In praise of Wikipedia……….


Maypole dancing

I cannot sing the praises of Wikipedia enough. It so good that you feel it cannot be allowed to continue…………

Here it is on the subject of pornstar Jeff Stryker, who my old friend Peter Wadland once met in a bar and was photographed with………(he showed me the photo proudly)…..

Stryker became known in the adult film industry for his dark-featured good looks, penchant for extreme dirty talk and aggressively dominating his sexual partners, and his large penis, which is cited as 10″ long……………

And here it is on Addington Palace, where I received my first musical education, in the bosom of the Anglican Church……………

…..Due to financial difficulties James Trecothick had to sell the estate in 1802. The next owners were also in financial trouble and sold it by Act of Parliament 1807. This enabled the mansion to be purchased for the Archbishops of Canterbury, since nearby Croydon Palace had become inconvenient. It was now called ‘Addington Farm’ by the Archbishops. It was the residence for six Archbishops of Canterbury…………

Wikipedia is fast approaching the ideal of that fantasy book my friend Hamish dreamed up long ago:- The Book of All Possible Answers………..In that book you will find the true answer to all your questions……….What did Jesus look like? What were the total number of curries eaten by Mother Teresa? What was the Pagan connection to medieval Maypole dancing? On which day did the asteroid hit the earth that killed all the dinosaurs? Did Mr and Mrs Orpheus ever exist? Where is my first school cap? And the jacket that went with it?

Meditation I

melancholyWhen I was a child I used to visit a place not far from my home I called “the black woods”. “Let’s go to the black woods”, I would say. It was a sloping copse of fir trees on the edge of mainly deciduous woodland. I loved it. It was silent (no birds) and the ground was a uniform light brown, and soft – a bit crunchy to walk on because of the millions of dead pine needles.

The other day, during meditation, I placed myself there. I touched and smelled the little dribbles of resin on the bark of trees. I looked at the trunks soaring upwards many feet to the canopy of branches high above. It was mysterious and, somehow, I wanted to remain there, but also to leave. In reality, it was always like that – wishing both to remain, and to leave.

In my meditation I stood there for a few minutes and then stepped out of the wood again on to a grassy slope bordering it, where I used to sit as a child. (The grass was so short it was more like moss – the rabbits kept it like that I suppose). Still in the meditation, I remembered that once it happened that a child was walking by and said something about “that man” to her family (I was then a student). It was the first time I had heard myself called a man and I didn’t like it at all. I had never thought of myself as anything other than a boy and evidently I did not want to be a man.

My thoughts moved on to what happened more recently. I got a lot of replies to a dating advertisement I placed from “men who like older men”. And what I did not like about that was the character I had been given…….that I was no longer a person, but just an eroticized character. I don’t want to be a character, but I am one. I reflected that I do the same myself to others. We all do it……We are all busy with these depersonalizations. “I like black men, I like tall men, I like blonds, I like Asians…I like…..etc etc….”

And I thought “when it comes to the music I write, it is also depersonalized….it is judged for what it is, not what it sees itself as… may call itself one thing and yet be judged another”.

These were the thoughts and feelings that occurred during this meditation. I know that I shall go in spirit to that woodland area again. It is certainly a happier place to be than this one, though the point is, can I escape from here to there? Because here is somewhere I do not like. I do not like it at all. It is horrible.

Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer…………..

San Giorgio dei Greci, Venezia

San Giorgio dei Greci, Venezia

In the year 2000, in Venice, sitting in San Giorgio dei Greci, for the Sunday morning mass, I felt so wretched that I thought “this has gone far enough”. Returning to Amsterdam, I located a therapist and started going to him, sticking with it for about two and a half years. At the end of that period however, I was no more the wiser as to why I had lost my peace of mind than I had been, sitting in the Greek Orthodox church in Venice. I mean I was utterly oppressed for no obvious reason, and in the city I love most…..

I don’t propose to make an attack on psychotherapy here. I’m not competent to do that. But I can speak about my experience at least.

The therapist wore very ugly shoes. Indeed they were the cheapest looking shoes I had ever seen. Different pairs, he had, all of them ugly. Always unpolished, sometimes with shoelaces untied and sometimes actually dusty. Sitting there in the corner, like a rather boyish Buddha, he cut an unimpressive figure. Well, I wasn’t going to condemn him for that, of course.

