Disclaimer: The notes contained herein represent
a personal journal of the creation of my two radio works We Elect
To and Salvation at 1am. They are arranged in no particular
order other than the order in which they are arranged. These ruminations
are collected from my work notes, my score notes, and my revisionist
recollections. I hereby issue a Nixonian (irrefutable) disclaimer for
any statement or comment contained herein which gives offense or otherwise
* I look for broad themes. I have watched so much
TV that I think this is all I'm capable of grasping.
* The American party line, as subscribed to by all
parties, dictates a number of imperatives. These must always be given
lip service by any politician who counts himself lucky enough to become
President. Among these are:
A Strong Defense Industry
Unlimited Availability of Resources for Development (see above)
A Strong Economy (see above)
Rampant Consumerism (see above)
The Moral Superiority of the American Way (see above)
Religious Rectitude (see above)
The net effect of the constant repetition of these
themes is the creation of a frantic sense of Incompleteness, i.e. the
need for Salvation (see all of above). You don't have to listen too
long to our cultural icons (TV, the Prez, Elvis, ...) until these one
or more of these themes begin(s) to emerge.
* In both of these works, I have employed a number
of specific musical techniques. Among these are:
Rhythmical imitation of the speaking voice,... (elaborate) Use of Protestant
hymns as musical contexts for the spoken rhythms
* These hymns have echoed in (the recesses of )
my memory since childhood. I was attracted to music and this was the
music I was first exposed to... well, you can't have everything. In
any event, these themes still have powerful emotional tie-ins for me.
That, of course, is the secret of their power. But now we need to present
them in a form that is as convoluted from its origin as is our adult
perception from its childhood fantasies of Santa Claus and the Free
* I work with a computer as my primary editing and
organizing tool. But I don't really consider this to be anything special...
it has become so commonplace that it hardly merits mention. But, in
spite of this, the press and media still insist on using terms like
computer whiz and computer nerd to describe anyone whose knowledge of
computers exceeds that of the average twelve year old. (I guess the
press still relate to their computer terminals as typewriters).
* Composer: one who describes what will happen and
when (more or less).
Notes On Salvation
At 1 AM
The voices of Salvation at 1am were captured
alive in the wasteland of late night television and distilled to a potent
concentrate by invisible registers of silicon.
It is yours! Somewhere in that split-second between
channels, before the old image fades and the new one registers. For
an instant, all the ranting voices coalesce into a single word: salvation.
1am and all is well. Anything you want: sex, money, self-esteem, god,
a thin body, a full head of hair, property, beauty, an exciting lifestyle.
Just call 1-800. Call now. What are you waiting for? Put your hand on
the TV screen and feel the power going through your body. What do you
Late-night television, circa 1990. I'm sometimes
too sleepy to notice which channel I'm watching and it really doesn't
matter: these nostrums are all offered up in the same language, spoken
at a fevered pitch. They are as near as your phone and as deep as your
pocketbook. Salvation at 1am goes directly to the heart of the message,
discarding the dead-air time and condensing the message to its essence.
As with time-lapse photography, we are able to more readily perceive
the broad themes that are being parlayed to the not-un-witting viewer.
In fact, you would have to be heavily anesthetized to miss these themes
in their original context. But the treatment here still manages to provoke
due to its sheer concentration of the mindless banter of TV promotional
language. I think there is a deep-dish microwave resonance in all of
this that we find irresistible. For who among us would not be delivered?
All of the material for Salvation at 1am is taken
directly from real TV, no fabrications, no substitutions. You've heard
it all before, but never quite like this. I've taken all your favorite
themes, weaknesses, and desires, and bound them up with some of the
most memorable moments in all of music "since the creation" (see Richard
Nixon, We Elect To). You will thrill to the strains of "if I can do
it, you can do it too", and "my method works", sung to the tune of Amazing
Grace or He Lives. Who can forget the immortal "money, I'm gonna show
you how to get it", or the uplifting "but wait, there's more". But,
wait! There's more: if you act now, you also get the meat-chopping blade.
So, call 1-800...
* This work is not a deconstruction. It is a synthesis.
change your life
(a brutally honest deposition
on (the subject of) radio and other things)
* I don't own a radio anymore, though once it was
most important. Radio played no small part in the shaping of my early
life as a musician and composer. My connection to radio has been and
remains one of musical concerns.
