Featured Post


I am posting this as a benchmark, not because I think I'm playing very well yet.  The idea would be post a video every month for a ye...

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Lola Flores entrevista a Paco Umbral


Dislike of a particular style of music has do with expectations, hence it is a feature of the listener and not the music itself.

Now music itself works through setting up expectations and then fulfilling them, or frustrating them for a while before fulfilling them.

There are two levels to that. One is that a composer begins a cadence and then finishes it, for example.  So the 5 chord, for example, will resolve to the 1. The second level is the we expect the music to work like that in general, that there will be such cadences in a piece.  So expectations can be those set up within a composition (micro expectation, or else expectations about what a composition will do (macro).

An example of a micro expectation:  for a given phrase, one can imagine the phrase that ought to answer it.  If such a phrase comes, then there is a satisfaction in that. Imagine that the next phrase, instead of being the logical answer, so to speak, is a random phrase that doesn't seem to fit.

On the macro level, the expectation will be that generally speaking, there will be a certain logic in how phrases relate to each other in this kind of structure.

Imagine if we are used to a certain cadential structure and we hear Debussy for the first time. Now we think this is not how music is supposed to go. We bring expectations to Debussy that he isn't interested in.  But after a while, we form new sets of expectations, and once we recognize that something is Debussy-type music, we expect it to "go" in a certain way.  Seeing a piece of his as a failure to be Beethoven would like seeing an avocado as a failed cup of coffee.

What about "bad" music? Of course we are making judgments all the time, and rightly so. But what kind of judgment is not conditioned by expectation?

With poetry, we also expect certain things to happen. Bad poetry is all about frustrating expectations both on micro and macro level. The poem seems like it will do one thing, and then fails (micro). Or it doesn't conform to what we think a poem ought to be (macro). If we write a bad poem on purpose, then we are playing explicitly with those frustrations.  A bad poem not written on purpose is one by someone who doesn't know how to do it in the first place.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020


I never listened to Brassens before. I think his melodies mimic the intonation of the French language. They have lilting, sing-song quality. I can hear exactly why he chooses to write melodies the way he does. They almost don't seem written, but are like the melodies one would naturally sing if one wanted to sing instead of talking.

I think Ibáñez does a similar thing in Spanish.

My rhythm

Right now, I am working 2-3 hours a day on writing, and producing 150-200 words in each hour. You string together a few days like that, and pretty soon you have a nice chunk of a chapter written. I am doing one hour at a time. Aside from that, I am listening to relevant music related to my project.  

I am also playing piano for about the same time:2-3 hours. Each hour I devote to a different task, usually playing walking bass-lines for the first hour.

I came up with a super-obvious idea yesterday. I was listening to PI, and I noticed what his melodies actually consisted of.  It is obvious, but I didn't actually make note of it until I asked myself the right questions.

Here is my productivity report for the past few days:

April 28, day 4 of not fucking around

Two hours of writing: 11,900 on flamenco chapter! 
Listened to podcast on Lorca and flamenco
Started to memorize “Postcard from a Volcano”  

Zen practice: 6:45 a.m. 

Piano: 3 hours!:  bass lines / I got Rhythm / OP exercise 2

April 27, day three of no fucking around  

Revised one section of preface / Flamenco chapter (2 hours) 11,300 words! 
listened to Amancio Prada music  & interview with him 
listened to Nuestro flamenco episodes on “Poesía de autor” and Miguel Hernández (2 hours)
Blog post 

Piano: 2 hours / OP exercise plus “I got rhythm”   

Rolling prairie / ran dishes / bought Starbucks stock 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020



This sounds a lot like a book mine published in 2009. Oh well. 

Monday, April 27, 2020

Canciones de Lorca: IV. Alba


I discovered what it is that Paco Ibáñez does: recitative: "musical declamation of the kind usual in the narrative and dialogue parts of opera and oratorio, sung in the rhythm of ordinary speech with many words on the same note." 

This is super obvious, I guess, but I hadn't really worked on this section of my book until now. He can write a lot of songs very easily because you don't really need melodies, and this style is well suited to singing the classics of poetry, since the music is in the service of the words. 

Saturday, April 25, 2020

3 hours

I worked another 3 hours today, with 3 hours on the piano as well.  With that and zen class, that was pretty much the day.  That amounts to 500 words, a nice chunk of work for one day. I discovered a new album of Lorca songs that throws my chronology out of wack, but that is fine. This music is almost unobtainable, and I am trying to track down a copy of it.

