Editor’s note: This essay by Tim Page was originally commissioned by Elizabeth Nonemaker for the now-shuttered 21CM.org. With Tim’s permission, we’re re-posting it here on acornometrics to help keep it available and discoverable online.
Attempting creative work after a brain injury is like setting up your desk in the middle of a rushing river, just above the falls. Any accomplishments will take place amidst ever-present commotion and the fear of washing away.
In 2015, I collapsed suddenly on the platform of a Connecticut train station, felled by a (deep breath) acute trans-hemispheric subdural hematoma with herniation and a two-centimeter midline shift. Translated, that means my brain took such a brutal beating that I “should” be dead or disabled by now. Instead, even with some obvious and permanent damage, I’ve enjoyed some of the best years of my life – pacing myself carefully, seeing people when I can, teaching once more and even writing a bit, however slowly. As Gustav Mahler put it in a famous letter, I find the habit of life sweeter than ever.
Indeed, Mahler was one of the guides who brought me back. When I was still very sick – confused and frightened, with no sure prognosis and the possibility of another seizure looming – I determined to try to rebuild my thought processes with music. And so I spent much of every day listening to complicated pieces which were already familiar but not too familiar – Bach cantatas, Beethoven’s “Diabelli Variations,” Wagner operas and long symphonies by Bruckner and Mahler.
I listened mostly with my eyes shut, often with headphones, always concentrating intently, without interruption. Elaborately intricate music that I’d never heard before was impossible for me then, and technically “simple” works that I knew by heart might bring pleasure but didn’t furrow the neural paths that I sensed from more extended challenges.
Making sense of these larger pieces was hard work, but it was increasingly a fascinated, sportive work that I could take on for longer and longer periods of time. And eventually, my brain began to bloom once more.
No surprise that music should have been my mooring, for it had always helped make sense of the world to me. I was born autistic during a time when the condition would never have been recognized in a friendly, monomaniacal little chatterbox overflowing with data. But I was oblivious to most of the deeper currents of the world. I could not understand human feelings, mine or those of other people, until they had been, in effect, “explained” to me in sound. From the age of four, I was exhilarated by the reiterations and seemingly inevitable construction processes in Grofé’s “Grand Canyon Suite” and Ravel’s “Boléro,” and I loved the “Gayne” ballet suite, enormously popular in the late 1950s, which would inspire wild dances for hours – but these were purely internal pleasures.
Tenderness toward others, on the other hand, was not in my natural language. I think it was defined for me in the Vaughan Williams “Fantasia on Greensleeves,” and I remember weeping the first time I heard it played, a melting snow-child. “So this is what it’s like!” I thought in my wonderment and tried to absorb the sweet compassion of the music into my personality.
Very few autistic people will ever be “well-rounded,” try as we might. The constant hope is that our elusive virtues will be recognized and valued, despite the obvious challenges that never stop bedeviling us. But as we grow, if we are lucky, we find a way to fit in. By the time I was 11 or 12, it was obvious that I was never going to be good at kickball or understand most of the things that were demanded of me in school. But I WAS good at going to the library and inhaling information about music, old recordings and when and how they were made. This satisfied and warmed me and pointed in a direction where a life might be made.
I’d love to spend some time talking with doctors and scientists about my autism, as I think that their take would be much more helpful than what I got from the Freudians and post-Freudians I worked with as a child. Moreover, I think I might be able tell them some things, for I know what it is like on the other side of the glass.
For example, it may seem impossible to overvalue dogs, but I think they have special meaning for autistic kids and I don’t know what I would have done without them. They were such a contrast to human beings: I loved their unguarded affection and comfortable predictability and they were always pretty much the same as they were the day before – eager, happy to see me, willing to make up silly games with me and play them out, natural companions who did nothing bizarre.
And I wonder whether massage therapy, introduced early on, might be helpful in softening sharply autistic kids. It would have to be done very carefully, though – slowly and gently and almost from infancy. I would have had a panic meltdown if somebody had suggested anything of the sort to me by the time I was three or four and already clenched like a fist, but if I’d grown up with it, my life might have been very different.
And now I am old and injured, and my brain has taken on some of the characteristics of a double reed instrument. In my younger days it worked on force and magnitude of expression, like a trumpet or saxophone. Now I am overwhelmed unless I am working with the tiniest exhalation, in the manner of an oboe or bassoon, and I take new care with every utterance.
It’s especially strange to be old in New York, city of my youth and early successes and deep late-night conversations in the pubs of upper Broadway. These days I hobble slowly to the building lobby down the same stairs I invariably took two at a time. I have trained myself out of volunteering my services immediately – to help out! to join in! to stay late! – as I am quickly reminded that I am no longer who I was. Aging is so terribly personal: I have known people who were old in their 30s and others who were mostly young into their 80s. In 2014, I was a middle-aged man in what turned out to be very poor health. Now I am in many ways happier, certainly thinner and probably stronger, and steadier in my self-understanding, at least on those days when I am rested and my memory is working properly. I am both much less afraid of death and more eager for life.
Still, old is old, and 64, to counter the exasperating cliché, is not at all the “new 40” but barely qualifies as the “new 63.” As such, I’m tired of assurances that I will soon be “better than ever.” I’m sure that such recoveries happen occasionally, but what is the matter with the much more realistic prospect of simply holding on, savoring what I can and being grateful for it all, even in a diminished state?
We discover our bodies when we are about 13 years old. My body discovered me when I was 60, at that stage in life when psychological problems give way to physical ones. Much as I love Dylan Thomas’s poem “Do not go gentle into that good night,” it now strikes me as a very young man’s idea of what growing older is like. When my own time comes, I will be delighted to go gently. But not right away, please. Another poet, Wallace Stevens, said that “music is feeling, then, not sound,” and I agree with him. And there’s still so much music left to feel – not just concerts and recordings but laughter, songbirds and the wind and distant thunder.
Tim Page is the author and editor of more than 20 books. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 1997 for his writing about music for the Washington Post. He lives wherever he is.
Editor’s Note: This profile of composer and cultural philosopher George Lewis first appeared in 2015, in a slightly different form, as the cover story in Issue #10 of the I CARE IF YOU LISTEN Magazine. We are re-posting an updated version here on acornometrics, with links to performances of George’s music and other materials. We are thrilled if this profile succeeds in bringing further much-deserved attention to George’s music. We appreciate, and concur with, Ensemble dal Niente conductor Michael Lewanski’s comment when the article first appeared: “George is one of the most unique and brilliant artists working today, and this article captures a bunch of things I love about him—the integrity of his artistry, his perpetual self-reinvention, and a certain contradictoriness that keeps him unpredictable all the time in the best possible way.”
George Lewis is a burly bear of a man with an infectious laugh that, like his music, is pure joy to hear. In a 40-plus-year career, so far, his many-faceted interests have led him to explore vast territory as a performer, improviser, composer, musicologist, writer, and cultural philosopher. His work in many realms has earned wide acclaim and awards such as a MacArthur Fellowship in 2002, an Alpert Award in the Arts in 1999, a U.S. Artists Walker Fellowship in 2011, and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. Since moving to New York in 2004 to fill the Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music chair at Columbia University, Lewis has concentrated his creative energies on composing fully-notated works for diverse ensembles that are delighting performers, critics, and audiences around the world. A long, fascinating path has led Lewis to this point in his career where he is producing a steady stream of commissioned works for prominent contemporary music organizations like International Contemporary Ensemble, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Ensemble Dal Niente, and Oberlin Conservatory Contemporary Music Ensemble. In his most ambitious work to date, Lewis and a team of collaborators have crafted the experimental opera Afterword, premiered at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Chicago in 2015. Get ready for an opera unlike any the world has experienced so far.
George Lewis’ Afterword . . . “Get ready for an opera unlike any the world has experienced so far.”
Although Lewis’ music has its genesis on the hard-knocks South Side of Chicago, he had the good fortune to attend the University of Chicago Laboratory School, where his interests in music (trombone), philosophy, and many other topics were encouraged and nurtured. In 1970 he headed for Yale University, intending to major first in political science, then in music. A chance encounter in the summer following his second year at Yale changed his course, when he began a lifelong involvement with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), where he was attracted to its combination of fearless experimentation and artistic communitarianism. Lewis decided to take a year off school to work with AACM musicians and study composition at the AACM School with Muhal Richard Abrams. When he returned to Yale he dropped the music major to focus on philosophy, and turned to the study of musical improvisation from a phenomenological perspective.