I have heard of people who have floods of tears during therapy. I find that odd. My sessions couldn’t have been less upsetting. It was always the same. I would sit there chatting away quite openly, telling some story in great detail and this guy would say “well time’s up”. What WAS impressive, was that he could remember and refer to all these stories. I assumed he had some method to facilitate memory.

I did once or twice feel some emotion during these sessions. But it was anger, not grief. Once arriving at his house I met him coming home – he was late. He got completely flustered and couldn’t even greet me properly. He handled it like an embarrassed schoolboy. Settling down a few minutes later in my accustomed chair, I tackled him quite angrily on the subject.
There were some other ludicrous moments. In the beginning he asked me to tell him about the dreams I was having. I did that happily because I like my dreams and they fascinate me. After several weeks of doing this he suddenly snapped “why are you trying to impress me?”

Then after two and half years of talk (95% me talking 5% him talking) he said that the health insurance money was coming to an end and that if I continued with him, I would have to pay more. I said I would think about it and I discussed it with my (new) partner, who said that I didn’t have the ability to make a judgement about a therapist as I had no idea what he might be trying to do. It might seem like nothing, but maybe it was actually something. Nevertheless he felt that two and half years should be enough time for this guy to have made an impact. So I went back to the therapist and told him what my partner advised. At that point he blew up and said “this is insulting”. He added that we could have found a way round the money problem and that he had not at all finished with me. I found this tantrum absurd coming from a man who was supposed to be my therapist. Why didn’t he say these things in the first place instead of simply telling me that the fee was going to go up?

Looking back on this after five years I am quite clear as to what I was trying to achieve with Mr X. I wanted to know why I had lost my peace of mind and how I might restore it. I got no answers to either of these questions. Not from him and not from myself. Indeed I still have the same questions.

By the way, the partner I found towards the end of this course of therapy was himself a kind of therapist and that is why I sought his advice on the subject. I was quite astonished when Mr X claimed some credit for my having found a partner……as if I were incapable of reaching out to someone, back in 2000. It was yet another ludicrous moment. Oh dear.

On the plus side, I found the man both kind and sensitive. And he seemed to respect me. He also appeared highly intelligent and it was nice to be with him. Very occasionally he would make a joke. Once, when I had been droning on about my family for the umpteenth time, I asked “do other people talk about their families?” And he replied “that’s all I ever hear about”.

I do believe what my then partner said to me……that in such a case, you cannot know what is being done and therefore mustn’t leap to judgement. And there were some insights. Once, when I had been lamenting the importance of money in the breakdown of relations with my family, Mr X came up with an unusually emphatic statement: “Geoffrey, money is love”. These moments were nice, and stay with me.

Open now the crystal fountain
Whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through:
Strong deliverer, strong deliverer;
Be thou still my strength and shield;
Be thou still my strength and shield…………………………


Geoffrey King in Amsterdam

Geoffrey King in Amsterdam

Hamish made a photo of me today with his new digital camera, sitting next to the window in my living room. What a big bright nose I have! A digital camera can be so truthful sometimes, and here you see the rugged masculinity of my strong and forceful character streaming out…… (he-he)

We went out to dinner in a Wok Restaurant where you can choose your own raw ingredients and have them stir-fried in front of you.

After that we walked in Erasmus Park.

But our main business of the day was to discuss in minute detail my affairs of the heart. Hamish thinks I am very naive and unable to handle the various risky alternatives open to me.

Ho-hum. It seems that no matter how old a man gets, he never gives up hope of finding that “great folly” called love. In my case, rolling around on broken bottles and sharp cobblestones through all these years has not deterred me from searching for The One. It would be banal and untrue to regard this as just “being horny”. I know that some women think men have their brains situated in their dicks…….but, my dick seems to be situated somewhere in Africa, so try that for a problem…………

This is the “Call of the Wild” (my father’s favourite book) and in the wild you can, of course, easily die. Somehow, just shopping for curtains and light fittings in IKEA doesn’t compare. And never will, I guess.