The book is going to be about 50,000 words, I think, so in fewer than a hundred days I could finish it, since I have written a lot on several chapters. My thinking now is 5 chapters averaging 9-10 thousand words. I might have to write more than I thought about some topic, and less about others, but I'm thinking that things will tend to expands rather than contract.

Paco de Lucia álbum completo 12 canciones de Garcia Lorca para guitarra


Friday, April 24, 2020

Entrevista a André Breton, 1961 (Subtítulos en español)


Sometimes I tell myself to stop fucking around, so today I ate breakfast, played piano for 3 hours, and worked on my book for three hours, writing about 700 words. Normally I work for an hour at most, but why not just go all out once in a while?  I still have a few hours before dinner and I can do push-ups and meditate.

Jose Carreras "Herido de amor"

Amancio Prada. A Rosalía de Federico. Teatro Español de Madrid ( abril 2...

Amancio Prada & San Juan de la Cruz / CÁNTICO ESPIRITUAL (Disco Completo)

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Playing in time with yourself

I watched a drum video that suggested the main thing to do is to play in time with yourself. The best drummers have control over the coordination and the feel, so everything is in synch with ... you. No flamming  with notes that are supposed to be simultaneous, every thing that's supposed to be the same, must be the same, for example, hit the same part of the drum head every time in the same pattern. Then I realize it is the same with the piano. The hands have to be one, and the pedaling perfectly aligned where you want it.

Then I realized that everything is like this, really, even singing or writing.


I realized a few days ago that you can play the melody of I got Rhythm to the chords of Bemsha Swing. Not the bridge, of course, just the A section.  Bemsha Swing is not a Rhythm change song, but it almost is. That means you could probably play the melody of Bemsha Swing to Rhythm changes.

Denizen of the zenny den

I began zen practice this year. When I got back from Spain, the center was closed because of corona, so we do it by zoom now.  Yesterday I did a solo retreat, with some chanting, then half hour of meditation sitting alternating with walking meditations of 10 minutes, some in the morning and then some afternoon.  I realized a few things. This is a serious practice, and cannot be understood by reading about it.  Now I realize that Valente didn't really know anything about mysticism because he didn't actually have a spiritual practice.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020


I have often been fascinated by Roussel's book La Vue.  For a while I had a photocopy of the French edition, but I lost it, so I looked and found the only available edition was one translated into Spanish, but still with the French on the left.

This is a long and tedious poems composed in classical alexandrines that describes the content of piece of visual art. There are two others poems in the edition, "La source" and "Le concert" that are exactly the same concept. This book influential in the French Nouveau Roman and in the New York School of Poetry. The surrealists also saw him as a precursor. Foucault wrote a book about Roussel, devoting one chapter to this early phase of his work. I am much less interested in his prose and in this early work and another late poem, "Nouvelles Impressions d'Afrique. Of course, there is also "How I wrote certain of my books."

These earlier, descriptive works describe the objects of vision with more detail than would be physically possible. They are thus the zero degree of ecphrasis. They stop time in a kind of eerie way. So one of my sabbatical / viral projects is to read all of this.

Dream of Going to San Francisco

I was going to San Francisco but not sure why. I was nervous about missing my flight as I was making breakfast for myself. Where I was staying was a larger than normal toilet, but it hadn't been flushed in days and was overflowing with shit, with some even on the floor.  I flushed it and at least got rid of some of it.

I had no idea where my boarding pass was, and as I talked to the agent at the counter she took her time, and then informed me that the plane had already taken off. She didn't seem that interested in finding me another flight. I thought of not going at all, since the trip had no purpose and was only going to be for 48 hours. Then some families members showed up, including my mom. I was reminded that the trip was to celebrate her 85 birthday, so it would make more sense to fly to Sacramento. My mom had been visiting her grandchildren, still children, though in real life they are all grown up.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Shape Singing

A cousin of mine told me he does "shape singing" or sacred harp. This would be another vernacular style that uses musical notation.  It is named, in fact, for the style of notation it uses.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Amancio Prada

I don't really like him, but he makes a good addition to the cantautores / flamenco chapter. He has done a lot of Lorca, and also fits well with Paco Ibañez in his devotion to canonical poets. Prada has also done St. John of the Cross.

Thursday, April 16, 2020


Projected coronavirus deaths in US are at about 60,000.  A dumb celebrity doctor said that opening schools might increase mortality by 2%. That would be an increase of about 1,200. Idiots tweeting about this translated this as two percent of schoolchildren would die, or that 2% of the US population would die of it!

