It turned out pretty well? Have a look and a listen and let me know.
Les Règles ont déjà pensé à tout is a piece I’ve been trying to compose for months, if not longer. And it’s finally here! Woo!
I’ve wanted to compose an homage to the Quay Brothers – my favorite living filmmakers – for a very long time, and though last year I finally had some musical ideas that seemed to fit the sound world I was looking for it was only recently I solved the various technical problems that presented themselves and I was able to begin composition.
My music, like their films, lives on the border of the mechanical and the organic, so it seemed natural to use the various individual compositional techniques I’ve gradually developed to sort of mirror their stop-motion animated movies. The piece kind of flickers and jerks, and there must be some kind of metaphorical connection between the idea of still pictures projected at speed creating the illusion of motion and what’s happening in the piece, although I’m not sure I can say exactly what that metaphor is or how it works.
Anyway, I don’t have a lot to say about this piece that isn’t in the program notes (on the work page), but I think it’s one of my better works, and the extensive use of quarter tone harmonies is something I’d like to explore more in the future. Now onto…what? The Arctic Symphony that keeps eluding me? A solo piano piece, Kindertotenwald? The Cello Sonata whose structure I thought of a while ago but don’t have any musical ideas for? Something else? STAY TUNED!
So the other week I went to see a couple of Tristan’s pieces, which were great of course, and the evening also included performances by the excellent percussion trio Tigue. After drinking with them until two in the morning I spent the next day thinking about percussion music and then I wrote this piece in an afternoon (it probably shows).
Essentially an etude, The Conquest of Mexico consists of some extremely simple materials undergoing basic transformations, which nevertheless are not always apparent to the ear. In the first movement the players perform on pieces of wood (O crappy midi woodblocks!), and in the second on found pieces of metal (O Sibelius you have no metal sounds so I had to use crappy midi woodblocks again!).
Since it’s essentially 8 minutes of violent rhythmic banging a martial title seemed appropriate, and the opposition of wood and metal brought to mind the conquistadors vs. the Aztecs, which brought to mind Prescott’s magisterial The Conquest of Mexico, which brought to mind Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain, and there you go. A new little piece for your delicate delectation.
The things about which we most often jest are generally, on the contrary, the things that embarrass us, but we do not wish to appear to be embarrassed by them, and feel perhaps a secret hope of the further advantage that the person to whom we are talking, hearing us treat the matter as a joke, will conclude that it is not true.
For the possession of what we love is an even greater joy than love itself.
These effigies preserved intact in our memory, when we recapture them, we are astonished at their unlikeness to the person we know, and we begin to realize what a task of remodeling is performed every day by habit.
Whenever she moved her head, she created a fresh woman, often one whose existence I had never suspected.
Beneath any carnal attraction which is at all profound, there is the permanent possibility of danger.
We were resigned to suffering, thinking that we loved outside ourselves, and we perceive that our love is a function of our sorrow, that our love perhaps is our sorrow, and that its object is, to a very small extent only, the girl with the raven tresses.
It is curious that a first love, if by the frail state in which it leaves our heart it opens the way to our subsequent loves, does not at least provide us, in view of the identity of symptoms and sufferings, with the means of curing them.
Must not such an act of possession—summed up in a single word—over the whole existence of another person (I had felt whenever I was in love) be pleasant indeed! But, as a matter of fact, when we are in a position to utter it, either we no longer care, or else habit has not dulled the force of affection, but has changed its pleasure into pain.
For, just as in the beginning it is formed by desire, so afterwards love is kept in existence only by painful anxiety. I felt that part of Albertine’s life was escaping me. Love, in the painful anxiety as in the blissful desire, is the insistence upon a whole. It is born, it survives only if some part remains for it to conquer. We love only what we do not wholly possess.
Moral uncertainty is a greater obstacle to an exact visual perception than any defect of vision would be.
It has been said that beauty is a promise of happiness. Inversely, the possibility of pleasure may be a beginning of beauty.
Memory, instead of being a duplicate always present before our eyes of the various events of our life, is rather an abyss from which at odd moments a chance resemblance enables us to draw up, restored to life, dead impressions; but even then there are innumerable little details which have not fallen into that potential reservoir of memory, and which will remains for ever beyond our control.
Could life console me for the loss of art, was there in art a more profound reality, in which our true personality finds an expression that is not afforded it by the activities of life?
