“Performance Notes on My American Quotidian – A Musical Memoir by Composer M. Muddlenotes”
By Michael Lohafer
Malcolm Ives Muddlenotes is Composer in Residence at the Igor Symbioblatzky Institute of Data Mining & Retrieval, Identity Research and Polyphony. In 2009 Mr. Muddlenotes was awarded a prestigious Dufus Striver grant by the National Council of Overfunded Arts Cadres. According to composer comments (some of which are excerpted below in quotes), this composition was inspired events in his typical work day, to wit, “this musical memoir is an homage to my slice of the contemporary American quotidian. It is comprised of sounds which constitute profound existential resonance in my daily life.”
- I. “Mice Steps in the Ceiling” – Accelerando Micus Extinctus — The first movement begins with a dialog between brisk pizzicato in the strings and light snare drumming embellished intermittently with orchestral player squeaks emanating from the percussion and horn sections of the orchestra, who don mouse ears for their verbal emissions. Strings and drums build to a crescendo as the “mice steps” yield con spirito to a blasting trumpet fanfare, proclaiming the arrival of the exterminator, whose sound portrait is rendered by a bass viol with forte cross-string swipes, as “he maneuvers across attic joists.” Cymbals then clash as traps snap on prey, accompanied by harsh high register harp plucking (“mouse screams” –Muddlenotes). A solo bass drum boom ensues, as a “door slams” ending the movement.
- II. “Newsstand Murmurs: Garrulous Gus’s Musings” – Addlednoodleus con anima – “At the newsstand, the attendant Gus – arrayed in a WWI leather aviator’s helmet and goggles — murmurs at length about career choices, as customers come and go. He’s undecided between studying Aquinan philosophy at Francis Da Salle Community College or returning to his roots in septic tank maintenance and recycling.” Musically “Gus” is voiced by a clarinet with a fractured reed, rendered twitchily in semi-quavers by Principal Clarinet Waldo Bentwood while the strings, remaining woodwinds, and timpani play ominously sotto voce what seems to be a tonal homage to Mozart’s Requiem. At the conclusion of the piece, the defective clarinet gets progressively softer (Morendo) until it finally fades, as the composer “walks away and the gibbering ceases.”
- III. “Barista Mai Lipany’s Wiggly Ways” – Mambo Latteano – This is a musical depiction of Ms. Lipany’s unique style of barista-ing at the composer’s favorite coffee bar. Traditional trumpets, saxophones and bongos sound effusively to begin this sound portrait. Yet, in a unique variation upon standard mambo scoring, a solo part written for First Violin (played by Concert Mistress, Ms. Cecelia Coiffeskin) highlights this movement. Coiffeskin takes over the slinky main theme musically, as well as physically demonstrating– posterior stage front—the distinctive wiggle literally noted in the score by the composer. Ms. Coiffeskin’s wiggle is visually enhanced by being topped with a huge orange floppy hat with the seeming diameter of semi-trailer wheel. As she wiggles and fiddles, while the orange disc ripples, the violins’ ensemble sways in place to the tempo, encouraged by a medley of whistles from piccolo, flutes, and kazoos, at which point the violas rise (sans violas) with maracas in hand and start visually “echoing” the wiggling Ms. Coiffeskin, encouraged further by O, si,si,si voiced by the cellos — all still punctuated with the ongoing bongo beat. This string and percussive ensemble drives forward a variant mambo tempo till the trumpets and saxes break out again in a Latteano theme scherzando (with noted Perez Prado fortissimo) which brings the entire orchestra to its feet. On cue with the bursting scherzando, Ms. Coiffeskin trades her violin for a tambourine and leads the swaying and shaking viola section off stage left in impromptu conga style. Here the trumpets, saxes, and bongos reprise the main theme one more time and blend with the forte cellos voicing O,si,si,si transformed into a conclusive OOO, la,la.
- IV. “Voice and Data Diving Dervishes” – Presto Discontinuto – An initial series of strident, rapid pulses from the synthesizer then devolve into repetitive electronic trills creating a sonic Glass-like trance atmosphere intermittently interrupted by bass register atonal “plops”— somehow akin to sinking 30 foot putts on an undulating green in cyberspace. These “plops” are adjoined by urgent gibberish chanting from the unseen Symbioblatsky Chorale, who voice the “overheard calls, monitored texts, and captured data transactions by Institute dervishes, as they dive into the realm of digital phone-dom, seeking out non-progressive, libertarian targets for identify theft and Institute fund raising”. The mélange of electronic trilling and gibberish continues apace (with a dissonant intensity that would make Stockhausen cringe) until the consummate identification and compromise of Institute targets is signified by the “clanging of stock-exchange tonal bells” which ends this movement.