In the 1970s, Lewis was earning growing recognition as a trombonist and composer/improviser in ensembles with fellow AACM members Anthony Braxton, Wadada Leo Smith, and Douglas Ewart. He was also branching out to work with other kindred spirits, like John Zorn, Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, and Fred Frith in New York and overseas. Sparked by an interest in the nascent use of interactive computer technology in music performance, Lewis moved to Paris in the 1980s to work at IRCAM, where he did groundbreaking development work that culminated in the Voyager music software system. An academic opportunity through contacts he made in Paris lured Lewis to the University of California, San Diego in the 1990s, where he cultivated his deepening interest in the musicology of experimental music. As the new millennium arrived, Lewis says, “the opportunity at Columbia in New York felt like going home.” And that homecoming has provided the impetus for this ongoing onslaught of new compositions.
FOCUS ON NOTATED MUSIC
Growing interest in Lewis’ through-composed work was sparked by his North Star Boogaloo (1996), for percussion and fixed media, written at UCSD for Steven Schick, with a recorded spoken-word text by poet Quincy Troupe. It may be his most-performed work, Lewis says: “I get requests for the materials every year during recital season.” When he got to Columbia, he found it a conducive place for building on that platform. “I walked into a very supportive and encouraging environment with colleagues like Melissa Smey [Executive Director of the Arts Initiative and Miller Theatre] and Richard Carrick, who I knew at UCSD, and eager performers like Wet Ink Ensemble, who were mostly Columbia students at the time,” Lewis relates. He was also strongly energized by the weekly composition seminars on campus. By 2007-8, he realized that composing fully notated music is where he wanted to channel his creativity and see how far he could take that. “I realized that meant I had to develop a consistent practice,” Lewis says, ”one that enables adhering to schedules and keeping the works flowing.” That started him researching the methodologies of other composers and retooling how he approaches his work.
Percussionist Steven Schick (photo: Bill Dean)
In the process, Lewis has also reexamined his own musical aesthetic. “Works do come from places,” he says. “There’s a community of thought and culture behind every composition, and that is going to be audible in what you do.” Lewis describes his own cultural stance as cosmopolitan. As he puts it: “the past is prologue; where you’ve been is a prelude to where you’re headed.” And where he is headed is to be a conduit for the polyglot of influences he has experienced over the years—jazz, free jazz, improvisation, African American culture, visual art, western classical, avant garde, and contemporary music forms, and more—without limitations or genre pigeonholing. “The furthest thing from my mind is trying to simply translate something as complex and nebulous as the African American experience,” he says, “I’m just trying to make cool sounds.” Lewis’ insatiable appetite for uncovering new cultural threads to incorporate into his music can be heard in the “cool sounds” of his recent works, which bristle with raw energy in meticulously ordered chaos.
SURVEY OF RECENT WORKS
Lewis first connected with International Contemporary Ensemble when (then) co-Artistic Director and clarinetist Joshua Rubin inquired about playing Shadowgraph, 5 (1977), which he had discovered on the original Black Saint recording George Lewis: Shadowgraph. “I sent Josh the score and the ensemble started playing it all over the world in spectacular fashion; they play it much better than we ever did,” Lewis enthuses. That budding relationship led to a commission for a new work for sixteen players, The Will To Adorn (2011), which is named for a section of Zora Neale Hurston’s germinal 1934 Harlem Renaissance essay “Characteristics of Negro Expression.” Hurston discusses the African American cultural tradition of adornment, which she characterizes as “decorating a decoration.” As Rubin puts it, Lewis builds multiple layers “around solo lines that are literally adorned through ornamentation—inflections of the musical line that add motion, direction and complexity. An interesting anti-climax occurs mid-piece when the motion slows down enough, and the texture thins out enough to make the adornments themselves the prominent music, in a strange, bassy, burbling minimalism.”
International Contemporary Ensemble premiered The Will to Adorn, with Schick conducting, at a Miller Theater Composer Profile concert arranged by Smey in November 2011. Music critic Steve Smith, writing for the New York Times, called the work “a lavish charm bracelet of exuberant shades and explosive gestures. Absorbing in scope and expressive in detail, the piece offered compelling evidence of Mr. Lewis’s prodigious imagination and persuasive skill.” The work was subsequently given its European premiere in June 2014 at Southbank Centre by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, at the behest of resident composer Julian Anderson, who first met Lewis at IRCAM in the 1980s where they found a lot of interests in common. Anderson, in his program notes, describes the piece as “celebrating the colourful hats worn by African American women, and celebrating adornment and colour generally for their own sake, it is a joyous explosion of sound and energy that involves almost everyone in the ensemble all the time, yet has plenty of contrast and a wonderfully surprising narrative shape.”
2013-14 might be called Lewis’ “Ohio Period.” He was both Composer-in-Residence at Oberlin Conservatory and the featured composer at the 34th annual Bowling Green New Music Festival at the MidAmerican Center for Contemporary Music (MACCM) at Bowling Green State University, resulting in two commissions for large ensemble works. MACCM commissioned Lewis to write Assemblage (2013, for nine musicians) for Chicago-based Ensemble Dal Niente, the featured ensemble at the 2013 festival.
Lewis told Dal Niente conductor Michael Lewanski that Assemblage is a piece where “I encourage listeners to catch the bus and go along for the ride, unburdened by expectations of teleologies or global form.” Indeed, this is a manic 16-minute thrill ride for the ears. According to Lewanski, it employs constant, unexpected shifts of tempo, timbre, and texture. He calls it “a delight to listen to. There is something about it that resembles our modern life – a constant uncontextualized TV-channel-changing, as if the piece is looking at its phone and alternately checking its email, Facebook and text messages.” Fortunately, Assemblage is now available on a Ensemble Dal Niente recording from New World Records.
Lewis spent fall 2013 and spring 2014 residencies at Oberlin Conservatory conducting master classes with composition students, improvising from his laptop with students in the Technology in Music and Related Arts (TIMARA) program, and lecturing on “The Train as Metaphor in African American Music and Art.” During that time, he also composed Flux (2014, for sixteen players), for the conservatory’s Contemporary Music Ensemble (CME) and dedicated it to the memory of Wendell Logan, a longtime Conservatory faculty member and founder of its Jazz Program. Flux is inspired by JamPact JelliTite (for Jamila), a 1988 painting by Jeff Donaldson (1932-2004), and is full of “jump cuts…a recursive sense of decorating a decoration predominates,” Lewis states in his program notes. “The work features a relentlessly high-contrast sensibility; even quiet, contemplative passages never really come to rest.”
JamPact JelliTite (for Jamila), by Jeff Donaldson
According to Timothy Weiss, Director of Oberlin’s Contemporary Music Division and conductor of the CME, they do not require composers-in-residence to compose a new piece. But Weiss says that Lewis “being the remarkably prolific composer that he is, wanted us to play a new work during his time here. It was a great thrill for me and the performers to work on Flux with George and he was able to make a significant imprint on the shape and energy of the performance.”
Also in 2014, Lewis had his second piece for symphony orchestra, Memex, performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony and its Principal Guest Conductor Ilan Volkov, a longtime admirer of Lewis’ work. (His first, Virtual Concerto, was debuted a decade earlier by the American Composers Orchestra.) Symphony orchestra commissions are rare for most contemporary composers and can be a daunting challenge. For Lewis, it became a little easier when he realized “I could simplify the task by thinking of the orchestra as a giant multi-track synthesizer.”
The name Memex is drawn from a 1945 essay in The Atlantic by Vannevar Bush titled “As We May Think.” Bush imagines a technological breakthrough that prefigures the internet and the world wide web, a “memex,” a mechanical supplement to one’s own memory using inference and association to tap into vast reservoirs of stored knowledge. Lewis found in this a fruitful metaphor for his composing process, as he states in the program notes for the piece. “Engagements with musical structures that operate in the manner of the memex and the Web can present a fecund combination of indeterminacy, agency, memory, and the ineffable moment of choice, all of which link composition out of real time with listening in the moment.”
Memex was premiered in February 2014 at City Halls in Glasgow, with subsequent global broadcast on BBC3’s Hear and Now program in April. The work explodes into a torrent of brilliant colors with the orchestra at full tilt, then unfurls into a maze to which there are as many solutions as there are listeners. Memex was given its second performance in November 2014 by the Radio Symphony Stuttgart, conducted by Volkov.
AFTERWORD: THE OPERA
In 2013, Lewis and his collaborators, director Sean Griffin and media/theater artist Catherine Sullivan, began developing an expansive experimental opera called Afterword. The title comes from the concluding chapter of Lewis’ definitive history of the AACM, A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music (2008). In the book’s “Afterword” chapter, Lewis stages a virtual, cross-generational, time-bending meeting of AACM members past and present to summarize the major themes of the work in high relief. This meeting of AACM luminaries, some of whom never met in real life, is drawn from more than 90 interviews Lewis conducted during his research and is the jumping-off point for the opera’s libretto.