…whenever we attempt to imitate something that has really existed, we forget that this something was brought about not by the desire to imitate but by an unconscious force which itself also is real…
Now that Olympus no longer exists, its inhabitants dwell upon the earth.
We consider it innocent to desire a thing and atrocious that the other person should desire it. And this contrast between what concerns ourselves on the one hand, and on the other the person with whom we are in love, is not confined only to desire, but extends also to falsehood. What is more usual than a lie, whether it is a question of masking the daily weakness of a constitution which we wish to be thought strong, of concealing a vice, or of going off, without offending the other person, to the thing that we prefer?
But ugly and expensive things are of great use, for they enjoy, among people who do not understand us, who have not our taste and with whom we cannot fall in love, a prestige that would not be shared by some proud object that does not reveal its beauty.
For we talk of ‘death’ for convenience, but there are almost as many different deaths as there are people.
We never appreciate anyone so much as those who combine with other great virtues that of placing themselves unconditionally at the disposal of our vices.
If art was indeed but a prolongation of life, was it worth while to sacrifice anything to it, was it not as unreal as life itself?
Each artist seems thus to be the native of an unknown country, which he himself has forgotten, different from that from which will emerge, making for the earth, another great artist.
And, just as certain creatures are the last surviving testimony to a form of life which nature has discarded, I asked myself if music were not the unique example of what might have been—if there had not come the invention of language, the formation of words, the analysis of ideas—the means of communication between one spirit and another.
I read a lot of books. I read a lot of books in 2012. These are the 36 books I enjoyed reading most last year. They will appear on your screen in the order in which I read them.
Ron Chernow: George Washington Everything you ever wanted to know about George Washington. Everything you didn’t want to know about George Washington.
Alec Wilkinson: The Ice Balloon As a child I was haunted by this photograph of a ghostly balloon on its side in a vastness of ice. This is the story of that balloon and the photograph that remembers it.
Richard Rhodes: The Making of the Atomic Bomb Rightfully a classic. Actually only the second half is really about the making of the atomic bomb; the first half is a comprehensive history of particle physics in the early twentieth century, and worth the price of admission alone.
Ben Marcus: The Flame Alphabet Worth waiting ten years for? Not to the level of his first two books, but then what is? I could have done without the useless epilogue, however.
Geoff Dyer: Zona In which Dyer summarizes the entirety of Tarkovsky’s Stalker, one of my favorite movies of all time, while continually digressing. One of his most fascinating hybrid concoctions.
Richard Frank: Guadalcanal The indispensable account of this pivotal campaign, this is the most exciting as well as in-depth examination of every service’s contribution to the effort, with close examination and objective analysis of the naval campaign as well as the struggle on and above the island.
Wiley Sword: The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah I have always been fascinated by the Western campaigns of the Civil War in particular, and the battles of Franklin, Spring Hill, and Nashville that finally destroyed the Confederacy’s main Western army have never received enough attention in my estimation. Until now.
Douglas Wilson: Honor’s Voice Not so much an examination of Lincoln’s early years proper, more a look at the way we make and use history, with an emphasis on the uncertainties inherent in any such investigation.
Robert MacFarlane: The Wild Places The prose is as lovely as the journeys MacFarlane makes on foot through the wild places of the British Isles. One of the most Sebaldian books I’ve read, yet bearing little actual resemblance to the master.
John Jeremiah Sullivan: Pulphead There may be a few misses in this collection of essays, but overall an exciting new voices stretches its lanky legs.
Jean Echenoz: Lightning Being a fictionalized retelling of Tesla’s life in the manner of the mercurial French author’s lovely take on Ravel. All you need to know about a man and his pigeon.
James Wood: How Fiction Works and The Broken Estate James Wood has his critics: I am sometimes among them. At his best though there is no more incisive voice in favor of the English language. HFW maybe is more about one particular way in which fiction may work but that’s okay. It works really well that way.
Dan Simmons: Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion Two of the finest science fiction novels I have ever read. But for God’s sake DO NOT READ Endymion and The Rise of Enymion! They will retroactively ruin the first two.
Alan Moore: Watchmen Never got to this before. Does it live up to its reputation? It does.
Halldor Laxness: Under the Glacier Read on Susan Sontag’s recommendation. Among the weirdest, funniest, finest hidden classics of the 20th century.
Alan Josephy: The Patriot Chiefs A sweeping yet carefully controlled history of the Native American leaders who stood up to us white people. Fascinating, noble, and tragic.
