Inner Cities is where we go to get debriefed. They aren't found on any maps but they appear sometimes in the NYTimes Sunday travel section under "don't tell anyone about this place; " they are on the L'itineraire d'Hologram and the the famous french "guide noir de l'inconnu." Leave your shoes at the mosque, pack an arpeggio lunch, tie your mule to the nearest Roman milestone. Throw your compass away. Get on a steamer, order a manhattan, lie on a bed of arugola and tune the cable to the channel where St. George slays the dragon in Venice. Is this where Carpaccio comes from or did culinary history cease when Marco Polo stole the noodles from the Chinese? We can go anywhere as long as there's pasta, shade, a Kiosk to squat by and a Herald Tribune in an emergency. We can go anywhere as long as Kojack stops at a red light for a lollipop. We can go anywhere as long as A way A lone A long. In these cities there's more there there than not but there's no dogs that drive convertibles, nor drive-ins nor drive-by anything; the streets are made safe by an invisible ring of harmonic chords threaded in slightly different hues and contours each time like a Kenzo sweater or a spectral mandolin. Othertimes they’re scratched out melodically like Cy Twombly’s graffiti. Take a brisk walk on deck "Ah Thalassa "- the sea, our wet home, furious and fishy - dancing nonstop to the moon. The band was Dutch, no? Let’s get out of this caravanseray. Let’s go to the Puglia in a transposed Dolmen. Let's go visit Thelonious at Clark Coolidge's poetry-During. Sit in a trullo and drink a glass of Marsala with Abulafia the stand-up Kabbalist. Did you say Yurt? Let's open the door and jump out the window with a parachute of augmented ninth chords, with the hollywood stuntmen, the toxic aliens, the silk-road gurus. Let's have tea with Faith No More and Rose Selavy. Let's play Tibetan taps under Cage's window, put the Sydney Harbour on the Rhein. Let's imagine that we didn't need a passport or a walkman, an Ipod or a deodorant – that "music is not music" but loam, baseball, architecture, fog, temporal neuritis, truffles, black magic, mold, eros, asprin, lentils, rain, criminal time. Let's imagine that the world could tango and mambo simultaneously, that Leontyne Price and Dr. Dre both wept at Scelsi’s grave near where Astor Piazzola and Morty met on Eighth street. That triads were legal tender and time more ubiquitous than the herb. Written in Poggidoro in the summer of l994 - this piano solo is part II of a large series in progress.
Audience participation is one of those car doors which properly never opened right - like the gate Michael Palmer oiled near Trajan's Forum, east of Filmore west of Tajikistan right by Scelsi's house . Count Scelsi's driver was mortally allergic to fava beans which didn't help him to drive straight either in the spring time or any time. But car doors were a new artistic form that both Kojak and Kaprow invented on the same day in the sixties. That very day the group Musica Elettronica Viva was playing a Senior Citizens benefit in the Bay Guardian when a distinguished woman monarchist lept onto the stage and shouted: "This music is dead, Long Live Ubu Roi, Long live the Andrew Sisters." While this woman ( who gave workshops in audience participation in Berkeley) was thought to have some connection to Greek mythology, I like many others were at home practicing piano scales on a ubiquitous piece of historical furniture, without which no home could be rightly called a home, and hence no city a city. Urban music was known long before Hip-Hop and the Rosetta Stone. Zeus described it as a universal black box on wheels in which all the dead souls lived. So the piano as it came to be called was really a cemetary of hammers. Czerny, Moscheles, Clementi, Lischititski , and Kodaly, mostly Europeans with arthritis lived there side by side with Duke Ellington, Earl Hines, Gershwin, Art Tatum, Fanny Hensel, Lenny Tristano, Chopin, Cardew, Feldman and Rozart. In this sense the piano is a prototypical model and instrument of democracy - Zeus even recognized this. In this sense too my father was right in suggesting that if I studied the piano seriously, I'd always have something solid to fall back on. Little by little he became resigned to the fact that I had simply fallen into the piano 'tout court,' no matter what I'd been drinking. INNER CITIES is my "centro storico" like in Rome where the Jews traffic in hand made wool mattress stuffings as they have for over 2000 years and in a Ghetto created by papal bulls. So whether a flow chart of my recent history or a street guide of Atlantis, this is a 50 minute piano piece, originally to be a set of short neural maps 2-5 minutes each based on every major city that has meant anything to me, and composed out of inspired indifference; this concept got all out of hand, when an A major chord in first inverson appeared and would not go away. I confess I didn't have the courage to begin this work with that chord as planned, because while it appeared to me to be a major breakthrough, it was more appropriate that an elk from Yellowstone National Park should be the first to speak in this musical geography - giving precedence, as I often do, to the music of the animal kingdom. In any case after some l0 minutes of ascending intevallic two fingered-piano spasms accompanied by a roving saxophonist, the elk and l950's Bar Mitzvah party music on tape, we get to A Major and the music proper opens like Kojak's Pontiac on the way to the Brooklyn docks. Once there, the bad guys give up and the scenario cuts to a concert where for the first time in public I can be seen on stage playing from a score of my own writings - a pure imitation of my self. Intuitive, mimetic, polytonal. But fortunately a number of genetic things occur, including the anticipated and dreaded audience participation, until sounds of amplified pounded dough from the real inner city begin to invade our Amtrack concert facility. This music is based on the the well known Schenkerian principle that what goes up must come down, hence the written information is over. Let's just sit back and look out the window.