Catherine Sullivan and Sean Griffin
Sullivan and Griffin have worked together for over 15 years, “creating historically minded, personally voiced performances in immersive theatrical environments that deploy unexpected turns of logic, deconstructed modes of behavior, and a very tangible and essential sense of ensemble that grows out of an iterative development process based in improvisation,” according to Lewis. The team combined forces to workshop the opera in a University of Chicago course titled “Improvisational Dramaturgy,” sponsored by an Andrew Mellon Fellowship for Arts Practice and Scholarship through the University’s Richard and Mary L. Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry.
While nominally an opera, Afterword is breaking with opera conventions in multiple dimensions. The performances combine “pre-structured music, text, scenes, sets, and movement in juxtaposition with analogous elements improvised in real time,” Lewis says. The singers each fill multiple roles and are called upon to perform notated and improvised music and spoken texts, all while acting and moving to create and transform the stage sets and their own stage personae. The stage settings consist of objects and images from public and personal collections and archives.
Beyond the opera, per se, Lewis was deeply involved in other aspects of The Freedom Principle exhibition. The show presented “Rio Negro, a sound and sculptural/instrument installation in collaboration with fellow AACM member Douglas Ewart,” according to Beckwith, (then) the Marilyn and Larry Fields Curator at MCA. First shown in 1992, Rio Negro combines bamboo sculptures with advanced robotics that animate them. “Lewis has done extensive work on the intersection of music and art, making what he terms ‘interart’ analyses of the AACM and visual art collectives such as Africobra.” As a result, she says he “elucidates important parallels in the structure of these groups, pioneering much-needed terms like ‘collective orientation’ and ‘multidominance’ that allow for conceptual and cultural analysis of the visual art movements that run parallel to the AACM’s history.” The Freedom Principle exhibit ran from July 11 until November 22, 2015.
EPILOGUE … PROLOGUE
Lewis’ deep immersion in his compositional practice is not deterring him from his other myriad pursuits. He continues teaching musicology classes, working one-on-one with composition students, and writing scholarly articles about many cultural topics. Another multi-year project he concluded in 2015 was publication of The Oxford Handbook of Critical Improvisation Studies, which Lewis co-edited with Cornell musicologist Benjamin Piekut. A massive undertaking in two volumes, the Handbook examines the use of improvisational structures and techniques in a broad range of human activities as diverse as music, theology, critical theory, philosophy, city planning, and organizations.
Despite his many accomplishments in a range of artistic and academic fields, what stands out most about George Lewis is his enormous generosity of spirit.
Despite his many accomplishments in a range of artistic and academic fields, what stands out most about George Lewis is his enormous generosity of spirit. Speaking for his International Contemporary Ensemble colleagues, Rubin says, “to have been able to collaborate with, talk with, and be mentored by George on so many levels has been an honor; his music and his writings have changed the direction of my musical life.” With eager collaborators like that, never fear, we are sure to be hearing a lot more of Lewis’ music. The commission requests keep flowing in, and, he says, “at this point, I’m not turning down any opportunity to make more cool music.”
This archive post from our original acornometrics blog on Tumblr was posted in December of 2104, under the title: Grace Your Holiday Table with Vegan Cassoulet. We’re bringing it back today because a reference to it popped up on Facebook, stirring up new interest in the recipe. Enjoy!
Wait, isn’t cassoulet full of duck confit and all kinds of pork and sausages? Well yes, but … what it really is, more abstractly, is a garlicky bean stew full of “chunks of things” and I couldn’t see why those chunks couldn’t be veggies. The results turned out to be totally yummy. This isn’t a precise recipe, more like a “plan of attack” because the best cassoulets are a reflection of the chef who is preparing it.
1 lb white beans (we prefer cannellini), rinsed, picked-over, and soaked overnight
1 shallot, studded with about 6 to 8 cloves
5 cloves garlic (peeled, whole, not chopped)
¼ teaspoon salt
fresh cracked white pepper
Mirepoix: diced shallots, carrots, garlic
2 Tablespoons olive oil
¼ c diced sun-dried tomatoes (“vegan bacon”)
1 Tablespoon of harissa (Tunisian chili paste)
1 Tablespoon diced preserved lemon (or the zest of one fresh lemon)
½ c white wine
Thyme (several fresh sprigs or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 quart of vegetable broth (may need more)
1 lb brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved, oven-roasted with a handful of fennel seed.
1 lb butternut squash cubes (about equal size to a brussels sprout half), oven-roasted
1 lb rutabaga cubes (about equal size to a brussels sprout half), oven-roasted
1 lb of pearl onions, blanched and pealed
Salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
½ cup chopped parsley at end
1 cup of panko or other breadcrumbs, moistened with olive oil and seasoned with a bit of salt
Salt and fresh cracked pepper
Cook the Beans
Drain the soaking liquid, rinse the beans, and put them in large heavy sauce pan with enough water to cover by an inch or two. Add the clove-studded shallot and garlic cloves and seasonings. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a slow simmer. Cover and cook until beans are just tender. This should take at least 30 minutes and possibly 45 minutes (depending on the type and age of the beans, etc.). Remove and discard the shallot. Remove the garlic cloves, mash them into a paste, and stir that paste into the beans. Set beans aside.
Assemble and Cook the Cassoulet
In a 5-quart Dutch oven (that can go from stove-top to oven) heat the olive oil on medium-high heat. Add the mirepoix and sauté, season with salt and pepper. Add the sun-dried tomato and preserved lemon, and harissa. De-glaze the pan with the white wine. Add the cooked beans, thyme, and vegetable broth and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and add the brussels sprouts, squash cubes, rutabaga cubes, and pearl onions. Add more stock (or water) if needed. Consistency should be like stew, flowing, but thicker than soup. Simmer for about 20 minutes to meld flavors. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Turn off heat and add chopped parsley. CAN BE MADE AHEAD TO THIS POINT AND EVEN REFRIGERATED AND FINISHED A DAY OR TWO LATER
Finish the Cassoulet in the Oven
If you have prepared ahead of time, bring the stew back to room temperature. If it has thickened too much, add more stock (or water) to bring back to stew consistency.
Pre-heat the oven to 375 F. Bring the stew back to serving temperature on the stove-top. Check and adjust for salt and pepper.
Spread the prepared bread crumbs in a generous layer over top of rewarmed stew and bake until the crumbs are nicely browned and stew is bubbly.
Serve with crusty bread or brown rice and sautéed greens or salad on the side.
Wine pairing: a fruity dry red wine from Southern France, Italy, or Spain
At 5:45 PM on Saturday, August 7, 2021, the other-worldly sounds of composer Olly Wilson’s germinal electronic composition Cetus rang out from the Clark Bandstand in Tappan Square, Oberlin, Ohio, beginning the first-ever CETUS SoundArts Fest. We named this festival in homage to Wilson, who, in 1968, won the first ever prize for an electronic music composition for Cetus. From 1965 to 1970, Wilson was a professor at Oberlin Conservatory, where he taught the first courses in electronic music, the genesis of what today is Oberlin’s Technology in Music and Related Arts program, or TIMARA. Playing Cetus set the tone for what we hoped would be two or three hours of adventurous electronics-centric music, created in the moment, right before our ears.
Unfortunately, CETUS SoundArts Fest got washed out by a torrential storm, before we got even halfway through our lineup. Due to a COVID resurgence, thanks to the virulent Delta variant, we intentionally lacked an alternate indoor location. We also had no rain date, because our visiting headliners, composers and performers Lainie Fefferman and Jascha Narveson, were only available for that day. So we pressed on, despite slightly iffy weather prospects. But the deluge that came shortly before 6:00 PM was not predicted by any forecast we saw.
Good fortune seemed to be smiling on us as we got the program rolling right on time. Our friends from NOYO Lab Group (a project of the Northern Ohio Youth Orchestra) kicked things off with a bass -trombone-led group improvisation. Each of Ephrem King’s trombone phrases set off a whirl of echoes and counterpoints in Jessica Narum’s synthesizer, Colin Holter’s electric guitar, and Eli Leder’s electric bass.
Next up, still under benign-looking skies, was False Ocean, an avant-garde band from Cleveland, featuring Kai Becker on bass and electronics, Raven Clark on vocals, Josh Hall on vocals and electronics, Michael De La Cruz on electronics and synthesizer, David Lee on guitar, and Max Reynolds on drums. False Ocean provided this impressionistic introduction to the band.