Jonathan Lethem: They Live Close reading of a text can be dreary. Rarely has it ever been this fun.
John Lewis Gaddis: The Cold War I thought I was fairly well informed about the Cold War. I was wrong.
Stephen Hunt: In the Court of the Air Steampunk can get old fast. Indeed this series might quickly wear out its welcome. The first installment however carried me along on its fighting balloons and steam-powered fighting robots all the way to its exciting conclusion.
Thomas Ades: Full of Noises Okay, so Ades comes across as kind of a dick. He’s never less than riveting, however, especially when comparing Wagner to fungus, and he manages to say a lot of interesting things about his own work without ever quite answering the questions put to him.
Emily Bronte: Wuthering Heights A masterpiece I’d avoided for no good reason. All the wasted years! I was even swept up by the family affairs after the whole Heathcliff/Cathy thing ran its course. Sublime.
Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre And then I moved right along to its sister. Equally astonishing. Those Bronte kids really had something.
Richard Compton-Hall: The Submarine Pioneers As a kid I was fascinated by submarines, but as it turns out much of the history I learned was wrong and incomplete. For instance, did you know there probably never was a Turtle? I hope that fact did not crush you too much.
Heather Christle: What Is Amazing New favorite poet discovered in 2012? Uneven, yes. At her best, scintillating.
Lucasta Miller: The Bronte Myth A biography not of the sisters themselves but their reception, perception, and afterlife. By someone named Lucasta, the best insectile name ever.
Peter Galison: Einstein’s Clocks, Poincare’s Maps How the synchronization of time led to relativity. One of those books where the ostensible subject is swamped by a stream of perspicuous observations and strange new facts flashing by as the pages turn.
P. W. Singer: Wired For War Drones and robots and war. The future peers down from above and it has missiles.
John Glassie: A Man of Misconceptions I have been waiting my entire life for a real biography of Athanasius Kircher and it’s finally here! And doesn’t disappoint.
Scott McClanahan: Stories V! For every stupid thing in this book comes along something deeply moving and true. Recommended perhaps in spite of itself.
Nate Silver: The Signal and the Noise Why can we predict the weather but not earthquakes? And other statistical anomalies by the real winner of the 2012 elections.
Ross MacDonald: The Underground Man One of the greatest accomplishments by one of the greatest writers of mysteries. Actually not so much a writer of mysteries as a chronicler of broken families and post-war malaise in the form of pulp fiction. Only with much better prose.
Jeff Vandermeer: Finch Perhaps not as great an individual accomplishment as its predecessors, nonetheless a worthy successor to the mighty Shriek: An Afterword and a fine conclusion to the Ambergris series.
Obviously the story right now isn’t what’s going on here inside my Midtown apartment; it’s what’s going on outside. It’s a real Tale of Two Cities out there: downtown it’s eerily dark and there are lines everywhere, lines to charge phones, lines to pick up ice, lines to fill buckets at hydrants, people standing around on corners trying to get just one bar on their newly-charged phones so they can call their loved ones, while here, a few blocks north, it’s the same as always.In the dark areas it’s even possible to see the stars between the buildings, which I don’t even remember from the 2003 blackout (though that could just be because I live across from the precinct and they have a generator that kept them bright all night).
In Midtown there’s more people on the streets than usual for a weekday, and most of them are carrying grocery bags, but otherwise it’s not much different than a regular weekend. The bars and restaurants are open and doing brisk business, while the supermarkets and Duane Reades keep us in essentials (they’re only taking cash at the moment, which is the one thing I didn’t think of getting ahead of time – I stocked up on food last Friday and am getting along well otherwise, thank you for asking).
In the midst of all this I’ve had an annoying head cold, which probably would have kept me in the house anyway, and what I do when I’m sick is compose. This time I wrote a simple, small choral piece entitled Three Lullabies for Trakl, once again setting my perennial favorite John Yau. As I point out in the program notes, it’s not a piece about Hurricane Sandy per se, but it was definitely written with her in the background (quite literally), which probably influenced the decision to write a simple, harmonic, homophonic piece that must rank among my most straightforward.
One thing I did with this piece that I rarely do is I actually wrote an entire movement and then rejected it as not good enough, composing a much better replacement today. Quality control! Who is this person? What is happening to me?!