Conversations with Ananda Sukarlan “Nice Kitty you have”

Kanye West

Kanye West

This conversation needs a few footnotes. This evening, Hamish, my best friend from Scotland, arrives. That means a change of regime here. I am not allowed in the kitchen or even to choose what is cooked. Anyway, Hamish does all the work, so that suits me. But he can become a bit of a Hitler, if I don’t watch out.

Ananda Sukarlan is my great mate from students days in Den Haag. But he now lives in Spain with his wife and child and organizes his career from there (concert pianist). At the same time he is increasingly creative – writing music and organizing events. But he starts out from the point of view that the postwar classical music avant-garde is a pile of stinking shite. So that makes for a sometimes difficult relationship between the two of us. He enjoys stinging me on this subject and when he sees a nice red bump coming up, he swoops in to sting me a second and a third time.

Why do I tolerate it? Well one reason is that A. is very interested in my music. Another reason is that my views actually overlap his. The idea that “it is not done” to like certain music or “not done” to watch (for example) a memorial concert to Diana, is something that irritates me, to put it mildly. So if I am not exactly an Andrew Lloyd Webber fan, I heartily approve of the idea of liking any music that you like, just because you like it. The question “how can you like that?” – well it’s more of an admonition of course – is just about the worst question you can ask me. The concept of “good taste” cannot drop off the face of this planet fast enough, as far as I’m concerned.

I had sent A. a photocopy of “For Kitty”, a little piano piece that someone commissioned a few years back as a Christmas present for his wife. I am at pains to point out that the style of this music strikes me as uniquely “me”. He makes a pun on the title of one of my works You, Always You. We both refer also to The Beautiful Question and The Persistence of Gravity, two piano pieces I wrote for him when he was a student. Finally, as background to this conversation, lies the fact that I have been for some months sorting through my compositions. I have been finding pieces I had forgotten about and, in some cases, pieces I don’t even recognize……

A.S. nice kitty you have
G.K. Is it really good?
any criticisms?
hmm … too short
but very nice
I think that style is unique to me. Or am I wrong?
yes, it’s very “YOU” . You, Always You
It’s the same mood as “Beautiful Question”
well, in fact i think u should make them into 1 group. 3 pieces. with the persistence of grav
Well wait, there are other piano pieces that you’ve not seen yet
My flowering genius…..
I am more fertile than most [lipstick emot.]
so, your genius hasn’t been exposed completely ???
[blush emot.]

hidden genius … or undiscovered genius ?
Well I’m actually serious here
me too !!
What amuses me about For Kitty
is that although you’ve got all the usual chords
and stuff from Romanticism
it’s unique to me
well that’s how it strikes me
but I might be 1000% wrong here
oh yea, but u know debussy said “the c major scale in beethoven’s works sounds different” . i mean, we all work with materials used by thousands of composers
it’s not the material we use. it’s what we do with it, right ?
Yep, well I’m just lucky if it’s true, what I say, because I’m not TRYING to be different
Am just writing a bit of “beautiful question” that comes naturally
Anyway, glad you got it
It will be interesting to see how many piano pieces there are
u don’t have to try to be different
just write good music
You mean me personally or WE
You mean the “difference” is already there?
In everyone?
i think so
all that avantgarde rubbish is there because people TRY to be different … and then they all became the same … absolutely equal ….
no, i couldn’t ! what was it ? how was it ?
It was fab
on Sunday
there was an Andrew Lloyd Webber selection
yeah, i was travelling … and stuck in the bloody studio
oh ! i missed it
[crying emot.]
….and I saw Diana’s sister crying after it was over…
apparently D liked ALW
so there was classical music !
thats good . i thought it was pop music
There was also a bit from Swan Lake which made me tearful
And Elton John is a total master
I have to take my hat off to him
[smiley with tongue hanging out emot.]
yes, Elton is great
No, it was everything: Pop, Rap, Oldie Rock Bands, Musicals, Ballet
Elton is a master
what a man!
And I’m so proud of him ’cause he’s gay
Well but at least there is classical music. it’s not “dead” like many people say
Classical music lives on in this strange way, through films, musicals etc.
And in the subsidized sense too
yea, so in a big concert like the D. memorial there is Swan Lake, ALW … am very happy to hear it
Yeah and the SwanL. went down a treat, there was a roar of approval
People like what is good
They don’t get stuck in genre problems
WOW !! u really, really made me happy
Kanye West…………mmmm……..I want to lick him all over
[big smiley emot.]
[smiley with tongue hanging out emot.]
Anyway I have to house clean now because Hamish is arriving
ok. bye

