Chance Encounter Blog

behind the scenes

months and months of being a sponge in public spaces, large-scale social spelunking, and now i am looking at the runway, getting ready to make this piece real. the last couple of weeks i have been working closely with many of the musicians who will play on sept 28, since many of them are in the knights, the chamber orchestra that headlined the annual mata festival of young composers (of which i am one of the founders), and several of them are playing some of my music this weekend on some concerts at tenri cultural institute, organized by violinist colin jacobsen. watching them all rehearse over the past couple of weeks is helping me get the sound of 'chance encounter' in my head, and knowing them as people is helping me imagine the character of the various moments i hope to create in this piece, in this space.

and some of the players have begun contributing overheard fragments too. here are a few more from some of you (thanks eric, gordon!):

Do you solve everything by crying?
He has a BMW. I am never talking to him ever again.
There were rowers on the river, and we walked.

Crowd numerology

some editing and sorting helped me stumble upon a terrific new category that takes a pretty even cross-section of the other existing categories: Numbers. brings back numb memories of those word problems on 3rd-grade math tests.

First class is going on first.
I got the last seat on this plane.
In the trenches it's all twos and threes.
I think that signifies that there's nothing there.
That's not the one but it is one.
If only two people worked on this crew, one of them would be sitting on his ass.

I thought of 500 ways not to make this trip.
I haven't gotten the check. I haven't gotten any checks. I wrote to them, three times already.
He didn't go to bed til 6, I woke him up at 9. He must be drunk.
Two weeks ago she did a lot of stuff. Did you notice?
Just sleep for 48 hours. Then you'll be good.
Come back in 2 minutes - please?

I owe you 42 cents? For what?
34 grams of sugar and they call this juice.
Are you really gonna leave at 7?
How? By making me call him 500 times?
I have one in eighth grade.
Maybe I should just do detox for five days during the week.
There isn't any more. And I don't know where we can buy it on a Sunday.
I've got two of them, both of them looking the same.
I had two, actually, but one of them died.
Just tell me a time and a place and give me ten minutes to get there.

Last time I saw my watch it was 8:30 - now it's 9:30.
Ten blocks seems like a fucking journey to me now.
There shouldn't be any traffic. I should be home by 4.
We're getting off in two stops.

Maybe you guys can do a duet.

More third person

it seems like when i hear two people talking to each other in real time and space, they more often are talking about others who are absent, and when i overhear them talking on their cell phones to people who are themselves absent, they talk more about themselves. back in my own neighborhood, i'm capturing more conversations in real space. all 3 of these can be added to that third-person-who-is-absent category:

I say to them, 'So you want to learn yoga? Then we'll do yoga.'
He took the cheapest shot he could take.
They're so cute together - why can't they just be together?

more from boston

a very chilly week in boston this time, spent a lot of time eavesdropping at peet's coffee in cambridge, where the banter is often distinctly ivy. but a few nicely resonant normal things came through:

We skinny guys eat a lot. We can really put it away.
It's my daughter's birthday. I gotta go buy her a tutu.
I had two, actually, but one of them died.
Before, it was really okay.

and then in new york, 168th street subway:

What happened to all of my stuff? I need my belongings.
You don't live here. You can't live here.


yes i've been itinerant again. after a weekend in san diego and a few days back in nyc, i went on tour and did some A-list eavesdropping in nashville, phoenix...

and the Home of Easy Credit, houston...



Well, he won't wanna go anywhere.
Tell me where you are, I'll come to you.

We're gonna make sure the horses are in all the right places.
Do y'all have, like, a house phone or whatever you call it?

You don't live here, you can't live here.

george is back

it's gonna be a very good week - headed to nashville in a couple of hours, then phoenix (again), then houston and back to nyc. some new territory!

meanwhile i treated myself to bkfast at george's coffee shop, as i always do when i'm packing and heading out of town. for a while there george was mysteriously absent, but he's back (probably from greece, where he still has family). george's staff are mostly dominican and his clientele speak english or spanish, but he has a thick greek accent, from the islands. so he communicates to his staff in what i like to call Spangleek. it is a trippingly joyful faux-language that matches the inimitable ballet of george and pedro at the grill during the lunch rush. they have been making my same bkfast for 3 years - eggs scrambled soft, bacon (i swear they give me a whole rasher of it, best bacon north of the mason-dixon line), and a toasted corn muffin with butter. some of my favorite eavesdropping has been at george's. the clientele is pretty diverse but there is usually a delightful serving of masculine banter among the con ed/ups/time warner cable guys who stop there on their rounds. today it was a little slow (early sat morning), but i picked up two that please me:

Gimme some of that heroin coffee.
34 grams of sugar and they call this juice.

