In 2013 Lexmilian de Mello utilized Wordswarm.net‘s random words pages as inspiration in writing Percarus, a free form volume of what the author describes as “diary styled poetry”. Mr. de Mello is “intrigued by the diminishing energy resources within this world. Equipped with four post graduate degrees ranging from engineering,business and sciences he aspires towards three goals alone; eudaimonia, ataraxia and abolishment of evil.”
I was happy to hear someone had made use of the wordswarm.net random words pages in the spirit they were intended. Writing prompts — in which a question or scenario is posed — are a common way to get people writing but I prefer the simplicity of raw words. I seldom post to this category any more but my Pick a Word postings were all based on words chosen from the Wordswarm.net pages. I posted more frequently to What’s the Word?, but the content management system I used to publish it threw up, making it complicated and bothersome to import it into WordPress.
My output of word-prompted essays beeth* not close to the realm of Percarus, which seems to comprise the substance and experiences of an entire lifetime. (*”Beeth” is what the author describes as a “semi-made up word which frequently appears in this volume). I’ve read a good portion of the book and find it engaging, if at times overwhelming. I intend to spend more time with it. It is gratifying to see obscure words that wordswarm.net brings to light being used in a legitimate and inspired manner.
Being informed of this book’s existence reminded me of another instance in which something may have been inspired by wordswarm.net. I was surprised at the resemblance between the random words pages and a wall at the Museum of Modern Art which I spotted last year. I don’t think I’d take offense if it was proven that the design of that wall was influenced by my hideously 1995-vintage pages, but the resemblance is hard to deny, as de Mello agreed when I presented it to him.
Pecarus was originally published as freeware but now it is distributed as donationware. Grab your PDF copy from bookbuster.com.
Short and strange call from a (212) area code number. It sounds like they are speaking non-English but I think I hear something about “call New York City”. At the end it sounds like the caller grumbles “It’s not ringing” but if it’s another language it could be something else.
27th Street near 39th Avenue in Dutch Kills is now the scene of this bizarre monstrosity: the Boro Hotel. I thought all the metal railings were some kind of scaffolding that would come off eventually. Nope. This jungle-gym façade is here to stay.
It’s interesting how pencil skyscrapers like 432 Park are erected virtually overnight while relatively modest buildings like this take years to complete. It has been in the works since early 2009, and appears to be almost ready for business.
Useless anecdote: I don’t remember what television show it was but I saw that some police/crime type series filmed a scene from one episode in the basement of this building while it was under construction.
The balconies are enclosed in metal wire fencing that looks like a cage.
It’s not even open yet and the building is already showing signs of wear.
Seen from Crescent Street the hulking structure looks like some kind of industrial compound.
I took a few pictures months ago, when the metal railing façade was just taking shape. I will add it to this post if I can find it. I really did think the rails were scaffolding that would come off eventually.
This sounds like two or maybe three people listening to the radio and talking. I can make out a few words here and there — I think someone is named Cathy — but mostly this strange 8½ minute call to my old land line number is a cacophonous mystery. I called the number back but it just went to voicemail, with no identity revealed.
Another “lower your interest rate” probe call, this one appearing to be from Gainesville, Florida. I called the number using Skype (which sends fake caller ID). Here’s what happened:
I dialed 1 but for some reason you don’t hear it on the recording.
I hate wasting time with this stuff but when the call is from Florida (where I grew up) it resonates ever so slightly that it might be a real call. No live person has called my magicJack number in years, which is kind of strange since you’d think there would be a stray wrong number here or there. I guess wrong numbers are not so common any more with speed dial being the norm.
When I moved to New York I went dialed the phone number of the house I grew up in in Tampa, but within the 212 and 718 area codes, to hear who might answer the doppelganger number. This was something I wouldn’t have done as a kid on account of the long distance toll charges. I don’t remember anyone being at the 212 version of that number but the 718 version at one time went to a limo company in Flushing. Area codes used to have meaning but that is less and less the case, save perhaps for the legacy mystique of the 212 area code. I actually picked up a 212 area code number a couple of years ago. Verizon claimed they had no 212 numbers left but I always knew that was baloney.
BEMOB means “Heavy” according to the Dictionary of Ro, an articial language developed by one Rev. Edward Powell Foster early in the 20th century.
Before clicking on the word (it was among the daily spew of 1000 random words that posts to Wordswarm.net every day) I thought it might have meant something more suitable to its English-language appearance. A space bemobbed is on that has slowly but deliberately been filled with a mob of people. To bemob would differ, I think, from traditional mobbing, which happens spontaneously and suddenly.
“Bemob” could also refer to development of mobile-friendly web sites and applications, such that a typical desktop-formatted web site is bemobbed via templating jujitsu or whatnot. The more accurate word would be “BEMOBI”, I suppose, in reference to the ill-fated ‘.MOBI” top level domain name extension that was intended to be used exclusively for mobile content formatted for mobile devices.