Conversations with Ananda Sukarlan

"Bernstein with Composer, Aaron Copland at Bernardsville, ca. 1920-1989, Library of Congress., Mentor and Friend, New Jersey." August 1945. The Leonard Bernstein Collection

“Bernstein with Composer, Aaron Copland at Bernardsville, ca. 1920-1989, Library of Congress., Mentor and Friend, New Jersey.” August 1945. The Leonard Bernstein Collection

Ananda Sukarlan had sent me a clip of Bernstein rehearsing Le Sacre du Printemps……….

(Geoffrey King) Very interesting to compare with the Boulez approach isn’t it.
(Ananda Sukarlan) I don’t know the Boulez approach.

What he says about the Russian choir and the Duke Ellington thing……
Am watching him conduct the Candide overture. FANTASTIC.
…..and the twin nature of that bit of the Danse Sacrale, are spot on.
And you need that, to show musicians what the composer is talking about.
They have to know what the notes mean.
Well, LB was the greatest.
Simply the best….
You’ll never be like B.
……better than all the rest…..
He was so vulgar.
No, no one could.
And that’s necessary in his job.
Yeah, I like his T- shirt.
He is like a slut.
Do you know what I mean?
Yeah, no pretentions at all. Just as he was.
That’s good, because sometimes music is like a slut too.
Well, I’ll include this conversation in my blog.
I’m doing my blog.
Let me know.
What is that, Candide?
Yeah, make our garden grow.
You still there?
It’s done.
Chatting with Chen in Paris……
Ok, I’ll check.
Give Chen my [kiss emoticon].
He gives back a kiss.
Nice pic eh?
Yes, very nice.
He was CUTE when he was young.
Well he was always handsome and charismatic.
[?? emoticon]
The “make our garden grow” doesn’t connect. You missed a sentence.
Let me look….
Well, “make our garden grow” is a reference to me putting your views on the blog, isn’t it?
So it makes sense as I edited it.
No, check our conversation again.
I just did.
But, just leave it as it is.
If you read it, you’ll see I edited it well.
I meant, I was watching “Make my garden grow”. But leave it as it is . It’s cute.
Oh, sorry, is that a bit of Candide?
Is it an aria?
Yes, I gave you another link.
But what is “Make my garden grow”?
Ok, I’ll have a look.
Anyway, am gonna go to bed.
Ok bye.
Enjoy LB.
Am listening……….so vulgar.
Yeah, so great.
Glitter and be gay.
G’night….ah, don’t tell me you don’t know what it is.
Glitter and be gay
I don’t know what it is.
Oh well ….. just search in YouTube.
Honestly……..and you call yourself a composer……
You could include it in your blog…..this next conversation…….
[laughter emoticon]
I’m adding our WHOLE conversation in my blog.
Well, if u wanna embarrass yourself, go ahead. I mean……u r the only composer in the world who doesn’t know glitter and be gay !!!!
Oh shit.
He-he…..well, I think you should start to study music.
Anyway that Bernstein is over now.
Good night then.
We won’t ever see Boulez conducting THAT.
Well I even forgot Boulez existed!
Oh, you need more music lessons from me.
You are the only composer in the world still talking about Boulez! Only concert managers talk about him!
Go to bed.
Sleep tight.

The cliff face

Lusk Creek (cliffs)

Lusk Creek (cliffs)

Using this metaphor yesterday, regarding artistic issues that are difficult to tackle, was no random choice. It makes reference to something I did when I was very young.