Inner Cities 6-7 (1999), for piano solo. First performance Jed Distler, Mills College, February 1999.
Her composing has always been a three ring circus - a literal mix of highwire walks, lion-taming, and clownerie. Masks, small change artistry and pheramones. Total control and falling on your face; Legal intention and illicit non-intention. Truth or consequences. When I woke up, her music was mine. The conductor announced an unscheduled stop in Inner Cities.
That's where I go to get away from it all; away from the computer wards, the installation brothels, the fast food theaters, the arugola beds. Inner Cities is where I go to get debriefed. Like in Calistoga, first the mud, then heaven, then you pay.
In a hammock under a fig tree Italo Calvino wrote his Citta Invisibili;
then, I was a mere closet-"situationist" with an electric thumb piano
and wanted to make all the musics in the world. Gradually I pointed my microphone
out the window and began.
As a natural born liar, I have always sought the truth..So amidst the racket of pile drivers and Wailing Walls and String Quartets, Fog Horns, Midi Shofars and waltzes, I have been filling notebooks up for years with three note chords, two note arpeggios, drunken scales, umpah rhythms in seven-elevenths.
In the early nineties I started to sort these objects out, add new ones, ignore others... I'd take a few days off, sometimes a week, sometimes a month, sometimes never and go to the INNER CITIES... there i kept a secret scratch pad and a tabula-rasa in my Bluthner Piano. My father always used to say, if you keep studying the piano, you'll always have something to fall back on. I've been falling off the piano bench ever since.
What began in 1993 as a mere 28 minute piano piece on an A major triad in first inversion, has now grown to a series of solo piano works, of which this last - number 8 is one of my most unusual and longest (50 minutes plus).. Number 2, by contrast is built on two two note chords of an diminished9th and ends up in a smoky bar playing "Body and Soul." Number 3 is a four part Choral using typically dysfunctional triadic harmonies. etc etc. So far there is a tendency toward very quiet and calm, but occasionally this is broken by sudden and vigorous attacks of high energy. In all of these pieces the writing is instinctual, and obsessed with detail: how to use only two triads, then three, then none then one, then turn your back on the whole thing and use all the triads- these damned impish little piles of stones of well-being that have all but defined the sonic space that Einstein walked in on his way to rehearsal at the Oranienburgstrasse Synagogue.
Cut to the plot-- these pieces are serial containers of musics for solo piano which I make unsolicited. They have become a kind of very personal and democratic space where all is possible as long as almost nothing (well not too much) happens; there is room for everything except the superfluous. Everything is surrounded by air, by intense focus. Literal triadic memories, they begin and end stark naked like a scrawl in Cy Twombly painting. They're excercises in liberation and attachment at the same time - dream plans for anywhere you might want to be.
In 1994 I recorded 5 of these pieces, for the Hessicher Rundfunk in Frankfurt; Most recently n.6 and 7 were premiered by Jed Distler at Mills College in 1998 and now Eve Egoyan a superb player of my piano music presents a premier of n.8 in a version slightly shortened for this occasion.
alvin curran, nov. 18, 2000
Genzano di Roma
Inner Cities 8 (2000), for piano solo. First performance Eve Egoyan, Other Minds Festival San Francisco, March 2001.
A lvin Curran