A preferred definition for “bemob” refers to the monotony of rage that characterizes much of the Internet’s daily rituals. Hordes of strangers bemob insignificant individuals previously unknown to them to express their outrage at issues and opinions that would be none of their business and of no interest save for the opportunity to be publicly offended. The bemob crowd comprises those individuals who turn out to protest anything.
This was a strange and almost haunting discovery. In 2003 A Chilean publishing company used several of my photos on the covers of their books. I am virtually certain no one requested permission to do this but the publisher did have the courtesy to credit me by name and web site URL.
It is mysteriously weird seeing something of your own creation incorporated into another work, especially when you never knew that other work existed. It’s like someone has been reading my mail and responding to it as if they were me.
El pianista que mandan llamar
This photo of a payphone from the West 4th Street subway station appears on the cover of El pianista que mandan llamar, by Luis Domínguez Vial. This book was reviewed at elperiodista. That photo actually appears to have been taken from this page at the old Payphone Project site, though it may have resided at sorabji.com earlier. This happened to be the first of these book covers that I found, and I was taken aback by the fact a pianist and a payphone appeared in the same context. As a pianist with a particular interest in payphones I initially imagined the connection was deliberate, but that seems unlikely.
Ciertas Criaturas Terrestres
The Hammacher Schlemmer window display seen on Jorge Diaz’s Ciertas Criaturas Terrestres was “The Big Picture” for December 5, 2002. That’s a photo of which I had no memory whatsoever, and which I find unpleasant to look at.
I discontinued “The Big Pictures” 4½ years ago, after Chinese hackers blew out my web server and nearly sent me over the brink. I was ready to stop doing a daily picture anyway. The idea of presenting a single daily image as some kind of marquee piece of content made less and less sense on an Internet that is drowning in images.
Nueva Narrative Cubana
Nueva Narrative Cubana‘s cover uses a photo from Coney Island (they spelled it “Conney Island” in the citation) that was the “Big Picture” for August 26, 2002. The cover image from the publisher’s web site is hard to make out but that’s definitely the same shot, just cropped at the upper right.
The cover of Cuentos perfectos, by Antonio Rojas Gómez, has another photo of a Hammacher Schlemmer window display, though I cannot seem to find where it is or might have been at sorabji.com. The weird thing about this shot is that I would have bet cash cash money that I took it later than 2003, when this book was first published. From what I can piece together from the book’s Amazon.com page the title was reissued in 2008 and more recently issued again in a Kindle edition. If they changed the cover for the Kindle Edition that might explain it, though I’m not bulletproof certain that the picture postdates 2003.
There are others, too. I think I found 8 or 9 books out there with my photos on the covers. Normally I might take offense at this sort of thing but I can’t. It’s been so long since it happened, and I don’t think this publishing house meant any harm or made cash money on account of the images. I also like the way the covers look. The mutual amateurishness of the books’ designs and my images complement each other. I also appreciate the clear citations.
Not being fluent in Spanish I cannot even imagine what thematic connection might exist between the content of these books and the photos on their covers. Probably there is none. I did find it striking that a pianist and a payphone appear on one cover (El pianista que mandan llamar), but it seems far-fetched that the choice of photo was based on knowledge that the photographer was a pianist with an interest in payphones.
This all reminds me of a time I had a photo printed and framed by a professional purveyor of such services. I sent the framed print as a gift to somebody who, upon receipt and installation, sent a photo of where she had placed it on a wall in her dining room. Seeing it there felt vulgar, though not overwhelmingly so. It felt like a piece of me was trapped in a glass box and put on display against its will.
I would not feel so selfish about that scenario today. There is something to be said for being seen if you learn something new about yourself because of it.
615-469-0355 – New Number For “Financial Stimulus” Robocall
Habits can be hard to break but I intend to make a concentrated effort to stop writing phone numbers with parenthesis around the area code. I don’t know if all parts of the U.S.A. have made it necessary to dial the area code when making a call within the area code but I assume most of the country has. The parenthesis, I think, identify digits which are either optional or otherwise supplementary to the unique 7-digit number. Area codes have not been optional for a long time, and their relevance in terms of identifying where a call is physically coming from has faded. I will continue to use dashes in phone numbers as well as social security numbers, for as little as I have need to write the latter. In those cases the dashes format the otherwise arbitrary looking string of digits to indicate what type of number it is.
I remember when 10-digit dialing was made mandatory. I don’t remember when, exactly, the change was announced by the phone company but I recall it being conflated into an an actual news story. A local television program interviewed representative citizens to ask how they felt, and how 10-digit dialing would impact their lives. People were livid, claiming this extra bit of busywork would mar their daily routines with inconvenience and consume enormous amounts of time over the remaining years of their lives. I heard these complaints and marveled at the tininess of certain human beings.