- V. “Deli Intermezzo: – A Brief Musical Repast” — Sostenuto Mayonaisseo Garlici — “At Maury’s Deli sandwiches are prepared and devoured in a musical ambience where tuneful burps and belches by the regulars at the back table (perpetrated in large measure by the garlic/pepper-laced mayonnaise) are de rigueur and an integral part of the sonic atmosphere .” Accordingly, tubas, trombones, English horns, and bassoons combine in a brash cacophony of orchestral burps and belches, intermittently accented by triangle dings that mark sonically “when the next sandwich is ready.” The final triangle dinging resonates, leading indirectly into the next section after a momentary pause.
- VI. “Park Pastorale: Smart Tech Rhapsody” – Allegretto Aleatorius… Data Divino Electronicus… Spiritoso Explosivo — After lunch the composer sits on a bench in the park with the robotic Sensorial Data Receptor by his side, as sounds occur in the early afternoon air.** Triangle, xylophone, treble electronic keyboard, chimes & celesta sound out aleatorically, giving voices to a mixture of smart tech devices being operated at various places in the park. The Spider-Web Data Receptor springs into action with a snare drum riff and muted trumpet dee, dee, dah, wah, wah, bleep and then begins emitting the repetitive electronic trills punctuated with syncopated, atonal “plops” which counterpoint the ongoing, seemingly random, tech device rings (recalling the data diving in movement IV). Receptor electronic “plops” drone on systematically (harvesting data, we presume), as we begin to hear what, at first, sounds like yet another smart tech signature ring. Yet, this tune is not abbreviated in duration and continues (supervening the other ring-a-ding-dings) for an uninterrupted three minute solo. It is Chopin’s Nocturne in E flat, rendered expertly on the marimba by soloist Enrique Sonofario, apparently representing a park busker in play. Thematically, the melodic continuity of this piece (graced by the performer’s intrepid skill) is apparently incompatible with the hard-coded programming and smart-tech affinity of the robotic Spider-Web Receptor. The atonal “plops” start morphing agitato into an aural rampage of strident electronic screeches, as internal circuit boards implode and are “fried,” which culminates in a fortissimo duo of bass drum pummeling and symbols clashing to record the destructive effects of dystrophic interface and resulting self-termination of the robotic Receptor. When the chaotic explosion of sounds dies away, we hear the Chopin Nocturne continue on to its espressivo conclusion, thus ending this movement.
** As part of the stipend provided to Muddlenotes by the Institute, he is contractually obligated to escort the Symbioblatsky Sensorial Spider-Web Data Receptor daily into areas where it can carry out its functionality of data monitoring and collection. In a separate interview Muddlenotes referred to his electronic charge as “my SpideyDat companion on afternoons in the park.”
- VII. “Strange Interlude: Cousin Clem’s Visit” – Giocoso Hillibillius — A combination of electronic blasts and sputters from the synthesizer voice the “belching of Cousin Clem’s decrepit pickup engine” which transitions rapidly and tunefully into Bluegrass banjo cum guitar pickin’ representing Cousin Clem’s arrival (tonal references to ‘I’ve lost all my money but a $2 bill’ are pronounced). According to the composer, this is an unexpected visit, since Clem is in town to attend the Monster Tractor Tug-o-War at the Gargangua Garden. Post Tug-o-War, Clem is at chez Muddlenotes, where pizza and beer are consumed while a Wrestling Extravaganza blares on TV. From a monotonal passage of electronic synthesizer buzzing, a cacophony of horns erupts (with curious echoes of the Deli Intermezzo). Then Bluegrass pickin’ makes a reprise till discordantly interrupted by flute scales and bass drum booms (“wrestling leaps and slams”). Banjo pickin’ continues contrapuntally piano, as Cousin Clem picks his toes while eating pizza and sucking brews. Clem orates a clandestine encounter in the woods with Sasquatch: thus, bass viol pizzicato, a tenor saxophone (rather squeaky) “monologue”, and interspersed bassoon “wilderness wails” make for an unexpected trio which unmelodiously continues until bass, sax, and banjo abruptly combine for a conclusive ‘Shave and a Haircut, 5 cents.’