False Ocean is inspired by the city upon whose shores they sound,
where young people adapt to a weathered ruling past
that too often forgets there is a future, theirs.
Echoing the discord of life in post-industrial Cleveland
via electronic experimentation, high-voltage improvisation,
and musical fusion
(though plans for nuclear are rumored on the table),
its noises are belligerently amorphous,
sound waves flowing from one moment to the next
to fill space like hard water and the city on it.
False Ocean is fed by the sounds and attitude
of this industrial landscape, harmonizing to the hum of hurting machines
that carries through the air,
same as the smoke that sticks to our spit and clouds our stories
‘til we have to scream them to strip it out of our lungs.
The atmosphere around this False Ocean is chaotic,
exhausting, and desperate,
and at the same time this is our catharsis.
We punch up with the jaded stubbornness of midwestern youth,
hear ourselves where it is already loud,
and buzz with the static of Rust Belt possibility.
It feels dangerous to be around this False Ocean,
but smelting yourself in sound,
down til we’re something stronger, is survival.
And surviving this together?
You feel strong as steel.
You feel like family.
False Ocean dedicated their performance to those we have lost during the pandemic, as a wake in this time of no funerals, to remember those now gone, and to share our collective grief. False Ocean poured all they had into a cathartic set full of equal measures of pandemic-induced rage and sorrow.
We did a quick stage turn, and just as Arlene completed her introduction of the third act, Drew Smith, light rain began to fall began to fall. Before Drew could even begin, the water was coming down in sheets. Propelled by a 40-mile-per-hour wind, it was blowing rain straight through the bandstand. Everyone scurried to cover equipment, especially the electronic gear. But the storm bested us. Too much equipment got so wet, no one wanted to turn anything back on until it had a chance to dry out. Reluctantly, we called a halt, and CETUS SoundArts Fest came to a premature end.
The biggest disappointment for the performers and listeners was losing the chance to play, or hear, more music. Here’s the stellar lineup of sound artists we never got to hear.
Drew Smith, an improviser, composer, technologist, and artist, who plays guitar, synthesizer and electronics, both as a solo artist and with groups like the Oberlin Synthesizer Ensemble, Chroma Burst, D.O.G., and The Henry Nelson Ensemble.
A trio of Michael Gapsari, a composer, synth player, electronic music artist, programmer, and songwriter/poet; Tempest Baum, a singer, multi-instrumentalist, composer, producer, actor, and director from the San Francisco Bay Area, currently studying in the TIMARA program at Oberlin Conservatory; and Hamish Robb, a guitarist, sound designer, and composer of experimental music, currently based in Ohio and majoring in computer science and musical studies at Oberlin College and Conservatory.
Claudia Hinsdale, a songwriter, composer, and performer who makes sounds to live inside of.
Narvefeffer, a duo composed of Lainie Fefferman, who makes music by putting dots on lines, drawing curves in software, writing code in boxes, and finding new ways to wiggle her vocal chords; and Jascha Narveson, who was raised in a concert hall, was put to sleep as a child with a vinyl copy of the Bell Labs mainframe singing “Bicycle Built for Two,” and now makes music for people, machines, and interesting combinations of people and machines.
Despite all the disappointments of CETUS SoundArts Fest getting washed away, everyone involved expressed a deep sense of satisfaction and gratitude, just for the opportunity to be together and making/hearing live music. We sparked so much joy among the performers, the listeners, and even people far and wide who could not be there physically, yet somehow were there vicariously. It made every bit of time, toil, and treasure we invested in this project worthwhile. We hope that somewhere in this vast universe, Olly Wilson was smiling that his life’s work was ringing out on Tappan Square, along with music by others inspired by him and in homage to him, in 2021.
We convey our bounteous thanks to everyone who came out to hear some adventurous music, only to get soaked; to all of our sound artists; and to Oberlin Concert Sound and Wayne Wood at Oberlin College, for all their help in making CETUS SoundArts Fest happen.
[Editor’s note: this is an archive post from the original Acornometrics blog on Tumblr. We posted it soon after we had uprooted ourselves from our beloved homestead Acorn Ridge Gardens in LaCrosse, Indiana, and moved to Oberlin, Ohio. We’re re-posting it now because we just made our first gazpacho of 2021.]
August 12, 2013
We’re having a bit of separation anxiety from leaving our garden behind at Acorn Ridge and moving to Kendal at Oberlin. But frankly, we’re not missing all the back-breaking work. Fortunately, there is an excellent farmers market in Oberlin and lots of farm stands nearby. So we have had plenty of tasty, fresh, often organic produce available all summer long.
Tomatoes are fully in season now, and we have been getting particularly tasty golden cherry tomatoes at the Saturday market (our favorite is one called ‘Sun Gold’). The plethora of tomatoes means it’s gazpacho time! And these golden cherries make for a really tasty outcome. Here is our favorite recipe.
CLASSIC ANDALUSIAN GAZPACHO
(Adapted from Restaurant El Faro in Cádiz, Spain in Gourmet, August 2002)
The classic Andalusian gazpacho is found all over the region with, according to the authors of this recipe, surprisingly few variations; most chefs prefer to allow the pure taste of the tomatoes, Sherry vinegar, and olive oil to shine through.
Any ripe tomatoes will suffice for this recipe, but we are partial to the “Sun Gold” cherry tomato. The result is like sunshine in a bowl.
Yield: Makes 4 to 8 servings (depending on serving size)
1 teaspoon palm sugar (or other raw sugar, or omit)
4 lbs. ripe tomatoes (whole cherries, or cored and quartered if larger)
2/3 cup extra-virgin Andalusian olive oil (or similar)
Soak bread in ½ cup water 1 minute, then squeeze dry, discarding soaking water.
Mince garlic and sweat it with a little olive oil, salt, and fresh-cracked white pepper in microwave (or in a small skillet over a low flame).
Place the garlic, bread, salt, vinegar, sugar, and half of the tomatoes in a food processor with the cutting blade and process until tomatoes are very finely chopped. Gradually add half of the oil in a slow stream, blending until as smooth as possible, about 1 minute. Put this first half of the soup into a Foley food mill (or similar fine sieve tool) and force into a large bowl, pressing firmly on solids. Discard solids.
Place the other half of tomatoes in the food processor and process until they are very finely chopped. Gradually add the remaining half of the oil in a slow stream, blending until as smooth as possible, about 1 minute.
Put this second half of the soup into the mill (or sieve) and force into the large bowl, pressing firmly on solids. Discard solids. Whisk together the combined soup thoroughly and transfer to a 1/2-gallon glass jar and chill, covered, until cold, at least 3 hours or overnight.
Adjust final seasoning with salt, pepper, and vinegar before serving.
Garnish possibilities: sprinkling of Aleppo pepper, dollop of creme fraiche, strewn snipped chives, finely chopped cucumber, dollop of greek yogurt, cucumber raita, chopped hard-boiled egg …
I was wearing a borrowed jacket and hat pulled down over my ears. It was too warm for the outfit, but I was in desperate need of disguise. Sure that every passing stranger was an FBI agent or one of their dupes, I was hiding in plain site on a bench in the cavernous main hall of Chicago Union Station, waiting for my friend (and former parish priest) Bill. He was bringing me the duffels we had left at his house when we suddenly discovered the need to find alternate lodgings.
It was August 1968 and the mayhem of the Democratic National Convention was building. My friend Otto and I were there as “youth representatives” on the advance planning team for the anti-war demonstrations. We had been haranguing our older and more famous colleagues – Abby Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Dave Dellinger, et. al. (i.e. what would become the Chicago Seven) – that to capture the youth imagination, we needed to have some more radical, action-oriented demonstrations, not just marching. They gave in, likely out of frustration with us, and charged us to design such an action and bring it in for consideration. If our plan made sense, they would add it to the official program.
Otto and I were founding members of Detroit-based YPFJ, slangily pronounced “Yipfugs”. The letters stood for Youth for Peace Freedom and Justice. YPFJ was closely aligned with another Detroit-based organization, People Against Racism (or PAR). That alliance resulted in YPFJ’s innate anti-Vietnam-War stance taking on a decidedly broader anti-US-Racist-Imperialism edge. Our search for suitable Chicago targets for our action led us to the banking/finance sector, which was heavily invested in South Africa, shoring up the racist apartheid regime. Near the top of the list we found the Continental Illinois Bank, whose headquarters had a very interesting feature – a subway stop in the basement of the building. The lightbulb went off. We would hold a demonstration in the bank by convening right inside via the subway. When we brought our proposal back to the planning team they were impressed with the concept, with one caveat. We needed to go scout the location and make sure that we could hand something out to the demonstrators that showed them how to get out of the building if (when?) things got too hot for comfort.