 It's pretty basic. If there is an increase of X% in a cause of mortality, that doesn't mean that X% of the population will die from that. So if cancer deaths go up 5%, that doesn't mean that 5% more will die from cancer. You have to know the death rate first, from a certain cause, and then you add 5% to that.

The idiot dr. apologized, but he should have corrected the math so that people wouldn't be so confused.

h/t Clarissa's blog.

By the Sea / The Last Thing He Wanted

We watched the Brad Pitt / Angelina Jolie (Pitt) collaboration By the Sea. I continue to think that the weakest aspect of bad films is the screenplay, and this one exemplifies this. This film was written and directed by Jolie, filmed in Malta on the couple's honeymoon.

Even a bad film can be beautifully filmed. The actors will do ok, if they are pro actors. Usually the costumes and music will be ok.  In this film the scenery is beautiful, and the clothes are nice looking. The problem is the screenplay.

Pitt is an alcoholic writer in the 1960s, who is taking this trip with his wife to rekindle his writing and also the relationship.  For most of the film, the characters just sit around looking nice and brooding, drinking and smoking.  They begin to spy through a hole in the wall on a younger couple on their honeymoon. There is some doubt about what Jolie's trauma is, but eventually we find out she is "barren."  The problem is that in a traditional plot, the characters have to want something and take active steps to get it. That is the basis of plot. In a scene, an actor has to know what sh/e wants in order to be an effective actor. Even a weak screenplay can have strong motivations for the characters. Here they are like empty shells or stereotypes, like the alcoholic writer. Jolie is very good at looking pretty (for some tastes, I guess, not for me) and brooding, but she doesn't want anything. Neither does the Pitt character, or the honeymooners. The sordid peeping-tom behavior is sordid, and I don't object to it for that reason, but simply that it doesn't lead anywhere. There is a violent scene where Jolie is seducing the husband in the honeymooning couple, but it isn't very satisfying. The younger couple is shattered, and Brad and Angelina go back happily home.


We also saw a bad movie based on a Joan Didion novel, The Last Thing He Wanted.  The plot is weak, once again. The main character is a journalist, and at first she wants to cover Central America and expose Reagan's corruption in the Contra era. Then she takes over an arms deal for her father and flies to Central America. Now her motivation is different, because she is selling arms to the Contras, and thus participating in this corruption. Then she sticks around in Central American almost getting killed many times, until she does get killed. There is no motivation for her to stay in Central America at this point, but she stays and makes some bewildering decisions. She stays at the house of this gay guy who is flamboyant and kind of interesting, but by then the movie is pretty much shot. Once again, you can have good acting and photography, because there are good craftspeople doing this, but you need a strong central core to the plot: a character who wants something.


Of course, if you are Jim Jarmusch, then you can write a good movie with a passive protagonist.  It is much harder to do, but it can be done. For standard, non-avant-garde movies. you need motivation and action.  Even dialogue gets harder to get right without motivation, because then what are the characters doing or talking about.

Clark Coolidge @ Sweetwater: Beat Poetry Reading in Tribute to Jack Kero...

Lee Konitz

Lee Konitz has died of this fucking virus. He was 92. I rarely feel harshly the deaths of people I don't know personally, but in the mood I'm in I just burst into tears.

There was this riff in Kerouac about Lee Konitz's long melodic lines. I can't find it right now. On this and other bop players he based his "spontaneous bop prosody." I studied extensively Coolidge's takes on Kerouac; CC is a drummer, so he really felt it in a quite literal sense. I'm reminded that Creeley based his prosody on bop too.

There's a lot of sentimentalism in the beat / bop connection, but there is a direct influence on the writers. It's a different rhythmic conception in music, and the generation of Creeley combined it with Williams Carlos Williams's sense of syncopation in the line breaks.

We can call this modernism in jazz, but really I guess jazz was modern from the days of Pres, Gershwin, and Ellington.

Vernacular (ii)

It's pretty obvious that reading and writing music takes place quite a bit in "vernacular" genres. Studio musicians in commercially popular genres are adept at reading music, and any jazz combo of more than five people will have written arrangements. Ray Charles would dictate his arrangements to someone else, just saying the names of the notes he wanted and their duration.  Surely Ray was a vernacular musician. I just find it too limiting to define vernacular genres as those transmitted orally or aurally. In this sense maybe "popular" is a better name for it than "vernacular."  

For that matter, even classical music is learned "by ear" in the more profound sense, even when the musician is reading off the page. They say that the notation system is not adequate for writing down jazz, but it is not really adequate for classical music either, in the sense that you need to know how to play it in a stylistically appropriate way, with the right kind of rubato for Chopin, say.