One summer when I was, I guess, eleven years old, I went to Matlock in Derbyshire. There was a course organized by the Royal School of Church Music. It was an intensive one, lasting two weeks, with all sorts of practices and concerts. I had quickly to learn and sing an aria – “Art thou troubled” by Handel. Anyway, we were given one day off and had to fend for ourselves. I went for a long walk on my own – somewhere behind the college where we were staying. I climbed and climbed for a long time and saw no one. It was rocky and eventually became, more or less, a cliff face. Quite daunting. I returned to our base in the early evening and joined the others . Then I realised I had done something odd. Everyone else had hung together or gone out with their parents. I had chosen to be alone, and also to put myself into danger.
Nowadays I guess one wouldn’t allow a boy to roam like that (with all the nutty men there are around…………)

In truth, I wasn’t in much danger, but the point is, I was isolated and eventually became uncomfortable. So the other day, when I was meditating on the issue of artistic goals, the image came to me of that cliff face, plus a warning not to be so presumpteous. I think we (certainly I) have a tendency to presume that very difficult artistic problems can be solved. There’s an arrogance there. I see it in myself. And if you go with that, then there is a foolishness lying in wait for you.

I was puzzled by what I had done on that day alone. But it was a momentary puzzlement. I don’t believe childhood is a great time for philosophy. Feelings yes, but philosophy, not so much.
I must add something to this. It is in answer to an anticipated question – an adult puzzlement. Why am I so often enquiring into myself? Isn’t it narcissistic? Well, it possibly seems so, but the truth is that I am trying to create music and that entails a very big enquiry. It’s not just a matter of finding out how the bass clarinet works, it’s a matter of finding out how I work. I am also a sort of instrument – one that I am still learning to play…………

If it weren’t for that, life would be very different. Beer and sandwiches on the beach? Well, that’s somebody else’s fantasy, not mine. A somebody who has been here all along, like a ghost, and who will, perhaps, eventually appear. Or perhaps not.

String Quartet no.2 (in progress)

Laura Burton (Alia) in Dune

Laura Burton (Alia) in Dune

I have been, mostly, very relaxed about composing this new string quartet. I’ve been doing only two hours a day, sometimes less, sometimes nothing. Usually, I am stressed out with worry about chasing deadlines, and whether the new piece will be any good, or “really new”, or “out of date”. Or this, or that. Well, there are several dozens of such possible worries (“voices”, as I call them). And the more seriously you take them, the more serious they become. In addition, when I was somehow aligned with a group of colleagues, back in the UK, I had in mind a standard to which I was aspiring. Actually, I doubt that anyone just writes for themselves. Even if there is no actual target audience, there is always “the hypothetical other”, as Stravinsky puts it.

But usually at this stage of a piece – there are now pages and pages of sketches and even finished sections in biro or pencil (nothing on computer though, as yet) – I am getting very concerned about “what is this?” “What is this piece and how do I justify it?” These moments of concern are the source for some of the “subjects” of my pieces. Round about this moment, there is a quite urgent search for something to focus the material on. That was the case with Magritte Weather (1990), for example.

It is a story that I once told in a progamme note……In my apartment in the Hague on the Grote Markt, it was very hot in the summer of 1990. I had hung a dark blue bedsheet at the window, because I had no curtains and I was blocking out the sunlight this way. One day I noticed that some beautiful blue light was falling on to my manuscript. There was a small tear in the sheet and that was the source of a little patch of light – only about the size of a matchbox……

Right after that, I dreamed about Magritte. His eye sockets were completely filled with the same blue light (clearly, also a reference to the “spice” aspect in the novel Dune). I think it was in this same dream that I reached out to shake Magritte’s hand, and he refused it. If so, I should have taken the hint………….for surely Magritte Weather has very little to do with the kind of oneiric surrealism he went in for. The title is extremely charming, but the real title should be something like Chamber Symphony.

Perhaps one day I will write a REAL oneiric piece………………
For the new string quartet, I did not reach out for “subject matter”. But in a quite separate enquiry (a meditation) I got a fleeting and faint (we can do a lot with fleeting and faint) image of a woman crying out, and a long strand of hair. That image was in my memory somewhere and when I searched, I could quickly locate it. It was Rapunzel in her tower, singing, with her long tresses falling down from the window. So, as my quartet was without “subject”, and this meditation was important to me, I decided to marry the two together. Well, what else does one do, but marry and produce………….? It’s normal. We can do that.