So Otto and I headed over to the bank to case the joint. We arrived by subway, with Otto planning to check the basement while I went upstairs to determine the best paths to exits. I made a mental picture of everything to my satisfaction, figuring I could draw it on paper later. I turned a corner to head back downstairs to exit via subway, only to find Otto being frog-marched up the stairs by a security guard. “Hey stop right there,” he shouted at me. “Have you been drawing diagrams of the bank too?”
The guard marched us both down to the security office, demanded to see some identification, and asked us what did we think we were doing? It is instructive to note here that my official YPFJ title was Minister of Bullshit (a cynical variation on Minister of Information). My creative verbal invention skills kicked into gear. As Otto would put it, we sold the guard a load of old boleros. “Well, the truth is, we’re model railroad enthusiasts. We’re in Chicago visiting some family friends and we got to talking about Chicago architecture,” I said. “We realized there were such great bank buildings here, we needed to add an iconic Chicago bank to our train layout. And, well, Continental Illinois Bank seemed like the cream of the bank architecture crop.” Somehow, the old geezer decided to accept our story. “I don’t go much for your long hair and all that, but you seem like nice enough boys and I don’t think you’re trying to cause any trouble. Just give me the name, address, and phone of the people you’re staying with and I’ll let you go … if you promise not to draw diagrams inside a bank anymore.” We gave him Bill’s contact information and skedaddled out of there before he could change his mind.
Unfortunately, the guard’s supervisor must have seen things differently. When we got back to movement headquarters that afternoon, one of the staff people ran over the moment he saw me. “Larry, do you know someone named Bill Palmer? He’s been calling you in a panic every half-hour all afternoon long. He says it’s urgent that you call him back.”
I called Bill right away. “Larry, what the hell are you up to?!?! The FBI came here this afternoon saying they wanted to talk to you about a bank robbery. What the hell are you doing?” Well, I got him calmed down enough to hear a quick version of what happened. I said it was best if we did not come back to his house and he agreed to bring our stuff to me at Union Station that evening. He thought my clandestine measures were a bit much, but I guess he figured it was easier to do it than to argue about it.
Just as it was getting dark, I saw Bill approach, heading for the big clock as I had instructed him. He dropped our duffels to the floor, leaned against the wall, and stuffed his hands in his pockets. He stayed like that for a few minutes, eyeing every passer-by. He did not take out a cigarette and light it, the signal he was to use if he had any inclination that he was being followed. He was saying, “I think the coast is clear.” He picked up the duffels and walked into the men’s room across from where I sat. A moment later he walked out, without the duffels, and headed towards the departing trains. I got up and casually walked into the mens room, picked up the bags, and headed for the street exit and a deep full breath of fresh Chicago night air, thinking that I had eluded the FBI for good.
Three weeks later, back home in Detroit, our doorbell rang at dinnertime one evening. My mother answered the door, then called out “Larry, are you in some kind of trouble again? The FBI is here looking for you.”
Awhile back we got obsessed with tater-tot-topped hot dish recipes, in part because of their mildly odd upper Midwestern roots as potluck dinner fare, and in part because Oberlin is a tater tot mecca, thanks to The Feve, a local watering hole.
Out here on the internet, you can find plenty of tater tot hot dish recipes with a classic Midwestern quick-fix approach, using ground beef, frozen vegetables, and canned soup. But in developing our own recipe, we were much more intent on a made-from-scratch approach. So ours features fresh vegetables and a scratch-made bechamel sauce. The recipe is include in this post, and there is also a link to a downloadable PDF at the bottom.
HOT DISH: TATER TOT TOPPED SALMON POT PIE
Our own take on the tater tot hot dish phenomenon, with a make-from-scratch approach. It specifies left-over grilled salmon, but it can also be made with canned salmon (easiest to use the skinless and boneless types), any leftover fish or roast chicken, or even all vegetables. Any of the veggies can be substituted or omitted. In order to ensure the tater tots get crispy, we pre-bake them in the oven to 12 to 15 minutes.
2 medium carrots, roll-cut or in a medium dice 1 medium onion, diced 1 stalk of celery, finely diced 1/2 pound of mushrooms, sliced or chopped 2 to 4 cloves of garlic 1 Tablespoon of olive oil salt and pepper to taste 1/2 cup dry white wine
4 Tablespoons of butter 4 Tablespoons of flour 2 cups of milk 1 cup of broth (or sub another cup of milk) dash of hot sauce pinch of nutmeg, freshly grated salt and pepper to taste 8 to 12 ounces leftover grilled salmon (or canned salmon) 1 cup of frozen peas 1 to 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (parsley, dill, or thyme)
1 to 1-1/2 pounds of tater tots (depending on shape of baking dish and desired density of tots)
If pre-cooking the tater tots, spread them on a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast in an oven preheated to 450F for about 12 minutes until they start to crisp and brown. Set aside.
Prepare the vegetables and sauté in a skillet over medium heat until the carrots start to soften, with a bit of salt and pepper. Increase the heat and deglaze the pan with the white wine. Reduce the white wine almost completely and set the veggies aside.
In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter until frothy. Add the flour and stir to absorb the butter and cook it a bit. Lower the heat to medium-low and start adding the 2 cups of milk, about 1/3 of it at a time. Stir frequently to avoid lumps. When the sauce is bubbling and thickening with all the milk, add the broth and stir to combine and bring back to heat. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
Drop the heat to low and add in the salmon and the reserved vegetables. Stir to combine. Add the salmon, chopped herbs, and frozen peas and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning. Pour the mixture into to 9×13 in. glass baking dish or a ~3-quart ceramic casserole dish.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Arrange the tater tots in an attractive manner on top of the pot pie mixture. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the tots are nice and brown and the mixture is bubbling. Cool for about 10 to 15 minutes to let it set, then serve.
#NewsFlash from I CARE IF YOU LISTEN, the online journal of contemporary music and related arts and technology founded in 2010 by Thomas Deneuville and now led, since 2017, by editor in chief Amanda Cook.
I CARE IF YOU LISTEN, the award-winning multimedia hub for living music creators, has officially become part of the American Composers Forum. After 10 years of operation as an all-volunteer enterprise, I CARE IF YOU LISTEN (ICIYL) was acquired by American Composers Forum (ACF) this month. “Over the past year, we have developed a number of initiatives in partnership with I CARE IF YOU LISTEN,” says ACF President & CEO Vanessa Rose. “The synergy between our two entities and our shared vision for our musical landscape were clear early on. ACF is thrilled that we can complement our work as part of one family, and equitably support the excellent staff and contributing team at ICIYL.”
“I CARE IF YOU LISTEN Joins American Composers Forum,” from I CARE IF YOU LISTEN, on September 17, 2020 at 7:00 am
You can read the full ACF press release here. Congratulations to Thomas and Amanda for ten years of tireless effort to make ICIYL a contemporary culture juggernaut and to ACF for its vision for the future. We cannot imagine a better outcome for the future of ICIYL, which we think will be an extraordinary asset for ACF. We also extend bounteous thanks to the ACF Board of Directors, The Elizabeth & Michel Sorel Charitable Organization, and individual donors to ACF for their financial support to make the acquisition happen.
ICIYL has been a virtual home for us since August 30, 2012, when our first article was published. Eight years. 92 posts, almost 1 per month. 34 concert/festival reports. 58 interviews with movers and shakers in contemporary music and art. We’ve been busy!
Today, with eternal gratitude to Thomas and Amanda for providing us this platform, we are retiring from active duty as ICIYL contributing editors. To mark this moment, we are pulling our first-ever ICIYL post from the archive, to re-post here today. Enjoy! And please keep following ICIYL as it enters a new era. We care if you read.
In a modern world too often marked by conflicts of humanity versus nature, an exhilarating human communing with nature unfolded in the pouring rain on the fields of that most modern of landscapes, Chicago Millennium Park, on Sunday afternoon, August 26, 2012. Over 100 musicians, led by eighth blackbird and production designer Doug Perkins, performed John Luther Adams’ epic Inuksuit as they mingled with an audience of several hundred stalwart music fans.
Adams, who lives and works primarily in Alaska, conceived of Inuksuit as much as an environmental experience as a music performance. The title is an Inuit word that means “to act in the capacity of the human” and refers to stacked stone sentinels built over the centuries by the peoples of the Arctic. Inuksuit of varied styles and sizes are found marking important sites — migration routes, fishing grounds, memorials — throughout the aboriginal areas of Alaska and Canada. Adams uses this singularly Arctic symbol as a means to require the performers and the audience to confront fundamental questions about who we are, where and how we live, what it means to act in the capacity of a human in an environment in crisis.
