Friday, April 25, 2014


Rain on the tin chimney cap, pebbles falling on a black slate seacliff.
Everything is so hard. It all takes longer than it should, longer
than I remember it ever taking before, than i want it to. A wish is not
a promise, not that sudden spring storm that takes breath away.
A mug of tea in hand to light the keeper's soul. These rocks, this island.
Rain on the pebbled path, shattering light in ripples and shards.
The world won't pull itself into shape anymore. I've lost whatever way
I once had. It just falls apart. New paths haven't coalesced. The fog
just sits there, luffing the sails, becalmed. Fog and wind never share.
When my mind fills with fog I make no sail. Even this harbor fills
with ghosts.

        Here I am alone at last. Again and again. Do you see
where the waters meet, surge, blend, change color, finally merge?
Where green and brown become blue, and sink to ancient seabed,
slow limestone forming from the deep rain of falling plankton shell
and skeleton. Limestone is the graves of millions of sea lives.
The same layer and rind of calcium that is the mineral shine
of human teeth. Not mine, which are more than half fake, product
of a childhood spent away from treated water. Lifelong battle till my
minerals flake and fall away, leave gap and gouge in jaw and skull,
holes where pirates put gold, once, when they could.
But I have both eyes.

         And strange cavitation of sea-driven screws vortexing deep waters.
Dark shapes pass close by in the invisible rain and unsilent dark.
In the rain, in another world, I would be warm and naked under
a warming sun. But not yet. Not here. Prophecy is mere
vision that skips across an inner eye like sunlight, starshine,
bad clams. It's as corrosive as it is demanding. Skip ahead,
wild-breasted daughters of sunlit terraces on Mediterranean islets.
Let the wild boys chase you, not knowing you will tame them
once they've caught you. Who owns this trap? Its jaws full of light.

here I am slunk again in immobility. A broth of lassitude that verges
on desperation. I'm not saying I don't already know. I wish the news
were something that would save me, but it's a perishing blast of ice.
There's a blade of Antarctic iceshelf broken off and floating north,
an island of ice larger than your splayed-out hand from low orbit.
When it grounds and melts, or where, no one can guess, but there will be
hell to pay, a guaranteed disruption and dismay. Prophecy that.
For someone. I'm spinning in polar current circles, as this ice field,
touched down nowhere, frozen and lumbering along. No certainty here,

      It's been awhile since I knew what shape to take to match the world's.
Every certain thing fallen away. Again and again. From first
void-filled vision to slower cracking, a splint on splintered world,
effect preceding cause. We know what caused the plane to fall,
but what caused the plane? What caused falling? It's remote. Iced over now.

         Stone axe shattering years between years. Blue red
stone shining when held just so to sun. Slickness of stream-bedded
quartzite sheens like water but doesn't lose shape. Polished sand
that once was river mouth filling the ocean plain below, now
sandstone and glinted mica shale, melted, reforged, made ever harder
beneath the pressure of a world's living, now glass. Still we can see
ripples that lay under river's glint and gleam. Glass-clear trout ghost
across memory of mountain sands that now rise up mid-lake
after being washed and ground to ocean, rippled in waves, crusted,
sealed, frozen, polished, reflecting sun again after long sleep. The memory
of water glistening stone surface as though an ancient river still flowed.
Under time-bent starlight, still, it does. There's no peace in this falling-apart
world, but the long breath of deep time, starlight on wet stone,
at least reminds us how short these few breaths are.

             Your hair
has not spread over my pillow in eons. Will we meet again, in a million years?
Perhaps these atoms, in your bones, in mine, will once again mingle,
making teeth in a future we cannot imagine. Perhaps your stone heart
will indeed be fossilized, preserved between beats as a clenched fist
in concrete sands.

         I cannot wait. Rain on galvanized tin grows louder, steady, still
circling all these eons. Rain wash me away. Rain wash all this to sand.
But the body, breathless, clings, and worries, and wants to go on,
even when we know it never could.

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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Tango and Milonga

Over the past winter I wrote a pair of instrumental pieces to be performed with dance, and they were premiered live in March, with wonderful dancing. I have listened to and enjoyed tango for many years, although I had never written in the genre before this. The process of analyzing (yes, we do use that music theory we learned in music school, sometimes) and figuring out what I wanted to write was a long process, with several false starts and blind alleys explored before I reached that point where I often write my best music: the feel and style of the genre becomes internalized, and I write by following my ear rather than from an intellectual outline. Once I had done that, these two interlocked pieces appeared, one a fierce, fast tango, and the other a slow, inward but still darkly passionate milonga. Part of my loves the milonga form above all, because of its inwardness, its passion and melancholy, and the feel of a very late night after you have survived something dangerous, exhausted and sad but still glad to be alive.

When we premiered the tango and milonga live, with dance, I thought it went very well, and I got some good feedback about it. This is the kind of music I love to play, to accompany dancers. I've played a lot of live dance concert music, some of it improvised, over the years, and the excitement of live interaction never gets old. So everything went well. But we didn't get a very good recording, mostly due to my errors of mic placement; well, it was a new unfamiliar room to perform in, and I guessed wrong. So a few weeks later, we set up a living room recording live session, and made some good recordings of the music. These videos are from that session. The live music vibe is still there, I think, as we recorded live to two-track from the room sound, and I didn't try to over-produce or over-control the session. We just set everything up, turned it on, and played each piece several times till we felt we had played it well and made a good take. I edited that session down into these short music videos. I may at some point edit down the premiere performances, with the dancers; that will happen if I can get the audio to a place where I like it well enough to share. So stay tuned.

Tango of the Knife Fight:

Milonga of the Time of Leaves:

Daniel Atwater: Accordion
Brian Schultz: Piano
Arthur Durkee: Chapman Stick

Written, Produced & Engineered by Arthur Durkee. ©2014 AP Durkee. All Rights Reserved.

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