- VIII. “Finale — Fitful Dream: Hybrid-Alien Danse Sacre et Profond” — Soft hints of “mice steps” from the first movement are sustained till sharply cut off by an extended tympani roll, accented by syncopated bass drum booms, tuba blasts, and a closing trumpet fanfare. As the trumpet sounds its last notes, a lanky figure—bedecked in biker’s helmet, denim work shirt, blue/white “cloud camo” shorts, and hiking boots— rides a unicycle on stage up to the conductor’s platform. It is Malcolm Muddlenotes himself, who, bowing to Conductor Elias Prostapovich, then graciously accepts the baton from the maestro, prompting the entire orchestra to stand and burst sonically into the Mambo Latteano theme. Muddlenotes springs to the platform and conducts the Mambo, gradually slowing the tempo allargando nearly to a full stop, just as a discordant theme in the strings breaks out (a pastiche of Paganini’s Caprice No. 5), annotated in the score as Agitato con pepperoni sporco e formaggio malo due to the pre-slumber violent state of the composer’s digestive (purely organic) system after ingesting a combination of questionable pizza toppings and cheap, stale beer. The onstage scene becomes further dyspeptic as red, green, and yellow neon lights flash nauseously over the orchestra while voices of the (again) unseen Symbioblatzky chorus erupt, singing Schonberg-like scales punctuated with random vocal atonal “plops” (though now musically more ‘gaseous’ than in earlier movements).
As this discordant chorale proceeds, a large screen is lowered, as lights are dimmed, over the orchestra, and we see a visual depiction of the composer’s progressing “Fitful Dream.” Strange creatures (“Hybrid-Aliens”) appear, pulling a skid on which rests the smoking remains of the Symbioblatzky Sensorial Spider-Web Data Receptor. These creatures have white, manikin-type heads embedded with visual, Borg-like gadgetry and are topped with leather aviator helmets. The surrogate-arm appendages are also encrusted with electronic circuitry and wiring and stick out from red and green flannel shirts cut off at their version of a shoulder socket. They walk in robotic short, jerky strides on hairy Sasquatch legs sticking out of lime-green neoprene knee-length breeches. The Hybrid-Aliens drag the Sensorial Data Receptor’s skid to the middle of their circled group and begin to prostrate themselves in front of it, as if it was an altar of worship. The choral discord softens pianissimo, and the Hybrid-Aliens begin to voice their orisons of devotion: the triangle, xylophone, electronic keyboard, chimes & celesta sound out aleatorically with an occasional plaintive bassoon “wail.” At the booming of forte bass drum beats, the Aliens begin a twitchy, robotic dance around the smoking Data Receptor altar, now sounding their ring-a-ding-dings in a rhythmic chant. This continues apace while the entire orchestral string section reprises the Agitato theme prestissimo. Such dissonance nearly reaches a point of eardrum piercing mania, when cymbals clash fortissimo and all falls silent.
Softly at first, then with increasing volume, we hear the Bluegrass theme of movement VII, and appearing on the rear of the screen is a man in a straw hat, blue overalls, and a red and green flannel shirt playing a banjo. The Hybrid-Aliens are disconcerted, turn toward the player and begin to move jerkily yet rhythmically to the tune of the plucking. The banjo minstrel strides to the center of their midst and sits down on the edge of the extinct Receptor’s skid. He taps his bare feet in time with the tune and plays a Bluegrass cadenza (a la Foggy Mountain Breakdown with scattered patches of Moonshine). The Hybrid-Aliens now begin what seems to be a funky, robotic Bluegrass-assimilated hoe-down dance. The banjo minstrel rises from his perch, turns away and begins leading the entranced Hybrid-Aliens jigging twitchily into the distance, finally disappearing from the screen as the banjo fades to silence, the hall goes silent and to black.
When the lights come up again on the full orchestra, Mr. Muddlenotes is back on his unicycle, circling the platform, and with maestro Prostapovich back in place, the orchestral strings and marimba join in a lilting lullaby (evoking Corelli mixed with Gershwin). Muddlenotes glides stage right and stage left, then rides offstage into his “Dream” and the concert ends.