So, the working on the music, got a sort of focus. A narrative, a program. Needless to say, several days later, after having taken this turning (oh, what a crooked road this is), I woke up in a state of stress. A voice was saying “you are just doing something 175 years out of date…..what Berlioz did……and how can you justify that?”

So that’s why I say the work on this piece has been mostly relaxed. I imagined subsequently that dealing with some of these “voices” is like tackling a cliff face – something in one’s nature to explore and to climb, but something that must be tackled without any presumpteousness.

I don’t know what sort of music “I am supposed to be writing”. I didn’t make myself, nor this musical epoch I am in.

In truth, this new piece has just been sprouting energetically all on its own. Even when I lie down for a rest it goes on developing. Like the six cactus plants in my front window. They began as snippets from elsewhere, just as the quartet did (Poulenc was one source and a theory book on jazz, another) and they have been shooting out in all directions. I am in agreement with the cactii. That much I am sure of. Yes, I like them, and it can be that they also like me. Why not?

Chamber music at the Bimhuis, Amsterdam

Bimhuis and chamber music

Bimhuis and chamber music

The performance last night with Frances-Marie Uitti and Paul Griffiths in “there is still time” was a most beautiful and poignant event. The work is described in Paul Griffiths’ website as “scenes for speaking voice and cello, the spoken part using just Ophelia’s vocabulary in Hamlet”. And in the programme as “an intimate and touching portrait of love and loss, memory and hope…” Paul Griffiths himself performs the text. Here are some reviews of the piece from his website:-

I found it to be a wonderful and novel way to renew the tradition of chamber music. I don’t know if it is the case (I’ve heard it said) that composers now tend to neglect chamber music in favour of big ensembles, orchestras, opera houses. If so, listening to this duo for speaker and cello, should remind them of the power that exists in a minimal setting.

I can pay tribute to Uitti in this way – the harpsichordist Gerard van Vuuren said to her after the performance that the bow becomes part of her arm, and the cello becomes part of her. I have a feeling about that too. For me, as soon as she picks up the bow something inside says “oh, this is special”. Anyone reading these reactions should make sure to see her (she tours quite a lot) and find their own way of describing exactly what it is she is doing with this instrument. It’s a remarkable achievement. There is the two bow technique, the admirable improvisations, the possibilities of the instrument itself (last night an electronic cello and [I think for the first time] her recently acquired METAL CELLO). But in the end, it’s not about these aspects, it’s about what Gerard pointed to………

There is nowhere for the performer to hide in this setting. Indeed, it’s not about hiding, it’s about intimacy. The public is very close to the sound. In the Bimhuis last night, there was no stage, so the performance space dissolves into the auditorium and the auditorium dissolves into the bar space behind. And from the bar, it’s just a vista of water. So the venue seems to be all about openness. It’s uplifting, that’s for sure.

Afterwards people were going up to Frances’ little gaggle of instruments like curious spectators in a zoo. A dangerous moment. Those instruments can bite if approached carelessly. And one woman caught her leg on a spike. Heh-heh.

The instruments can make tiny tiny sounds. The metal cello was having its waist tickled at one point by some bow hairs. A faint breathy sound came out.

As to the musical material in general, you would expect some lamentation at certain points……..and yes, there is enough of it to satisfy an Elgar, I think. And when the two bows come out and there are four note chords, the chance to have some rich tonality is not funked. So some baroque chord progressions appear. But arrived at from an oblique angle, touched on and quickly abandoned.

All the while, the voice, through the microphone, is making sounds that can, if they want, marry together with the cello ones. Those faint breathy cello sounds I mentioned were matched by breathy sounds from the speaker. And when the voice rises to a shout, out comes a second rank cello that can be slapped about a bit and doesn’t mind. (Mmm…..I wonder what that feels like…..?)
The movements are well proportioned. There are some short ones. This is vital, because the big trap awaiting improvisers is the tendency to be prolix.

Afterwards, people sat quietly. I didn’t myself feel like moving either. Eventually I carried some of the instruments downstairs to the dressing room and then joined my friends in the bar for a few beers.

Ophelia drowning – above it’s Harold Copping – just for a change……….