Millennium Park, Chicago’s new jewel by the lake, promised to be an opportune setting for staging Inuksuit. Its starkly modern landscape featuring the architecture of Frank Gehry and Renzo Piano incites questions of human relationships to the environment. Perkins and members of eighth blackbird made a thorough examination of the unique topology and features of the park to determine how best to use it a stage for presenting Inuksuit. They designed an elaborate site plan (see graphic) to deploy musicians and instruments radiating out from the music pavilion and lawn area into the Lurie Gardens and on Piano’s bridge to the Art Institute.
Despite his extensive advance planning, a persistent storm system put Perkins’ plans in jeopardy. When we arrived at rainy Millennium Park, the Great Lawn of Gehry’s Pritzker Pavilion was nearly empty save for scattered sets of drums, cymbal trees, and glockenspiels like so many inuksuit harbingers of the experience to come. The stacks of instruments were covered with plastic, tarps and other protective devices in hopes the steady rain would subside. But as performance time approached the forecast never wavered from 100% chance of rain. A crowd began to assemble and word spread that plans to deploy instruments and musicians broadly throughout the park were scrapped. But the musicians were adamant they would perform unless there was lightning.
Would the rain prove to be more than these indomitable musicians bargained for? It would not! At the appointed hour of 5:30, 101 musicians began to slowly and quietly convene in an amorphous formation in the center of the Great Lawn as the crowd gathered around them. The music began with sounds evoking the Arctic winds, some players blowing through large paper cones, others using conch shells. The rain suddenly held off.
As the performers began to wade through the crowd and spread out, wind noises gave way to clarion calls on the conch shells, eerie whirring noises from swirling flexible plastic hoses, scratching sounds of wood rubbed on wood and stone rubbed on stone. Performers assigned to the percussion stacks reached their positions and poised to play. Suddenly, eighth blackbird percussionist Matthew Duvall struck a thunderous boom on an oversized bass drum, unleashing a cacophony of sound throughout the Great Lawn and Pavilion. And just as suddenly the heaviest rain of the day burst forth. In this piece about communing with nature, we were all completely engulfed by it.
Inuksuit is designed as a participatory piece, with the performers immersed in the audience so there is no one ideal place from which to experience the soundscape. We found ourselves promenading throughout the pavilion area with the same ritualistic style and pace of Doug Perkins’ organically choreographed movements for the performers. Some of us were equipped with rain gear and umbrellas. Others simply allowed the rain to soak them. The magical combination of music and rain unleashed an innocent abandon in the crowd: a little girl running in a “catch me if you can” game with her father, a man sticking out his tongue to catch the rainwater, some in mediative poses with their eyes closed, others holding umbrellas over musicians. No one, it seemed, had any inclination to leave.
The music continued to move in waves from one group of musicians to another, mesmerizing the crowd in its thrall. The dominant notes came from the stationary sets of drums, cymbals, gongs and hand-cranked sirens. Wandering performers added accents by striking triangles, metal bars, and metal tubes. From the stage of the pavilion, safe from the potential water damage, piccolo trills rang out. The waves and crescendos of sound mutated continuously as one wandered about. The rain added its own percussive notes, dancing off taught umbrellas and splashing in growing puddles. The light took on a special glow, reminiscent of the Arctic midnight sun.
Slowly the sounds softened to the level of bird calls, carried primarily by the glockenspiels, triangles, and piccolos. Many performers began a ritualistic promenade back to the center of the Great Lawn, attracting the crowd with them. Gently the music died out, eventually replaced by sustained applause, hoops, and hollers from an intensely joyous audience. The musicians were mostly soaked through to the skin, some visibly shivering; all were clearly exhilarated by their triumphant performance of Inuksuit.
Congratulations and our profound thanks go out to the full roster of performers:
Director – Doug Perkins
eight blackbird – Lisa Kaplan, Tim Munro, Yvonne Lam, NIck Photinos, Matthew Duvall, Michael Maccaferri, Ryan Ingebritsen
Calumet Chamber Musicians – John Wachala
Chicago Civic Orchestrea – Eliza Bangert
Coalescence Percussion Duo – Judy Moonert, Greg Secor
DePaul University – Robert Fletcher
Eastern Illinois University – Jamie Ryan
Ensemble Dal Niente – Shanna Gutierrez, Ammie Brod
Fifth House Ensemble – Matt Monroe, Herine Koschak, Ross Weijer
Fulcrum Point – Kate Flum
Grand Valley State University – Bill Ryan, Dan Rhode, Adam Cuthbert, Josh Dreyer, Sam Gould
Illinois Percussive Arts Society – Jeff Strong, Jeff Brenner
Indiana University – Greg Mesa
Moraine Valley Community College – Andrew Novak, Julio Jimenez, Ben Lisak, Maura Vizza
Naperville High School – Ben Walhund
New Millennium Orchestra -Emma Hospelhorn
New Music Chicago – Jeff Shaw, Andrew Tham, Jennie Brown
Northern Illinois University -Greg Beyer, Brian Wach, Alexis Lamb, Mike Mixtack, Nick Fox, Dan Eastwood, Greg Essig, Zane Cupec, Austin Shoupe, Jonny Gifford, Chris Mrofzca, Daniel Henson, Angela Kepley, Jaime Esposito, Tim Mcallister
Palomar -Alicia Poot
Roosevelt University – Nathan Bushey
Third Coast Percussion – Rob Dillon, Peter Martin, Dave Skidmore, Clay Condon
University of Chicago – Shawn Allison
University of Illinois, Urbana/Champaign – Gavin Ryan, Dan McLaughlin, Peter Breithaupt, William Mullen, Tom Siwe
University of Michigan – Josh Graham, Dylan Greene, Jon Brown, Chris Sies
University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point – Tom Bjoraker, Kel Kelley, Rebecca Kolonick, Sean Conners, Matt Clark, Jeff Crowell, Bri Trainor, Andrew Cameron, Andy Neidner, Carissa Tikalsky, Alex Meronek
Other: Yael Litwin, Chris Jasinsky, Ben Runkell, Daniel Reifsteck, Chris Dandeles, Paul Beckman, Emilie Mitchell, Doug Bratt, Christina Foster, Chris Jones, Alan Fey, Megan Arns, Amy Garapic, Ben Fraley, Aaron Butler, John Corkill, Jake Coon, Brett Baxter, Trevor Saint, Simon Munro, Alex Hough, Gabe Gaster
Under the title of “Slicing and Dicing,” we delved in to Boolean logic, the conceptual framework underlying digital processing of signals with discrete voltages, i.e., the entirety of our computerized modern world. George Boole (1815–1864), a mostly self-taught English mathematician, pioneered the idea of applying the mechanisms of algebra to the study of logic, thereby revolutionizing the field. His application of formal methods to studying phenomena that exist in only one of two states − true or false, on or off, etc. − eventually found powerful application in the development of computing and other forms of electronic processing.
Now, flash forward about two centuries. On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union propelled Sputnik-1 into an elliptical low-earth orbit, shocking the world. Most unnerved was the USSR’s global arch-rival, the United States, where government scientists were caught off guard that the Soviets had sufficiently advanced their space rocket technology (which we had both harvested from Germany as part of the settlement of WWII) to be able to put a satellite into orbit. The launch set off the Space Race, a new battlefield in the Cold War. And it also precipitated the Sputnik Crisis in American education, a flurry of activity aimed at closing the substantial math and science gap between students in the USA and those in the USSR. Simply put, they were developing rocket scientists and we were not.
In the fall of 1958, my 4th grade class at the Shrine elementary school was suddenly no longer studying arithmetic, we were studying New Math. Instead of a commercially printed arithmetic textbook, we had a succession of mimeographed and stapled pamphlets on topics like the number line; Boolean logic and it’s derivative, the binary number system; and number system bases, like binary (0 through 1), decimal (0 through 9), and hexadecimal (0 through 9, A, B, C, D, E, F). This was purported, correctly I think, to be a better way to prepare us conceptually to understand and excel at the more advanced forms of mathematics and computer technology needed to engineer space exploration.
For me, and probably some others in my class, New Math was more like a fun game than the drudgery of arithmetic (how could it take us eight years of that to get ready for algebra, in high school?). Of course there were some who were confused, though perhaps no less confused than they were with arithmetic.