arcana 2

i admit, i've been cheating on you, doing other 'chance encounter' writing on the side. john zorn is putting out a second 'arcana' book with writings of any length by 30 musicians, on any musical topic. my efforts yielded a somewhat condensed journalizing of this project, complete with a few of the categories you have been helping me construct. it is odd to have my fingers in every stage of a project at once: still collecting overheard things, always creating and managing categories, writing music but leaving things open to allow for newly found text, and writing overviews of it. it's like being a sportscaster for a game i'm also playing. but isn't that what most artists are expected to do these days? is it so bad? is it so good?

i don't know - but every time i hear something like this little gem, collected in san diego over the weekend, i remember why this whole process has such charisma for me:

We have to redesign that boy.


topos nostalgia

Do you ever go to your old apartment?
Where are all the things that I remember?
Remember? It was snowing horribly - and she was holding the dog?

Your old neighborhood, right? You always go back.
It's all houses with big yards, and there's snow there.
They used to plant trees on this street, but if they do they're dead within a week.
I used to live on this street, but everything is gone.

What kind of place are you looking for?
I used to live on this street.
We used to have a house there, but my father lost his job.
I never go there now.

What kind of place are you looking for?
Do you have friends here from home?
Remember them?
Remember these?


premiere date: september 28

confirmation came through yesterday from mary jones at the seward park library: 'chance encounter' will premiere at (and around) the library on september 28 2007. this gives us a definite timeline: i'd like the collection of overheard things to continue as long as possible - they can be added in as the songs are being developed! - but a final draft of the score should be done in a few months' time. i can start putting together the band now, and i'll need to get them their parts by the end of the summer.

so far you all have helped me compose four distinct sections: "nothing," which is what i decided to call the 'existential commonplaces' song; the aimlessness song; drama/self-pity (i gotta find a good name for that one); 'topos nostalgia,' one of the earliest categories that i have yet to blog in its own right; and 'imperatives.' some other categories have emerged here - like 'children' 'lack of trust in others.' these are sections i have yet to compose. i'll have to see which one demands to be next. a variety of moods and frames of mind are good, which leads me to believe that 'children' might be a good inclusion. i'll throw a few more up here in the next days and you all can see what you think.

from the sublime to the logistical

i must admit that the last week or so has been largely given up to managing the many details of this and other projects. sometimes i can muse about unreliable narrators, sometimes i am eavesdropping, sometimes i am composing, and sometimes - like this week - i am tweaking the budget, having meetings with susan, with creative capital, with the seward park librarians. the piece will not be conducted in performance but we need someone to lead the rehearsal process. the performance date (in september) may work for everyone but what about a rain date? if the musicians need music we will need to rent stands, with clips so the music doesn't blow away. we need insurance. we need permits from the city & parks department. we need a copyist. we need a videographer. happily, i find logistics strangely satisfying. maybe this is why all of the books in my apartment are arranged alphabetically and by category. i have been paying attention to the world of the MTA, though - and so have you! mick, gordon, thank you for some of the below:

Just tell me a time and a place and give me ten minutes to get there.
You get a salary and everything.
Give me the keys.
Is this a shoes-required event?
...and she does it with Q-tips.
I don't stick my nose into everything like you do.
There's no such thing as a mandatory optional project.


rkirz says "plus, it's a narrative if blogger says it is." of course that assumes that blogger is reliable :)

but seriously, here are a few extra thoughts: the way it works with narrative (i mean language, fiction) is that we read the seemingly sincere recountings of things from a narrator - either first person or third person - and gradually get the sense that the author is playing with us by making us hear stuff from someone whose perceptions are skewed. the problem with this experience for me (and the analogous musical situations suggested by the unreliable narrator comment posse) is that one must buy in to the Mastery of the author, who by using this technique is assuming himself to be presenting us (reliably!) with a certain and realized, if unreliable, narrator. if, as briank says, "the personal voice is almost always more interesting, and capable of connecting us on a deeper level with the truth of our experience," then the use of an unreliable narrator as a conceit is in fact distancing us from the deeper connection that we might enjoy if the author were just showing up as a faithful and richly flawed person like the rest of us.

we would need to acknowledge this same Mastery (reliability) of the creator if we embrace the idea that, as rkirz says, a composer can "establish something so clearly in the mind/memory of the listener..." as brubiel points out. that's some real estate!! in the end i think that without artful pastiche, which takes us mostly outside of the main stuff of the musical medium (sonic materials), i don't feel convinced that we have found an unreliable narration in music. but i'm sure we haven't exhausted this subject...