* In my youth, radio was something out there, yet
very personal. TV was a family activity, but radio was a more individual
thing. You listened to radio in your room, on your portable, or in the
car, and the message always seemed to be addressed to you personally.
WLS Chicago, caught live on a late summer night in Arkansas, seemed
much more exotic than the NBC peacock. Our parents didn't have TV, and
their memories of radio's great drama days seemed sort of quaint. For
us, radio was the songs, coming from out there, evoking strange emotions
whose dissonance could only be resolved by something out there. Finally,
I went. Quit school and ran off to Memphis to make it big in music,
* At some point I became bored with ringing ears
the futility of beating one's head on a wall. Returning to my studies,
I once again embraced serious music, abandoning the songs and habits
of my teenage years, and with them, the radio, which by this time had
come to represent for me an intrusion, annoying and omnipresent. (I
was also pissed that I had been unable to produce a hit record... access
to the radio airwaves is a pretty exclusive country club.) I was more
than ever involved with sound and music, and, in proportion, less able
to listen as a background mental activity. But this is exactly what
radio, as it is usually construed, requires. I am truly amazed that
someone can listen to the radio for the entire day while working or
whatever, and see nothing at all unusual about this. As for me, I am
compelled to listen actively, inevitably interfering with whatever task
I have set about performing. This introduces a certain tension that
I prefer to avoid.
* Besides, years of ignorantly or carelessly performing
loud music left my hearing in something less than stellar shape (though
I nevertheless retain a discerning ear). I therefore choose to limit
my exposure to sound to those instances I deem worthy of the expenditure
of my diminishing resources. Continuous auditioning of a broadcast medium
does not generally meet this criterion.
(Now don't start getting all bristly about this,
you radio heads. Understand that , from here on, I'm not referring to
radio of the good type. Don't cancel your subscription to the monthly
* There is probably too much music anyway. Music
is of the soul, and one shouldn't be baring one's soul on a 24-hour
a day basis. Radio has a keen grasp of the sound/emotion connection,
however, and uses music to sell stuff by associating stuff with the
dear and strong emotions produced by music. (TV, of course, performs
this task with exponentially greater efficiency, given its access to
the additional dimension of the image). I agree with my interpretation
of John Cage (I wondered if I would be able to work in a reference to
John Cage) that there is quite by accident a lot of great sound out
there and we can call it music if we want to. Radio and TV would seem
redundant, if not irrelevant.
* The worst, the absolute bottom of the pit in broadcasting
is silence... dead air space. It is the thing most assiduously to be
avoided in broadcasting. Station managers have had their careers stopped
dead in their tracks by allowing transmitters to remain silent for a
mere few seconds. But music and sound require silence in ample portions.
If we are going to have salt, then we must also have pepper. The pie
must have a crust. What is a nut without a bolt? Do you see what I am
getting at? The chief rule of commercial broadcasting seems to be "talk
loud and never shut up" (see compression below).
* As with cigarettes, most people who become addicted
to popular radio do so in their youth (hormones?). Once they become
hooked, the songs they crave can be used get their attention for the
rest of their natural lives. Many survive these perilous early years,
going on to become adventurous and creative listeners in their adult
lives. But, for most, the adult years will be lived out in increasingly
feeble attempts to recapture the rapture of those early radio binges.
Finally, their pocketbooks and spirits depleted, they will turn their
hearing-aids down and mutter quietly to themselves in monosyllables
not unlike the sound of background vocals.
* After years of therapy, I now understand why those
emotional songs of my youth, my radio days, if you will, are so strongly
imprinted on my consciousness. But I'm not sure I can express it in
words. I am working on that. What I have learned is to take each challenge
separately and on its own terms. So, when I hear one of those songs,
I have now trained myself to resist the urge to pick up the phone and
dial 1-800 to order the product that goes with the song. Though I don't
always succeed (I still sometimes can't resist buying the song CD that
goes with the song), I will continue to try. That's the best I can give.
Who can ask any more?
* "But wait", you say. "You're talking all about
the market-oriented form of broadcasting. Don't you realize that there
are all kinds of formats being broadcast... tune in and see for yourself".
I know, I'm getting to that, but I am still working off some bad energy.
Not all radio is bad. (I myself have participated in radio projects).
When the format is designed to inform and enrich rather than to coerce
and cajole, we can once again lend our ears without fear of such betrayals.
We may in the end fail to be reassured, but we will probably not be
thinking about running down to the 7-11 for a slurpee and a microburger.