Before proofreading this I saw that the opening of the first sentence said “Habits can be heard to break …” I corrected that with the assumption that this habit will be broken inaudibly.
Combing through old sounds I recorded with a field recorder and super-sensitive nature microphone I found this short clip of an above ground subway arriving at and departing from the 39th Avenue station in Astoria/Long Island City. When the new subway cars came out years ago I was among the first to notice that the trains emitted the beginnings of the tune from “Somewhere”, from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story. I thought of this when it was announced that Sam Smith would be paying royalties to Tom Petty for the “musical accident” in which Smith’s song “Stay With Me” inadvertently sounded a little too much like Petty’s “Stand By Me”. I don’t expect that the Bernstein estate would sue the MTA for royalties but I imagine at least one lawyered-up meeting was held to discuss the possibility. The “Somewhere” tune rises up at about 1:02.
Between sickness and injury I’ve stalled on many projects. I considered seeing a doctor until I discovered that I had to fire all my doctors (and dentist) after changing insurances because of the Affordable Care Act. That was enough of an impediment to keep me from going, since I didn’t really think I needed to go anyway.
A lengthy e-mail exchange with a new correspondent caused me to revisit an event I had almost fully forgotten about: my senior recital. Like most of my conservatory years I have blotted that concert from my memory, though being questioned about it brought back most of what I could expect to remember. The first half of the program comprised 26 pieces by composers for every letter of the alphabet. It was intended as a tribute to radio. More specifically it was meant as an homage to the mixed tapes that I made in high school. These tapes were made by recording songs off the radio. Taken one at a time a song is a song is a song. What I discovered from the mixed tapes was that after listening to them many times over I could not hear the individual songs on the radio or from records without thinking of them in the context of the tapes. The tape itself and the series of songs it contained became a work in and of itself. The connections between songs were made especially blunt with these tapes because there was no silence between them. Indeed, there was rather brusque overlap because I had to stop recording the songs before they ended to avoid the radio announcer’s voice intruding on the song sequence. (I wish I had recorded more of the announcers’ voices, as tons of not-bad memories come back when listening to Cat Sommers’s Q105 aircheck from 1981 or Mason Leroy Dixon’s 1982 aircheck (also on Q105).)
I do not get terribly nostalgic for my college conservatory years. I blame nobody but myself for the bad college memories (which are far outnumbered by the good) but the bad times left stains on my life that took years to go away. You’ll notice that I neglect to mention the school by name in this story, as I do not want to attract some alumni search bot that pings the web for mention of its name. Some years ago they printed a blurb about me in the alumni newsletter, a blurb I wish they had informed me of ahead of time so that I could ask them not to print it. It was nothing awful or embarrassing but I still didn’t want it in there.
The individual who contacted me said he had just heard about my recital and wanted to get a copy of it and/or get details on what pieces were included in the A-to-Z part. I was surprised to hear of anyone talking about my senior recital 25 years after it occurred, but after my initial wariness wore off we embarked on a healthy correspondence. He even went so far as to buy a CD of the concert and send me a copy so I could identify the composers. I thought I had lost the printed program from that event but I finally found it, and it appears below, along with a number of audio excerpts from the concert.
Alkan – Song of the Mad Woman on the Seashore
The program opened with Charles Alkan’s Song of the Mad Woman on the Seashore, a certifiably unusual piece in its own right. I chose it as an opener partly on account of its peculiarity, but also because Alkan was a particular fascination of mine throughout high school and college. I consider the Mad Woman to be something of a standout among Alkan’s œuvre on account of how succinctly it represents the dark and turgid spirit that inhabited his inspiration. Certain other Alkan pieces (The Alleluia op. 25 comes to mind) also communicate that coldness but in a way that I find unsettling, and even disturbing. The Alleluia‘s raspiness borders on coarse, and its manifestation of religious exaltation feels almost insane to me.
Grant Covell – Sonnet
A 10-second Bagatelle by Beethoven followed (I muffed it) and Grant Covell’s “Sonnet”, from 30 Variations on a Theme by Mark Thomas, came next. The 30 Variations was written for me by Grant, a composition major who I knew from working at the college radio station. We remained in touch for a few years after college ended, eventually losing track until last week, when I found an e-mail address for him and wrote to ask if it was OK to use this music on my web sites.
Robert Helps – Valse Mirage (1977)
The centerpiece of the A-Z set was Robert Helps’ Valse Mirage (1977). Bob Helps was a friend of mine who taught at the University of Tampa (where I grew up) but I never had any dealings with him until college, when I booked him to play a solo recital in the same concert hall where I played this program. I arranged this concert in my role as Classical Programming Director at the school radio station. After much work and anticipation he unfortunately had to cancel. He had a reaction to a bug bite that caused one of his hands to swell up to the size of a watermelon. We stayed in touch for years after that, though, and coincidentally I bumped into him outside Carnegie Hall soon after moving here.