Anyway, as far as I know all of my friends and relatives in the Tri-State area seem to have weathered the storm fairly well, although several remain without power as I write this, and with the subways barely running it’s nearly impossible to get anywhere. Hopefully things will be back to a semblance of normality here in the city at least by next week, when I am looking forward to the election. Speaking of which, VOTE! Even if you’re voting for Romney. Heck, vote for Gary Johnson, or Jill Stein, or me. Just VOTE!
I’ll tell you a funny story. I mentioned to Timo I was working on a Clarinet Quintet and he said, “for five clarinets or clarinet and string quartet?” Which is funny because normally Eric Shanfield would write a piece for five clarinets, not a piece for clarinet and string quartet which is a normal classical ensemble that regular composers compose music for. That, however, is exactly what I’ve composed: a piece for clarinet and string quartet. A few days later I told Scott I was working on a Clarinet Quintet and he said, “for five clarinets or clarinet and string quartet?” And then a few days after that I told Chris I was working on a Clarinet Quintet and guess what he asked me.
SO I WROTE A CLARINET QUINTET. For clarinet and string quartet, not five clarinets, in case you were wondering. It’s a pretty major piece in my oeuvre, I think; it took a whole month. Actually, I first started thinking about it back in 2009, so this one was really a long time coming. Not only is it lengthy – more than a half-hour of continuous music – but it represents a new compositional approach for me, to a certain extent. It’s much more choppy and discontinuous than a lot of my music (in many ways it’s closest to my early eighth-note pieces like Cup and Saucer), deliberately so, and also includes a variety of randomized elements in its otherwise exhaustively predetermined structure. Anyway, if that sort of thing interests you I wrote fairly extensive program notes, which can be found on the work page. Also the score is really pretty. I didn’t start out to make it really pretty but actually the sexy modernist layout emerged from trying to make the repeats stop bleeding over from page to page, and now it looks really nice. Not Durand mid-century nice but nice.
I think it turned out well. Have a look and let me know what you think.
But you knew that already. I’m just reminding you so that when I tell you that yet again I am reorganizing the list of my various works you will not be too exasperated.
The reason is this. I originally thought it would be cool to have all my various artistic endeavors – music, books, art, whatnot – all put together in one master list. This list would be numbered as each work was begun (not completed, because you never know what’s going to get done and what isn’t), and serve as a kind of overview of my gestamkunstwerk. Too bad this was a stupid idea. It was a stupid idea because I didn’t put my photographs in it, and after a while books got edited and combined and blah blah blah the point is it was messy and disorganized. Worse, if you were looking for only, say, musical compositions, well, good luck. (Also, FYI I don’t have a gestamkunstwerk. Just in case you were looking for it.)
So I’m making a list of just musical compositions. OK FINE SEVERAL LISTS. But basically one. An opus list, or something like it. I’m using ENS numbers, ENS.1 (Late Sun) through ENS.60 (Vanishing Points) so far. There’s also a list of major earlier works and juvenilia, as well as a list of abandoned and withdrawn stuff. I have updated the MUSIC section of this website to reflect this numbering system and may eventually get to the individual pages.
I know this isn’t very interesting but there it is. I have a couple of new pieces though! See above and below.
So this is a piece I wrote back in 2008 but withdrew because it was, well, unperformable. Not especially difficult or anything, it’s just the instrumentation didn’t work. The ensemble was a usual weird Eric Shanfield thing – trumpet, bass clarinet, violin, viola, cello, with mezzo-soprano – but that can work, as yMusic has shown. (And yes, I beat them to it!) No, it was the notes. Too many of ‘em. Double-stops galore, weird unidiomatic bass clarinet stuff, lack of space to, you know, breathe: while the basic musical ideas were fine, the realization, not so much.
So it languished lo these past four years until the other day I realized the overstuffed violin part could be split in two, making a string quartet, and if I replaced the trumpet with clarinet, I’d have a nice 2 clarinets + string quartet thing. Voila! I spent the other day taking a break from my Clarinet Quintet and took care of the re-instrumentation, and Surely I Shall Go On Living rises from the dead.
The basic idea behind the piece is you have these two movements, each at the same tempo (though halved in the second), where the texts contrast and comment on each other. Somehow. It made sense at the time. Something about the wonder of life vs. the wonder of death? And gay sexuality, apparently? Anyway, those texts, a lovely bit of prose by Robert Walser, and a nice poem by Henri Cole, seemed to fit. Make of it what you will. It’s like montage: seeing them together forces interpretations that might not otherwise exist, one coloring the other.
The piece is here. For some reason I can’t get the midi clarinet very loud. It’s super annoying.