Another snippet from the new opera, The Boats: Transition #3: Lullaby. Happy New Year. Philip Glass. Tchaikovsky. I can breathe again. Moving Scenery. It’s not OK to be cranky?
Roger CortonHappy New Year!
JC HarrisBack at ya. What did you think of the latest Snippet?
RCWell, in all honesty…
JCHNo. Lie to me! I never get tired of that joke. Even during the holidays.
RCI bet you don’t. In all honesty, I thought this was your attempt at doing a Christmas card soundtrack (laughs).
JCH(laughs) I know exactly what you mean. But it’s too off-kilter for that.
RCI was going to mention that. What time signature is this?
JCHPlan ol’ four on the floor, good buddy.
JCHSure. It’s just that your ear so desperately wants it to be a waltz, it does something to the brain. When the rhythm section kicks in, there are two bass drums a little off and they do the rhythm of the human heart.
RCWhat’s the significance of that?
JCHNot a clue, my man. But that off-kilter is something I probably robbed from Tchaikovsky who did it several times in dance movements. They sound like waltzes, but they’ll actually be in 5/4 or 7/4.
RCI never noticed that before.
JCHIt’s something like the audio version of an optical illusion.
RCWe should talk about that some time. We don’t think of audio illusions too often the way we think of tricking the eye with optical illusions.
RCWhat’s the point of the ‘trick’ here?
JCHWell, it is supposed to be soothing as it serves the function of a lullaby. And the ‘trick’, if there is one, is that I wanted the listener to hear the push and pull of the waves. I distinctly remember as a kid trying to hear the rhythms in the waves when I got into bed. I found them very much how I think a lot of people respond to minimalist music: I’d perceive these patterns flowing back and forth inside the overall ‘thing’. But very quickly you get overwhelmed by them since they’re crossing all over one another and you get into a sensory overload and then…. zzzzzzzz (snoring).
RC(laughs) Philip Glass sure does that to me. Or it irritates me like buzzing and I just have to get away from it!
JCHWell, there’s that, too. (laughs).
RCSo back to the music. I haven’t heard you whistle in a while. Does that mean you’re breathing better?
JCHDamn. Everything always circles back to my fuckin’ health. So annoying. But yeah, ya got me. It’s been several years, but I can finally breathe well enough to play again. It’s so stupid that even these long notes were a no-go for a good while.
RCSo enough with the whining. This is one of the ‘Transitions’ we’ve talked about; where scenery is being moved around?
JCHRight. In this case, we’re getting set for Ciarán going to bed the night before the big march to bank. So we have to move over to his house and his bedroom where he and Móirín are sawing wood.
RCSo is this music supposed to be sarcastic?
JCHHow do you mean?
RCI mean, it’s a lullaby. You said you got the idea from your own childhood. And yet it’s this cranky older guy and his wife in bed. That sounds ironic to me.
JCHAbsolutely not. This is one of the great things about opera–it lets you explore deeper truths than just a play. Yeah, my uncle was, as you say a very cranky guy, but inside he was a very kind guy. We live in this world now, here, where it’s simply not OK to be like him anymore. People just can’t ‘get’ his personality type. We live in a world now where you’re just not going to find women willing to put up with that kind of shit anymore. (laughs) Anyhoo, I wanted to depict his ‘softness’ and you can do that here in a totally un-ironic way.
RCYou say it’s not OK to be like him anymore. Aren’t you really saying it’s not OK to be like you anymore? (laughs)
JCHIt’s true. I turned out a great deal like him.
RCYou mean you yell a lot.
JCHGuilty as charged. But when I go to sleep?
RCYou look positively harmless?
RCI don’t know where I read that, but it was a children’s book about how gentle and nice some ‘monster’ looked when he was asleep. That was the real Ciarán.
JCHWell, it was one reality, let’s put it that way.
RCSpeaking of different realities, on behalf of the fans…
JCHWait, let me guess: WHEN DO WE GET TO THE SHREDDING?
RCThe monster awakens.
JCHI’m so predictable. But to your question, I’ve actually been thinking a lot about that. As you know, but our readers don’t, is that one reason we haven’t convened for a while, other than the holidays (and some health issues) is that…
RCSpit it out…
JCHThe dreaded writers block.
RCOh no! (laughs).
JCHSeriously. You kept saying every week or so, something like, “Wow, another snippet!” And I kept thinking, “Wow, another snippet!” But in the back of my mind I always had this nagging feeling, “this is all low-hanging fruit. At some point, I’ve got to get to the zippy stuff. I’m not hearing the zippy stuff.”
RCThe zippy stuff.
JCHYeah, the stuff that goes, zing, wham, pow, to the moon Alice! So far I’ve got a bunch of arias and story, but not much of the connective tissue where you have all the color and pumping blood and fireworks. In short, the twenty million notes that surround all the singing.
JCHI’m not hearing them.
JCHI think it’s because I’m lacking a metaphor. I just mentioned the idea of the waves moving in and out that gave me the idea of the off-kilter rhythm, right? Well that’s one detail. Now in Detroit I had this master-metaphor of cars. Driving. That high speed movement. It’s all over the place in the score. Whenever I needed an idea, I just thought of motion.
RCThe Motor City.
JCHRight. Well, I’m still searching for that. I have a lot of images, of change. The whole story is about fundamental change. The people changed. Families changed. The industry changed. The town changed. The ocean changed. But just reading the story, one might get the impression that there’s just a bunch of brooding, sulking and pondering going on. And I’ve been trying to force something to happen, which never works. So it’s a waiting game right now.
RCWhich drives you nuts.
JCHWhich drives me nuts. I just finished a teeny, tiny work for hire and it was soooo easy to do that on deadline, simply because I didn’t have to wait for (cough) ‘inspiration’. I didn’t even think of it as ‘music’. I just slapped in some sonic wallpaper that fit the picture and Ta Da! And the weird part?
JCHIt’s so far removed from ‘music’, I didn’t feel like a whore or a slut or nuthin’. It’s sooooo strange. I wish I could’ve had this numb feeling thirty years ago. It would’ve solved oh so many problems for me. C’est La Vie. Anyhoo, it may be some time before I have any more music.
RCReally? Just like that?
JCHYeah. Maybe this is another part of growing older, but I’ve decided to stop trying to fight ‘the muse’. That bitch shows up when SHE wants to. She always does–that’s the one thing I’ve finally learned. She always returns. It may take a few years, but she always returns. It was the NOT KNOWING that used to drive me into seizures. Maybe it’s the drugs, maybe it’s age, maybe I’ve got so much other shit to worry about I can’t take any more worry. But I just stopped stressing about it.
RCAnd on that note of mindfulness and calm.
JCHAnd a hearty “Namaste” to all you motherfuckers out there (laughs).