* Another really bad thing broadcasters do is to
use compression on the sound. Compression is a process invented to overcome
the limited bandwidth of broadcast radio (and TV). Compression squeezes
the expressive range of sound into a very narrow band, and out the window
goes subtlety. Now everything is in your face. My delicate ears don't
appreciate this. When I was working on my piece Salvation at 1am, I
noticed that the meters on my mixer read the same, regardless of whether
the TV evangelist I was recording was whispering or shouting. That's
compression. Have you ever been startled by the loudness of the announcer
when that old movie you were dozing off into went to a station break?
That's compression. Wouldn't the world be strange if we all went around
conducting all our conversations, regardless of the content, at the
top of our voices? (Come to think of it, that's not all that far-fetched).
That's compression. Compression is a great metaphor for our lives. We
try to cram three or four times more activities (another form of stuff)
into the span of our lives than any two generations that ever walked
the face of the earth. Archaeologists will read our histories from the
overlapping entries in our appointment books.
* Of all our senses (in case the word semester is
no longer part of your vocabulary, these include hearing, seeing, touching,
smelling, and tasting) hearing is the one sense we have the least (natural)
choice about experiencing. We can close our eyes, shut our mouths (you
can't force me to eat boiled okra, no way), withdraw our touch. We can
even, for a short time, hold our breath to escape the miasmic pall of
a fart set free by a fellow passenger on the underground. But we cannot
close our ears. Let that sink in. Without some artificial muffler, we
have no choice but to hear. This makes me angry. If someone went around
forcing others to eat distasteful food, or to touch slimy things, they
would be arrested immediately (if this were their third such offense,
they would rightly be sequestered away in a dungeon for life). If someone
pollutes the air (the EPA suggests then even bakeries must limit their
emissions), this is thought to be a bad thing. They are thoughtless
and selfish bastards. But, short of the neighbor who blasts the stereo
at 4 am, not much attention is paid to the incredible amount of noise
that is an accepted constant in our lives.
* I think the psychological, emotional, and indeed,
physical effects of a polluted sound environment are enormous. Who knows
how many wacko mega-seri-killers were pushed over the edge by one too
many errant car alarms going off in the middle of the night? In a large
city, even in the middle of the night, the background noise level is
still thunderous. Even when we sleep, we are still hearing and our bodies
are still reacting to these sounds. But we don't regard this as anything
unusual. But what would you think about somebody feeling all over your
body through the night while you slept (if you could sleep)?
* The standards for adult hearing are still based
on statistics compiled from factory workers in the 30s and 40s. Thus,
steady and permanent hearing loss is considered the norm. Compression
again. Aboriginal cultures do not seem to experience such hearing loss.
But the ability to hear the soft crinkle of leaves under the foot of
a predator at 200 paces is no longer an important survival skill, so
why do we need china-shop ears in a corral of bulls? But this is about
more than mere survival. It is about the loss of meaning. We live in
a world of headlines. We have discarded the accompanying copy.
* I finally found my way back to radio as an unexpected
outlet for my sonic/musical creations. It seemed there were producers
who were actually looking for unusual work to present on public radio!
Though I had strayed afar, radio would ultimately offer me an outlet
for my ideas and creations unlike any other. My work would be broadcast
to the world! Well, I guess that pretty much changed my tune about radio.
I came down off my perch in a hurry, dreaming of what I could do with
30 minutes or so of air time.
* I am familiar with the cliche about how radio
forces the listener to invoke the higher powers of imagination. But,
as for my work, this is not really a factor. My radio works are not
subtle, nor do they demand a total immersion on the part of the listener.
Instead, they offer a continuous stream of concentrated, regurgitated,
media chaff that the listener is invited to drop in or out of as he
or she pleases, sort of like regular radio and TV. The difference here
is in the selection and arrangement of the images... a time-lapse view
of the media stream which can't help but adopt an editorial viewpoint.
But not an alien viewpoint, because it was there all along. We sensed
it, but could not enjoy (!) it explicitly in its original context.
* I use computers and electronics as essential tools
in my work. Writers and reviewers invariably feel that they must use
the phrases computer whiz or electronics wiz (wiz and whiz being interchangeable)
when writing about artists who work in this manner. I personally would
prefer the simpler genius, but no one has picked up on this yet, at
least not in print. Anyway, whiz makes me think of what you want to
do when you have just consumed two beers, or a pot of strong tea. I
do not find this to be terribly flattering.