Many jazz pianists are or have been adept at classical music, or "classically trained."

Monday, April 13, 2020

Performing Art

Is poetry a performing art?

Let's consider the way it is not, because that might be easier. You can read poetry silently on the page, the same way as any other genre of literature. We know theater is a performing art, but that we also have genres like the "closet drama," or play not really meant to be performed. We can perform these kinds of plays, but they aren't well suited to that use. A lot of poetry is like that, not particularly well suited to performance. Some poetry is just too complex to be understood by hearing it, for example. In many cases, the poetry might be fine in other respects, but just not meant for the voice in any particular way. In some cases, we don't even care about the poet's "ear."  It is a non-pertinent factor.

A second argument is that performance of poetry tends to make it kitschy, or is so badly done in most cases that it is better off not being done at all. Whole traditions like slam poetry tend to feature very bad poetry, etc... This is not accidental, but has to do with what happens when we shift our focus too much toward performance.

On the other side, we might say that the use of verse is what distinguishes poetry from prose in the first place, and that verse is the organization of sound, and so must be heard. Performance is simply a part of how poetry is received. The fact that poetry has also developed in other dimensions and shifted away from performative modes at particular points is simply one factor that has to be considered, but that performative core remains significant.


The center for vernacular music at Texas Tech defines it as music transmitted orally / aurally. But is this really true? Is big band music played with charts vernacular?

Earl Fatha Hines Trio

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Comping Rhythms

I have wondered why I can't play comping rhythms on the piano. The answer is very simple: I haven't practice them enough in conscious way to try to nail them. I've practice other things but not that. It's obvious that to do something, you must do it, not wonder why you can't.

Use the poem to tell you how to read it

Friday, April 10, 2020


 I have become  somewhat less attached to my own opinions recently. Someone on Facebook was just dssing TS Eliot and I found that I just didn’t care to disagree or agree for that matter to the extent that I agree with this opinion. It’s just hard to care about them as much as I used to. Even with Mary Oliver I’ve realized that people just want to with identify with an ideal self with a certain kind and that’s what they get out of her. Hell I don’t even care whether you like Lorca anymore.

Shirley Horn Trio Live at The Village Vanguard 1991

Wednesday, April 8, 2020


At a used bookstore in Moab, Utah, last summer I got a 1st edition of Robert Kelly's work, The Cities.  It seemed like something I should have, a short prose fiction of 65 pages without much of a plot. Kelly is not my favorite poet, but I was somehow moved to get it. It was published in 71, and has some kinship with Calvino's Invisible Cities, published a year later as it would happen. It doesn't have the Oulipean structure of Calvino's book, but both consist of fanciful descriptions of imaginary cities mostly in an imaginary Asia. The resemblance is striking, and of course I am not the first to notice it, as a quick google search reveals. Neither book was inspired by the other, though Borges might lurk behind both.

I am often more interested in the "poets' novels" than in novelists' novels. Calvino's, of course, is much better known. Kelly's overdoes the whimsy a bit, but it stands up well to its Italian counterpart, and I like the two books for similar reasons.

Friday, April 3, 2020

This must be explained, a feminist poem

Our grandmothers love us, aunts too
mothers of course love us
daughters, too,
wives, girlfriends, mistresses
love us, fall in love with us, make love to us
even female platonic friends love us
yet we are dominant and patriarchal
this must be explained

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Bad Poems of 2017

Reading poetry aloud

Internal Monologue

My daughter said that her boyfriend doesn't have an internal, verbal monologue going on all the time, like I assumed (before she told me) that almost everyone does. He can think in words, if he has a particular reason to, like planning what he is going to say in an interview, but just sitting there he is not formulating sentences. I realized then that there has been scientific research, and it is true that some people don't think in words all the time, like I do. I cannot turn the stream of words off. Of course I am in literature and we are verbal people like that.

She said she was paid to be in a focus group about a film, and a few of the men seemed to have a very difficult time with formulating their thoughts in words. They probably weren't verbal thinkers.

I was doing some research, and one study said that people who were good visualizers were also good at verbal thinking, so these categories are not opposite, in the sense that good visualizers would bad at words, and vice-versa. In the same way that musicians like Miles Davis can also paint. They are complementary abilities, not opposite.

So a filmmaker or novelist would be able to write a narrative and visualize it happening as well. There aren't "right" and "left" brain thinkers.


I started a youtube channel yesterday. I realized right away I am a horrible you tuber, so the only way to go is up. Anyway, we will see if anything comes of this.