As virtually anyone who knew him would attest Bob Helps was one of the most generous souls you would ever meet. You could always expect him to have a new dirty joke to tell or humorous anecdote to share any time you saw him. On account of this there was one encounter I had with him that made a very strong impression. It did not involve this particular performance of his Valse Mirage but it might as well have, since I played it pretty much the same and thus made the same mistake.
In 1992 I played a different version of this program in New York, changing maybe 8 or 9 pieces, but keeping Helps’ Valse Mirage as the centerpiece. I sent him a tape of the performance and quickly heard back from him after he listened to it. When I answered the phone and heard his voice I expected his typically generous and congenial personality to be at work. It was not. He sternly and unsympathetically informed me that I had played the last portion of the piece in double time, something that should have been obvious to anyone who could read music. The tone of Bob’s voice was unlike any I had heard from him before. Until then I knew him as a friend. This was Robert Helps the artist talking, and his demeanor was deadly serious. We were on the phone but in my mind I was waiting for that gleam in his eye to come back and for the mood of the conversation to go back into more familiar territory. I don’t remember that happening during this call.
Short Pieces By Luening, MacDowell, Nielsen, Ornstein, Pinto, Quinet, Revel, Sorabji. Check the program above for titles.
Even as the concert was in progress I winced a bit when arriving at Carl Nielsen’s The Jumping Jack, a slight, silly piece that ended up on the program solely for my inability to find anything more interesting by a composer whose named started with N.
I wanted there to be one piece on the program written by a person better known for something besides the fact that they wrote music. It didn’t matter how amateurish it sounded, I just wanted some name on the program that was recognizable as coming from a different discipline than music.
I had seen piano music by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, which could have been a memorable (if morbid) curiosity. Leo Tolstoy and Boris Pasternak were other writers who wrote music on the side.
I winced at Nielsen not so much on account of the music but because of what I had tried to hard to get in its place. What I was really after wasn’t Nietzsche or Tolstoy (or Nielsen, for that matter). It was Richard Nixon. I’m not going to rewrite the whole story now but you can read about it HERE.
In short I had read in a book about music at the White House that Nixon, when he was in college, had written a theme song for a club of which he was a member. I spent years trying to get through to him to see if he or his handlers could send me a copy, unaware until the end that he knew full well about my inquiries and deliberately chose to ignore them.
The L-S sequence of pieces perhaps best illustrates how the rapid fire succession of pieces causes the series to become a work in and of itself.
The L-S sequence also reveals an error on the program. I did not play Erik Satie’s Vexations, though it would have been hilarious to have played it a dozen or so times and frighten the audience into thinking I would go all the way. Vexations is a 1-page piece that should be repeated 840 times (although the origins and authority of that piece’s claim to fame are murky). Had I embarked on Vexations the concert might have lasted 20 hours.
Instead I played a Frammenti Aforistici (I have no idea which one, there are over a hundred) by Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji, the curmudgeonly British composer whose surname has been my online screen name since I first got online in the early 1990s. It’s a crisp, mean little piece.
Wireless Fantasy is a musique concrète by Vladimir Ussachevsky. If I did this program again I would include it (I chose to conform with the radio theme of the program) but I would not allow myself to just sit at the piano, doing nothing. It goes on longer than I remember and it seems I should have contributed something more beyond the weirdness of piping in this mysterious sounding work through the concert hall’s speakers. I might add a photo montage. Listen to it, it’s good stuff:
The second half opened with Cage’s “Dream” Dreamed, by Daniel Goode, a composer who had responded to an ad I placed in the now defunct EAR Magazine. EAR targeted musicians, with a particular focus on contemporary music and composers of the day. The ad I placed said something like “COMPOSERS: I will play your piano music at a well known conservatory.” A lot of music came in as a result of that ad, some of it high quality, much of it not. Daniel Goode’s Cage’s “Dream” Dreamed was a standout. It was both an appealing piece of music and its inclusion was as close to a coup as I could muster as far as giving a world premiere performance of a composition by a reasonably well-known composer. Mr. Goode was also an alumni of the conservatory, which gave the performance added resonance.
The EAR ad itself became a running joke among my friends because I invited the composers to mail their scores to “M. THOMAY”, not my real name (M. THOMAS). I did this intentionally so I would know upon arrival that the envelopes came from that ad. Folks just started calling me “M. Thomay” and “Mel Tormé”, an amusing flourish which lasted throughout college.
I played a different version of the program in New York in 1992. That was when I met Don Garvelmann, a friend of Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji, whose Frammenti Aforistici punctuated the program with its tremulous thud. Don and I talked about this program a lot over the years, which is why it surprised me how thoroughly I’d forgotten the conservatory version.