unreliable narrators

finishing up svevo's 'senilita' last week, i read the introduction (i always read the intro after i read the book, if at all), which talked at length about the rise of the unreliable narrator in modernist fiction. books in the first person are easiest to talk about this way. is the narrator ("I") actually the author (probably not). is s/he 'reliable'? (in other words, is s/he giving us an 'accurate' picture or portayal of what happened, and what does that mean anyway??) and of course the author can play god, design a narrator who is unreliable in wonderfully inventive ways. svevo's book is in the third person, however - and one wonders throughout how reliable the hidden narrator is. we are also certain that, in the passages where he is (presumably faithfully) describing things from the point of view of one of the characters, these characters also have a pretty warped picture of what's going on in their relations with one another.

by collecting many utterances from people in public spaces and lifting them out of context, i am most certainly enhancing the unreliability of their 'narration' within my new context. then i am also combining them into new quasi-narratives (like the aimlessness song) i am, i suppose, creating new narrators. composite narrators that are also not me. and who is to say whether or not they are reliable?

then they will be sung (overheard again!) in public spaces, by susan, who will bring her own interpretation, in a dramaturgical sense, to these fabricated characters.

i'm thinking about this a lot because i am having a lot of great discussions about whether or not music can have an unreliable narrator. above i outline only the textual aspects of unreliability in my project. but what about the music? can i - should i - be writing unreliable music for this piece? what would that be??

gardner museum

yesterday i had a special visit to the isabella stewart gardner museum in boston. special because my friend and fellow creative capital grantee ledoh is in residence there (literally - he's living in the carriage house!), and he took brian knep and me around the building that he has spent so much time in. he really knows all of the details and history of the place. one very exciting idea that came up: what about doing some of 'chance encounter' in the courtyard??

seward park library

although i spent much less time in public this past week, hunkering down to finish the 'aimlessness song' and making good progress on the existential commonplaces one (which i may simply call 'nothing'), i did drop by the seward park library on wednesday and speak to their supervising librarian mary jones about the possibility of doing the premiere there in september. she took me up to the wedding-cake roof, which used to be a garden cafe, and showed me some archival photos of the library back 100 years ago when it first opened. we had a very exciting meeting - seems like a great match. here are a couple of photos of the library and its setting, from across the street:

Library2 Library1

it's located down at east broadway, in the lower corner of the green triangle you can see on this old map mary showed me in the archives:

meanwhile, while i am home working you all are out in the world hearing magnificent things and reporting back to me! thank you carla, gordon, robert, katerina, peter, these are peerless:

I have some theoretical baby in the future.
The business is...the life.
Ugly sunglasses are chic in France.
I told you to watch your language and you put your hands on me.
What was I gonna say? I'm a veteran and I was beat up by a cop?
Sometimes I have dreams where at the end of the dream the credits roll.

If you text him a message with 140 signs about business and then 15 personal ones, it won´t sound evil! Like for example, Wanna visit me emoticon question mark!

Yeah, Yo...YEAH, Yo!...I know: right?...Yeahhhhh, Yo!

(peter, who transcribed this last one quite faithfully, remarks that the colon is of paramount importance - i agree.)


this new category is fun because it brings together things from many of the other categories and yet hangs together quite well. the question is - when i write the music, will i use these statements in both songs? i'd like the answer to be yes, which means that i will be setting some text twice, in two totally different contexts and interpretations. this is, of course, what makes it hard to do though, because when i am trying to develop unique music for a new section, the old setting of the text comes back and my head gets all busy. but if i use the new text to develop the musical material and then re-introduce the 'used' text, i may succeed. here's my Imperatives Song so far (some of these are from you! susan, win, thank you!):

Just go there. You'll see.
Just tell me what I have to do & I’ll do it.
Just sleep for 48 hours. Then you’ll be good.
Just walk forward – forward is the way the train is moving.
Come this way, sir.
Come ON – we’re gonna miss the movie!
Come back in 2 minutes – please?
She had it coming – so don’t feel too bad.

You tell him. I don’t want to sound like a robot.
Take a picture of me on the phone with him.
No turbo-props, and I’ll need cars everyplace.

You have money. Give me money.
Next time say excuse me.
Go ahead and scream.
Not at school, not at home, not in your head – NEVER say that.

All right – kiss my man for me, and kiss my little bird.
Tell Professor Van Friedeburg to come see me in Paris.
Have a nice time – and then call me.

back on the road: nantasket beach

this first week of 2007 included a short jaunt up to nantasket beach in hull, MA near boston, where i was leading a workshop for the faculty and staff of the boston arts academy. i hit penn station again, plus the nyc subway and boston T, plus a water shuttle that stopped off at the logan airport on the way back to boston:
Insideshuttle Watershuttle
Towardsboston Harbor1

Take a picture of me on the phone with him.
Why doesn't he look like me?
Who cuts it that close?
Am I on the room list? Am I good to go?
If we were in India right now we'd be sinking.
No turbo-props, and I'll need cars everyplace.
Oh no, we're gonna crash into the city!

i admit to retiring to the quiet car on the train home, aurally sated. gave me a chance to enjoy the sunset from the train: