I read James Joyce's Ulysses this spring. It took about two months. I started it on an airplane between Chicago and Denver. I finished it at home, a couple hours before my 28th birthday. I read large swaths of it on airplanes.
Here, in three parts, is my official review of this famous novel.
Part 1 -- Lexicon
Here are two vocabulary lists scrawled, appropriately enough, on the back of airline boarding passes. I haven't looked all of these words up yet. A lot of them aren't in my computer's dictionary.
Not on these lists but recurring and critically important to Ulysses: parallax and metempsychosis.
One innocuous favorite: pelf, meaning "money, especially when obtained in a dishonest or dishonorable way."
Another great one to remember: lagan, a legal noun referring to "goods or wreckage lying on the bed of the sea."
Part 2 -- Chapters
This is the back of the receipt from the Rogers Park used bookstore where I purchased Ulysses on James Joyce's birthday, 2 February 2013.
Ulysses is in three major sections: the Telemachiad, the Odyssey, and the Nostos. Things get knotty in part two. By Chapter 14 I was convinced the journey was worth it; by part three I was in a standing condition of aesthetic ecstasy. Each chapter, as labeled above, is connected to a character or episode from Homer.
A few non-authoritative comments on notable chapters:
Funniest and wildest: Circe.
Most psychologically penetrating: Ithaca.
Most hindering: The Cyclops, for some reason.
Best mid-meal reverie of all time: The Lestrygonians.
Special mention for lyricism: Proteus.
Most linguistically dazzling: Oxen of the Sun.
Best discussion of meats: Calypso.
Lush, complex, passionate, self-contradictory, and transcendent: Penelope.
Part 3 -- Index
Here is the inside cover of my copy of Ulysses. The black handwriting is mine; the blue handwriting is not.
As you can see, I liked the beginning and had a number of favorite passages in the middle, especially in Oxen of the Sun. Clearly I got a little carried away during the last two chapters. Both the vocab lists and this markup of favorite passages demonstrate the waxing and waning of my attention and enthusiasm throughout the experience. Like I said: it was a journey.
Even aided by outside sources, a single reading of Ulysses is just a surface glance. The book is a lake which I cruised across in a little kayak one morning. Every once in a while I dunked a tin cup into the water and took a gulp. The flavor was complex but ultimately nourishing. No parasites (yet).
The next step: Joseph Campbell's series of lectures on Joyce, Wings of Art. Campbell is certain to provide a more substantial vessel for the tasting.
The new Golconda
album, By these limits were they circumscribed and of them were they locus,
is now available at golcondamusic.com
Many thanks to Ben Hjertmann
for mixing/mastering advice, and to Mary Laube
for the lovely cover art.
Please listen and enjoy!
I have been grounded in Chicago by borderline-apocalyptic rainstorms, but spirits undampened, I report on upcoming performances of my music around the country.
April 19 (aka, tomorrow) -- Second Return
for soprano, harp, and violin on the debut concert of Providence Premieres
new music project in Providence, Rhode Island. I am currently supposed to be on a plane to go hear this concert. If Chicago is not still underwater 24 hours from now, I will at that point be on a plane to go hear this concert. Wish me luck. The text is by the terrific Jamaican-born Cornell-teaching poet Ishion Hutchinson.
April 21 -- Ave Maria
premiere with my much-beloved alma mater ensemble, the Illinois Wesleyan Collegiate Choir, in Bloomington IL. Dr. Ferguson is one of the most inspiring musician-teachers I've worked with, and I'm honored that he's conducting my piece this weekend.
April 23 -- This is the day you can hear the new Golconda
! It's called By these limits were they circumscribed and of them were they locus.
It's a huge step forward for my guitar playing and songwriting, and I really hope you like it.
April 26 -- Grant Wallace Band
performs a piano-less set at Cafe Mustache
in Logan Square, Chicago. We aired out this material at the Red Line Tap last night and had a great time, especially with CFL's new arrangement of "I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground." Absurdist blues tweets galore. For this show we'll be joined by past co-conspirators and fellow classicalish, chambery folksters Elk
, who have such a beguiling new EP
for you to check out.
April 28 -- The choir of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Eau Claire, WI premieres Bring One Flower
. They commissioned the piece, seeking music themed specifically for the "flower communion" service, which is this amazingly poignant and precious thing that only the Unitarians could come up with. Seriously, google "flower communion" sometime. I was so charmed by this tradition.
May 10 -- Spring
for soprano, violin and viola at the Singers on New Ground concert at the Poetry Foundation in Chicago. This is going to be a terribly heavy music show, with performances by Angela Tomasino, Alison Wahl, and the Chicago Q Ensemble. A big new song cycle by Brian Baxter anchors the program. Spring
, perhaps the most succulent fruit of my VCCA residency, is based on two texts by Chloe Honum
, and I couldn't be happier to pass it off to such great musicians for this concert. A studio recording will follow later in the spring.
May 11 -- Grant Wallace Band
is back, this time with a piano, joining our awesome friends Ensemble Dal Niente
at the National Pastime Theater in Chicago. This is going to be SUCH a great evening! Dal Niente has been bringing serious musicianship, soul, and energy to Chicago's new-music scene these last few years, and for the 5/11 show they're playing new music by my UT-Austin chum Robert Honstein
May 13 -- Chicago's much-beloved Fulcrum Point New Music Project
takes a trip through my 2011 string quartet We Stopped at Perfect Days
as part of their Discoveries series. The concert is at the Merit School of Music. This piece has been in the drawer for a while, and I couldn't be happier that it's going to have a little spring sunlight splashed on its face. The title and theme come from a poem by Richard Brautigan, personal artistic hero of 2010-11.
May 26 -- Did I mention that I have a new Golconda
record coming out? Oh yeah, yeah I did. Well, on 5/26 I'm going to play some of these tunes, as well as old favorites and covers, at Ward Eight in Evanston IL. If you haven't heard about Ward Eight, perhaps you haven't been reading any Chicago cultural publications, because the critics are going wild over this stylish-but-chill new bar with a genuine neighborhood vibe and fantastic cocktails. It's a tremendously pleasant hang and I hope to see you there!
May 28 -- This evening I'll swing by Northwestern University to perform Chris Fisher-Lochhead's
brief & breezy piano piece leaping in place
, which he has subtitled "four imagined genealogies and a ghazal on a theme from the Eroica symphony." CFL has superb titling chops.
May 30 -- Grant Wallace Band
plays on the Comfort Music series at Comfort Station
in Logan Square, Chicago. This room has a great acoustic, which we can't wait to slather in fifty-seven-dimensional sound waves.
And that, friends and neighbors, is the spring! I hope to see many of you at some of these performances.
Left is the beautiful cover art for the upcoming Golconda
release, By these limits were they circumscribed and of them were they locus
The painting is by Mary Laube
, a friend from my spell at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. I was blown away by the set of landscapes Mary produced at the VCCA. She was planning to continue the series, so I asked if she'd like to contribute one of them as cover art and kindly suggested a desert theme, thinking of the New Mexico origins of my tunes. The painting is called "Saint John in the Desert."
Here's a track list for the album, which will release 23 April exclusively at golcondamusic.com
1. FR 569
2. Milwaukee Blues
4. June 19
5. El Prado Woman
6. Passacaglia (for Kelly)
And here is a preview of track three, "Stone." Enjoy!
Below, two live recordings from the quartet show at UCF last month with Thad Anderson and Owen Weaver (percussionists) and Franklin Gross and me (pianos): Thad's piece Five Messages and my own Outer Channel.
One of my cold-weather Bob Dylan covers is featured on the latest mixtape from I Care If You Listen. Check it out here
. This publication has been making significant waves in contemporary music lately, and it's a pleasure be included alongside some great tunes, including the tensely beautiful and enigmatic Streifenjunko
, who I plugged on this space back in January.
Here is the full Dylan set, The Moon Was Just Coming Over The Hills
written and recorded in Banff in February 2012.
I write from scenic, swampy Orlando, Florida and the campus of the University of Central Florida, home of the Knights of Pegasus (seriously) and some bizarro 80-degree weather that has my body chemistry just all
confused. Add to the mix a pleasant and musically intense hang with some bros from Austin days -- percussionists Thad Anderson and Owen Weaver, pianist Franklin Gross -- and you've got the recipe for a week all right all right.
We play George Crumb's Music for a Summer Evening
tomorrow night, along with two group premieres: Thad's searing, kinetic rhythmic etude Five Messages
and my own scenic, swampy Outer Channel
, which is jointly dedicated to and inspired by drummer/composer/force-of-nature Paul Motian and sometime Orlandoian Jack Kerouac -- particularly the latter's "belief and technique for modern prose
," which includes lovely and oblique directives like the following:
"Believe in the holy contour of life"
"Try never get drunk outside yr own house"
"Like Proust be an old teahead of time"
and of course,
"Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea"
I have some songs to share, soon -- the new Golconda
collection, By these limits were they circumscribed and of them were they locus
, is in the final mixing/mastering stages and awaiting cover art by stellar painter and VCCA friend Mary Laube
Under its leaf he watched through peacocktwittering lashes the southing sun. I am caught in this burning scene. Pan's hour, the faunal noon. Among gumheavy serpentplants, milkoozing fruits, where on the tawny waters leaves lie wide. Pain is far.
Something that you feel will find its own form.
--Kerouac ("belief and technique for modern prose")
The sixth and final movement of Peter Garland's String Quartet no. 1, "In Praise of Poor Scholars," is headed with a telling indication. "Like a simple Indian dance - elegant and eloquent," the composer writes. The movement is two and a half minutes long, falling into two sections. The initial music stops after only 50 seconds. There is a moment of silence, and then the quartet begins again, pouring out one last aching melody, and every time, it lands heavily on my mind. There are certain centers it never fails to awaken, even if I didn't know they were sleeping. Like the forceful, lonesome chiming of a carillon at dusk.
Garland heads this final section of the piece with an epigraph from artist Carolee Schneemann: "Look this outrage in the eye and put on the dancing music!"
This quartet means a great deal to me, and those two quotations speak succinctly to its unique character and power.
There is indeed such elegance and beauty in the folklike melodies that rush through the piece. Eloquence, here, comes in the guise of restraint. The piece's emotional content is narrowly circumscribed. "Look this outrage in the eye," Schneemann tell us. Somehow after twenty minutes of music the weight of the world is in that melody; it has seen things and knows sadness. But it dances.
As a composer I'm fascinated by the subtle relationships between the quartet's themes, by the flowing forms of the movements, by Garland's unusual approach to metric stress, by the trochaic phrasing of his melodies--heritage of his researches into folk music of the Southwestern United States and Mexico. Mostly, though, I just love to listen to the piece. Garland's two quartets came to me through the warm, human, deeply musical recording by Apartment House
. I wish his music was heard more often in the U.S.; it's difficult to find patronage, I think, for music of this brand of subtlety. It doesn't wear its sonic expansiveness on its sleeve, nor its dramatic structuring. It belongs to no camp.
I felt compelled to write about Garland because recently I was thinking about some of my secret influences--composers and musicians whose work and example have been important for me, but whose influence I haven't shared with others. I don't seem to have many friends who share my feelings for Garland's music, but then, I wouldn't perhaps know, because I haven't asked. There's an intimacy to this music's effect on me, and I wonder if I've hesitated to share a piece like the first quartet with my friends because on some level I want to keep it for myself, am afraid my relationship with the piece might detrimentally oxidize if I expose it to the tastes and opinions of others.
For this reason, it is only with some bravery that I plug "In Praise of Poor Scholars" here. Check out the Apartment House recording. Listen to it by yourself. Listen a few times before you make any decisions about it. Like many of my most enduring influences, this piece lived in my subconscious for a long while before I realized the degree to which it had stuck with me.
Garland is also a compelling music writer of arresting conviction and aesthetic integrity. I highly recommend his book Americas.
For a sample of his writing you might check out his program note
for the CD release of John Luther Adams' piece for Lou Harrison
Apropos of their recent album and the idea of secret influences, I might also mention the band Brokeback. I've had their album Field Recordings from the Cook County Water Table
for over a decade, since I first became interested in Chicago post-rock, and while I didn't give it hugely many plays during that initial phase, it's aged as well as anything else in the genre, and I find myself listening to it and thinking about it fairly frequently. The sparseness and ambivalent moods of the record resonate in my own compositions of the last few years.
Back in January I was talking to Chris
about "Vatic Lullaby," a piece he wrote for Grant Wallace Band
. After several drafts, the final version of the piece features a virtuosic electric bass part replete with soft, beautiful harmonics. When I asked about the bass writing, Chris asked if I listened to Brokeback. So there you go; another secret influence revealed--and shared.
My residency at the VCCA is winding down. It's been a beautiful, peaceful, and productive month here. Next week I'll head back to Chicago in time to catch Dal Niente's
much-awaited performance of Georg Haas' In Vain
Those in the city, I'd love to see you next Saturday, March 2nd, when Grant Wallace Band
will open for Elk
as part of their EP release show at Uncommon Ground. Here is the facebook event page
Your next chance to hear GWB is April 17th, when we'll play at the Red Line Tap, opening for singer-songwriter Amy LaVere as part of her national tour.
Here I am spending February in the hills of Virginia, where it doesn't particularly snow. I'm a week into my residency at the VCCA
, and life here has been agreeably peaceful & generally productive.
First order of business was completing Outer Channel
, my new quartet for two pianists and two percussionists. I'll premiere this piece in March with my friends Thad Anderson
, Owen Weaver
, and Franklin Gross
on the Collide Contemporary Music Series at the University of Central Florida. We're also premiering a new piece by Thad and reprising our epoch-making, oft-spoken-of-in-whispered-tones 2009 performance of George Crumb's Music for a Summer Evening
. (Sans dancers this time, unfortunately.) We've also been invited to play the Crumb at the Round Top Percussion Festival in Texas this April. This means I get to visit Austin. This is always a good thing.
Next on my list: finish recording vocals and avant-garde handclap schemes for the next Golconda
collection, By these limits were they circumscribed and of them were they locus
. The album is coming along beautifully & I can't wait to share it with everyone.
I've also seen two art-song commissions emerge for the spring. First I'll set Ishion Hutchinson's "Second Return"
for soprano, violin, and harp for the inaugural concert of Providence Premieres
, and my music will finally, finally
receive its Ocean State debut. I plan to move up the states list sequentially by size, so look out, Delaware.
Subsequently, I'm delighted at another opportunity to work with Singers on New Ground
. SONG and the Poetry Foundation commissioned me for a piece for soprano, violin, and viola. In a tremendous turn of good fortune, the soprano in question is Alison Wahl
and the violinist and violist are those of the Chicago Q Ensemble
. I'm lousy with great collaborators these days. This piece is based on the two "Spring" poems of Chloe Honum
I leave the VCCA on the 1st; on the 2nd, back in Chicago, Grant Wallace Band
is playing Uncommon Ground in support of an EP release by Elk
, folk band of Ellen McSweeney of the aforementioned Q Ensemble. The very next day I head for Wyoming for a brief but sure-to-be-transcendent residency at the Ucross Foundation
, out in the Big Horn Mountains of northeast Wyoming. My work for the period at Ucross is confidential.
This doesn't sound like a schedule that would afford one much leisure, but VCCA life is plush, and I've been able to implement an intensive schedule of long walks in this foothillsy country to do some serious and repeated listening to the new Wayne Shorter album. Have you heard the new Wayne Shorter album? You should check out the new Wayne Shorter album. He's 79 and he's writing up a storm and still out there playing with this quartet that is just absolutely the baddest. I noticed this band's amazing intensity, formal fluidity, and constant air of discovery with Footprints Live;
now that record is a decade old, and these musicians have only deepened their group concept & connection. Chamber music on a very, very high level.
One final note relating to GWB business: we have obliquely and provisionally joined Twitter -- @grantwallacebnd
-- mostly as a means of disseminating obscure numerological research and the results of our favorite surrealist word games. I'm sure we'll become better Twitter community members soon enough, but for the moment we follow one person and one person only, and that person is Justin Timberlake.