Many parents in our extremely conservative suburban Detroit enclave were incensed by this sudden change in the curriculum. “If arithmetic was good enough for teaching us, then by god it’s good enough for teaching Jimmy and Sally!” And some no doubt thought the New Math was a communist plot, because many in our parish saw a communist plot lurking behind every lamppost. So the New Math experiment in our school didn’t last very long, and soon we were back to learning good old arithmetic. It’s impact in the broader society was more substantial in the first couple of decades after it was launched. However, New Math eventually was a victim of the 80s and 90s return to the basic ABCs. Interestingly, some of the concepts are finding their way back into the math curriculum for elementary and secondary education in the USA, through the Common Core movement, once again vexing some students, teachers, and parents. So the history and impact of New Math on American education remains controversial.
For myself, I next encountered these ideas when I started studying computer science at Elmhurst College, outside Chicago, in 1980. A required course in advanced algebra, called Functions, began with the number line, Boolean logic, and set theory. I felt right at home.
With the focus of our Synth in Place class being on making electronic sounds, it feels appropriate to close with the signals sent from space by Sputnik-1, captured by radio enthusiasts as it spun around the globe in 1957. Maybe someone in the class will utilize or replicate these sounds in their project.
We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.
Today is our 51st wedding anniversary. Sixteen years ago, we wrote/constructed Aphrodite’s Prism: A Love Story, from three perspectives, to mark the occasion of the wedding of our niece Jodi Rudoren (nee Wilgoren) and Gary Rudoren (nee Ruderman) on December 4, 2004. Last year we decided to make a 50th anniversary edition, which we are sharing today with all of you. You can download the full booklet, using the link or the red button below. In 2013, we posted Larry’s story from Aphrodite’s Prism on our original acornometrics blog on Tumblr. We’ve pulled that piece from the archive to re-post it here today.
Any love story is better understood in the context of its times. Despite how exceedingly personal love between two people must be, it can be the swirl of external events around it that provides much of its enduring fabric. Our love story—Arlene’s and mine—begins in 1968 and is inextricably entwined with social unrest, the struggle for civil rights, and the Vietnam war making the world topsy-turvy all around us.
Arlene Wilgoren – 25, Dorchester Mass, Jewish, Brandeis grad, civil rights worker, math whiz, socially adept and worldly wise.
LD Dunn – 18, Royal Oak Mich, raised to be a priest, pending college dropout, hippie, rabble rouser, troubled genius, painfully shy, often outrageously entertaining, and casual in his conviction that he was destined to flame-out before reaching his 21st birthday.
Whatever could bring these two together?
That mini-dress, those earrings, and …
April 1968. Martin Luther King gunned down by a sniper’s bullet on a motel balcony in Memphis. We were each working in fledgling political organizations—Arlene with PAR (People Against Racism) and LD with Yipfugs (Youth for Peace Freedom and Justice)—that were thrust into the limelight in the aftermath. PAR was in the midst of a hastily called organizational meeting in Detroit that week, using their newfound notoriety as impetus to form a national organization out of dispersed, loosely affiliated groups in Detroit, Boston, Philadelphia, Ann Arbor, and Washington. Yipfugs, based in the Detroit suburbs, were up to their usual disruptive tricks, demonstrating and leafleting at a Eugene McCarthy for President rally at Tiger Stadium—yes, we were against poor Gene McCarthy who was way too establishment for our taste. We wanted nothing short of revolution, baby!
Following the rally, we were invited to a PAR party at the home of Les and Bonnie Biederman. Les and Bonnie were the first Jewish folks I knew as friends, having come form a very insular Catholic community. A group of us Yipfugs arrived at the party well into the evening, exhilarated from our evening of haranguing naïve young people to jump off the McCarthy bandwagon and join the radical movement for real change. Welcomed inside by Bonnie, my eyes almost immediately settled upon Arlene.
She sat in an Eames leather lounge chair. An overhanging high-intensity reading light cast a halo around her. She wore an orange and yellow mini- dress, which she had made herself, with big orange and yellow hoop earrings. She had a trim, pixie haircut and a 10,000 watt smile. All of this struck me, but what struck me even more was that she also happened to be expertly rolling joint after joint.
“Oh, let me introduce you to Arlene Wilgoren from Boston PAR,” I heard Bonnie say.
Without taking my eyes off Arlene or those joints, I said, “Well sure, please do!”
Throwing darts at LBJ
Arlene moved to Detroit to be the National Secretary of the new PAR National Organization, located in the McKerchey building on Woodward Ave. in downtown Detroit. It happened that the office was about 5 blocks from the Detroit Institute of Technology (for some reason, we dis-affectionately called it Z-I-T), where I was in the second semester of my Freshman year in college and already at my second school. I wasn’t very interested in school, at least not at ZIT. I preferred to hang out at the PAR office where David Baker, PAR’s leading political theoretician, had taken me under his wing as his protégé. I was getting the education I really wanted in political analysis, organizing techniques, propaganda, that sort of thing. David wasn’t always around, or maybe he shooed me away as a pest when my endless inquiries got to be just too much.
So I spent the rest of my time there in Arlene’s office. She had a Lyndon Johnson dart board (the first president she ever voted for, because he pledged to stop the war; within weeks of his inauguration the bastard was bombing the shit out of North Vietnam, giving Arlene a somewhat sour outlook on voting). I would throw darts at LBJ and shoot the breeze while Arlene tried to get some work done. She was awfully tolerant of my intrusions, and possibly even a bit charmed by this wacky young hippie who liked to hang out in her office. Over the weeks we talked about all kinds of personal history, and compared notes on the current state of affairs in the world and how we were going to straighten them out.
The more I learned about Arlene the more she became like an icon to me on a professional level, if you can call radical rabble rousing a profession. In those heady days of my radicalization, I had some first-rate mentors training my mind. But Arlene was different—she was schooling my soul. I learned from Arlene about passion for freedom, equality, and justice, not just intellectual justifications. Before too long we became really good friends and started hanging out a lot together, though always in group settings—which was how we usually did things in those days anyway. We were very communal. I’m sure it never occurred to me to “ask her out on a date”—that wasn’t exactly one of my top skills. And even if I had thought of it, I’m sure I would have been scared to death to ask.
On tour with the Melville’s
As the summer of ’68 approached, my mentor threw me a summer challenge. I was to conceptualize, organize, and implement a speaking tour of the state by some recognizable authorities on the war, racism, and imperialism. Something that would draw some crowds we could proselytize and organize into the movement. I set about doing my research and hit upon a move I thought ingenious. A recent event of some note was the “Catonsville 9”—all nine were current or former Catholic clergy who broke into the Catonsville, Maryland draft board office and poured lamb’s blood on all the files. They were all arrested, because their policy was “Don’t just do something … Stand there!”—meaning take demonstrative, symbolic actions against the war and stand there in the face of the authorities and take credit for what you do.
We were very taken with this approach because of its blend of political action and street theatre—or guerilla theatre—of which we were great devotees. Among the “9” were the Berrigan brothers—Daniel and Phil, both priests—and Tom and Marge Melville, former Maryknoll missionaries, priest and nun respectively, who were kicked out of Guatemala for helping the underprivileged classes organize against the corrupt right-wing dictatorship (which was heavily subsidized by the US because they were anti-communist). The Melvilles would be perfect for my speaking tour challenge. I loved the fact they were defrocked clergy (me and the Catholics had gone our separate ways by now) and they had the whole package—anti- racist, anti-war, anti-imperialist. As a bonus, Phil Berrigan was living at my Uncle’s church in Baltimore and could surely provide an entrée to the Melvilles.
We put together a five-city tour of Michigan in July and went on the road with the Melvilles. I don’t remember how we decided who should go—but Arlene ended up joining our entourage, partly because she hit it off with Tom and Marge. And likely, we needed her car. So we had about a 10-day road trip, cooped up in Arlene’s Corvair, sleeping on the floor in other hippie-radical’s houses, and introducing the Melvilles to enthusiastic crowds at one movement church after another.
That road trip greatly cemented the friendship between Arlene and me, and it wouldn’t be long before things took an interesting turn.
The unforeseen value of being a communist
When Arlene relocated to Detroit, she had moved into a basement apartment on Cass Ave., just off the campus of Wayne State University. That apartment was later dubbed the Apartfug because of all the wayward Yipfugs Arlene sheltered in their time of need.
It all began with our friend Carolyn from a good Royal Oak Catholic family of about eight or ten kids. For some reason her family couldn’t cope with her; I believe they thought she had flipped her lid. Perhaps she had, though more likely it was just the drugs. Carolyn wasn’t too thrilled with her family either, so a couple of us Yipfugs cooked up the idea to see if maybe Arlene would let Carolyn stay with her for awhile. Arlene being the generous soul she still is today said—“Of course.” Not surprisingly, one thing led to another. Soon, Carolyn’s boyfriend, Otto, had moved in and the Apartfug was on its way to becoming a mini-commune. The next refugee turned out to be me.