* Computers drive us crazy. They are so literal,
even the best among them on their good days. One of the problems is
expectations (see dysfunction: projection). We are accustomed to thinking
of them, according to the media-inspired and research grant-fueled model,
as a brain, an intelligence. In this regard, they are very unimpressive,
though we often become their servants. But if we regard them simply
as a tool, then they are quite remarkable, though they do not free us
of the burden of learning to properly employ the tool. Compared to a
shovel or a sledge-hammer, though, computers are definitely easier and
more fun to use.
* I'm not sure what the future of broadcasting will
be, given the changes that will accompany the age of the information
superhighway. That term may have as many definitions as it does exponents,
but one thing seems certain. More and more, we will become linked in
high-capacity digital communications networks, far more extensive than
our present phone system (which will become a subset of the new networks).
These digital networks will be capable of carrying all types of "information",
including all combinations of sound, text, and image, across the types
of individual two-way connections we are accustomed to with telephones.
But that is only part of the picture... the potential to create very
complex webs of interconnectivity (many-to-one; one-to-many; many-to-many)
is inherent in digital networks. Will our current one-to-many model
for broadcasting remain viable? Probably so, to some extent. Even if
radio were to migrate entirely to the digital network, many listeners
may still "tune in" to a favorite "real-time" station (network address)
if they are aware of its presence on the network. This promotion of
this awareness is key. One of the hallmarks of broadcasting to this
point has been the idea that there was a demographic to be addressed.
The validity, or at least the depth of applicability of this concept
may be diminished. Maybe it will be more like direct (mail) marketing.
We are already seeing an exponential increase in the incidence of junk
e-mail and faxes.
* Doesn't this all sound promising? Does it make
you excited about the future? Well, as has always been the case, the
future is now. Personally, I am not convinced that all of this is bringing
us any closer to a spiritual millennium, though a calendar one is just
around the corner. Most days, it's seems damned hard to see any connection
between the trumpeted techno-utopia and the daily grind of famine, poverty,
and despair that attend to most of the globe's people. Our frenetic
junket seems aimed mainly at creating more ways to sell/consume things
(a fundamental dictate of international Capitalism, as distinct from
free-enterprise). New products, new markets, endless supply, endless
demand. The traditional pyramid scheme. Well, someone's going to have
to get off their ass soon and concoct some new sources of inputs to
this giant black box or we're all headed for three-strike oblivion for
violations of the laws of thermodynamics: you can't create something
from nothing, and at the rate we're going, nothing is what we're going
to have. A couple of years ago everybody thought they had found it when
cold fusion was the big topic, even down to the level of People Magazine.
Now we'd be able to make more of everything, with energy to spare. It
would surely be getting freer and freer. Hmmm, well. But hope springs
eternal. I myself have always liked to think I was an optimist, though
I've impressed people differently.
* A number of years back, I realized that I was
simply starting to overload on media input. I was getting more than
I could reasonably process: TV (late-nite surfer), magazines (especially
the science and tech ones), newspapers (2-paper city, morn/eve; finally
kicked morning paper), facts (everywhere apparent), figures (does anyone
ever check them?), opinions (especially my own), lies (as distinguished
from the truth)... noise. Now we're about to create a thousandfold more
opportunities for the propagation of this clatter. Well, it is very
challenging. Are we simply stretched to our limits before the next giant
step in some universal scheme of evolution, or just poised on the brink?
For some reason, I instinctively am drawn to the idea that the increase
in our potential for communication, though it will not guarantee better
communication, can only be for the better. More connections and more
pathways, less control, more anarchy... seems healthy. It is very difficult
to get one's bearings, but I am not sure this is all for the bad. Any
critical examination of a previous era thought more sane (i.e. greater
concentration of power, more agreement about what is right) usually
reveals at its fringes the fallacy of that assumption.
* Radio, TV. Modulated electromagnetic waves, most
ephemeral. Just out there. Passing through us in all directions at all
instants. How far does the signal go? How long does it last? The idea
of radio waves traveling unconstrained, forever in all directions is
very appealing. Electromagnetic waves, time, gravity, particles, how
positively 20th century! And those waves would be the voice of the century,
speaking both its grandeur and its barbarity.
* "Finally, mercifully, he realized that this was
getting pretty deep. These things can have repercussions". I will have
a glass of wine and go to bed and watch some TV. It's tiring trying
to be so smart about everything. Thank you and good night.