I was still enjoying the relative hospitality of my parent’s house. “Dunn’s Room” was the inner sanctum of the 60’s hippie-radical movement in Royal Oak. It occupied the entire upper floor of the 11⁄2 story house we grew up in. From 1967 onwards, we had transformed this space into an outrageous lair of hippie-dom–floor-to-ceiling psychedelic murals in day-glo colors, pulsing in 3-D with the black lights and strobes, and the stereo blasting one acid-rock anthem after another. And there are probably some drug stashes still hidden away in cubby holes in the attic to this day.
Somehow, we had convinced our parents we should install a doorbell at the bottom of the stairs for them to use when they wanted to talk with any of us. This was purely for their own convenience, not ours, we reassured them. (What can I say? I wasn’t called the Minister of Bullshit for nothing.)
One now-historic afternoon in the Fall of ’68, that doorbell rang persistently. Shaking off whatever fog I was in, I stumbled out of the bedroom and leaned over the second floor landing to see what was up. It was my father. “Whose leaflets are these?” he barked, pointing to a stack of papers on the bottom stairs. He was pretty good at getting worked-up into a red-faced lather in those days.
“They’re mine,” I said. In truth, I couldn’t recall for sure what they were, but they were obviously leaflets even from that distance. And as the resident propagandist, it was quite likely they were mine. “What’s the point?”
“Where did they come from?!” he barked.
“I made them—so we can get people to come to this rally we organized!” I said somewhat incredulously, still missing the point.
“The speakers at this rally are communists!” he barked back.
Me, broken record again, “What’s your point?”
His blood pressure was still on the rise, “Are you telling me you’re a communist?!”
Me, bewildered, “OK, so what if I am?”
“No communist is going to live in this house!,” he roared.
“Does that mean you’re telling me to leave?!” (whose blood pressure was up now?)
“If you’re telling me you’re a communist, then yes, I guess that is what I’m saying.”
“OK—fine. I’ll be gone by tonight!” “Fine!” he said, and slammed the door.
My expulsion was as unexpected as it was inevitable. But what to do next was not so clear. The only “job” I had was my political activity—organizing, propagandizing, learning from my political elders. And the only income I had was occasional hit or miss cash from dabbling in the traffic of mood- altering substances.
LD ensconces in the Apartfug, and that ain’t all!
I packed all my worldly possessions in a black plastic garbage bag, I didn’t really have much more than nothing. But where the hell was I gonna go? I screwed up my courage and called Arlene.
“Hey,” I said. “I got kicked out of the of the house. Can I stay there for a day or two while I figure out what to do?”
“Well … sure,” Arlene said. “I don’t see why we can’t make room for one more if it’s just for a few days. Come on down and we’ll help you figure it out.”
Who would have ever predicted those few days would turn into 36 years and counting? Of course, there wasn’t really any ready place for me to sleep. Carolyn and Otto were sleeping on some sort of couch or day-bed in the living room. Arlene had the small bedroom to herself, with a single mattress on a box-spring on the floor. She offered to pull the mattress off for herself and I could sleep on the box-spring. I wasn’t in any position to quibble, and it was surely better that sleeping on the floor.
I don’t know if either of us can fully explain what happened that night. Did a comforting hand reach for a hand in need? Or did a grateful hand reach out in thanks. No matter, that simple gesture turned into a hug, that hug into a passionate embrace that lasted well into the night. From there, it was likely not as quick or simple as it seems now – Arlene probably thought it was crazy to conclude this was anything more than friends taking care of each other; I was probably too crazy to recognize whether it was crazy or not. But a deep and enduring bond was formed that night, as friendship blossomed into love. And before long, love was precisely what we were calling it.
Such a romantic proposal
I remember it all as just so simple and nonchalant. Sometime in that Winter of ’68-’69, the local Detroit PAR organization took a determined decision that if they were going to confront racism in the white community, they had better relocate to suburbia and live among the heathens. So the Detroit PAR office moved to the corner of 9 Mile Road and Woodward Avenue in the welcoming community of Ferndale (just three miles from my youthful, very white, stomping grounds of Royal Oak).
The PAR National Office remained downtown, as did we for the time being. But we were also quite involved in the local Detroit PAR activities and I still had Yipfugs business to attend to in the suburbs as well. So we made frequent trips out Woodward Avenue for meetings and such. Sometime in late winter or early Spring (I don’t have any specific notion of the date and wonder if Arlene does) we arrived at the Ferndale office early for a meeting and were sitting in the car listening to music. I’ll never recall this moment verbatim, but it went something like this.
Arlene: “You know, I’m awfully happy to be in love with you. And it just seems to keep getting better.”
LD: “I know what you mean–I keep feeling like, ‘this is great, how could it get any better,’ but then it does. I have a hard time remembering what life was like before I loved you, and don’t know why I should even try.”
Arlene: “You know, I’ve been thinking, maybe we ought to get married.”
If it’s true that inside every cynic is an idealist striving to avoid disappointment, then inside every idealist is a real pisser of a cynic. I replied: “Wow, married! What a great idea!” while thinking, hey man, I’m going to die before I’m 21 anyway. Even if it doesn’t work out, I can stand anything for two years.
So I said yes. And the truth is, yes was just the right answer. It seemed, and seems, so right in every way.
A dashiki so short you can see her pupuk … and honey, couldn’t you at least wear shoes?
So that brings us to the wedding. A weird and wonderful hippy wedding which Jodi herself wrote about as a college Freshman at Yale and which continues to be the stuff of myth and lore—even among folks who were not there.
The wedding outfits: Arlene made matching dashikis—brightly colored and ornately patterned, modeled after African ceremonial robes. She made mine a shirt and hers a mini-dress, so short that the casual observer could catch occasional peeks at her underpants. .
The setting: We planned to be wed outdoors (out in nature, man, among the birds and the bees and the flowers), unfortunately bad weather forced us into the basement of a movement church in downtown Detroit.
The guests: Hundreds of young radicals in their finest hippy garb, along with pockets of straights— notably Arlene’s mother Goldie and stepfather Al, my parents, some relatives and neighbors. The hippies reeked of pot smoke, the straights of Chanel #5 and Old Spice. Rising above the noise and intermingling scents, our favorite local rock band jamming Come on Baby Light My Fire and Sunshine of Your Love.
The vow: an original, so perfect for its time, hand-lettered in calligraphy on a scroll made from a window shade:
The 23rd Day of Leo, 1969 Because of the way we love each other, we, Arlene and LD, have decided to live our lives together. And we declare that we will act not only as individuals, but also as a unit until that union inhibits our growth rather than stimulates it.
The ceremony: Everyone gathers in a circle, sitting on the floor. Arlene hands out wild flowers—for Peace. LD hands out peaches—for Sustenance. Goldie, whispering, pleads with Arlene: “Honey, could you at least wear shoes?” We jointly recite our vow, as a promise to all assembled, with no official witness for the state. We conclude with a massive group hug, readily given. And everyone signs our wedding scroll in witness.
The celebration: A potluck supper, featuring hot dogs, followed later in the evening (for the hippies only) by an endless night of partying and carrying on in all the special manners the 60s had to offer.
The aftermath: Over-indulged, finally in bed by 5:00 AM. Phone ringing at 7:00. It was Goldie. “Darling, are you actually married?”
“Of course we are Ma,” said Arlene, groggily.
The truth: Well, legally, no, we were not. We had decided that what really mattered to us, and, we thought should really be what matters at all, was to stand up in front of our community and announce our love and commitment to each other. So we did just that. And to hell with the state. It was none of their business, so we burned the marriage license!
This pesky legal detail we finally did take care of several months later with a few signatures on a newly registered license.
Thirty-six and counting
Thirty-six and more years later, it seems like so long ago and yet only an instant in the past. Since those early days we’ve wandered from Detroit to Boston to the great American West; back to Detroit; to Ferry, Michigan; to Washington, DC; to San Francisco; to Fayetteville, Arkansas; to Chicago; and, for the moment at least, to LaCrosse, Indiana. Not to mention stints as rabble-rouser, consultant, administrator, teacher, farmer, consultant, student, finance executive, nurse, computer scientist, consultant, executive, nursery owner, philanthropist, consultant, and retiree. And somehow, through it all we remain inseparable beyond a few days at a time.
The message in all this—cherish each other for who you are, support each other to be who you can be, never stop learning and growing. And you can never say “I love you” too often, too much, or too enthusiastically.