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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...

Sunday, January 31, 2021

But at least we are talking about POETRY!!

 I utterly despise this argument. It's a bad poem, but at least they are talking about POETRY, which is so marginalized that we should be desperate for any crumbs of attention, presumably. 

What if we took that attitude toward music? A musician as bad a musician as she is a bad poet would be sent back to woodshed some more. 

Why is the praise for bad poetry good for poetry? It is because poetry has the lowest barrier for entrance, everyone is a poet. So identity politics can be all you care about any more. That is the sum total of the art form. Imagine if a white man wrote a poem like that, with those kinds of doggerel techniques. Then is would be seen as a prime instance of white male mediocrity. 

So praise of bad poetry is an instance of contempt for poetry, not of defense for it.  

Short Poem

 We can choose the attitude we take toward life, he said

We threw him in a ditch

A Series of Pleasant Dreams

 I woke, fell asleep, woke again, in cycles. My dreams were pleasant, mostly, and when I awoke I would narrate them to myself or comment on their emotional texture, till I fell asleep again and resumed the dreaming. I was tutoring my daughter in French. She was supposed to come up with sentences illustrating a certain linguistic principle ????. I asked her what it meant and she didn't know, so I suggested that "Nous sommes en train de manger" would be a good one. We are in the process of eating. She wrote down some sentences, but in English. Later I was walking behind two colleagues from French department. They were walking fast and I could not catch up, even though the distance was very small. I did not call out to them. They split up but continued their conversation from afar. Then I saw them together in a store or restaurant. The Mad Greek restaurant was now on a different street, I noticed. Then a complicated roommate situation. I was supposedly going to start dating a certain woman who I also shared space with in an apartment. She had gone to an Obama event with another of our roommates, and said "They say I used to date Obama too." 

Saturday, January 30, 2021


 I'm writing my conclusion.  It doesn't mean that the rest of the book is done, but just that I know some of the conclusions. Another thing I've been wondering about is the Spanish music of Lorca's own generation. I've thought some were mediocrities, but that's not a very promising attitude to begin with. It is just one facet of the overall story. Putting bits and pieces together. Pittaluga, Bacarissa, García Leoz, Bautista. 


 I was at one point seeing declamation as something apart from musical song settings, but styles of vocal performance that are between speaking and singing are very frequent in the corpus. Isn't that what reading poetry aloud is, essentially? Striking some middle ground. So dramatic declaiming, sprechtstimme, chanting, parlando or recitative styles of singing, everything that is not "just' speaking and everything that is not the singing of arias.  More conversational styles of singing in the vernacular, rapping... It is all musical, in that it is an aesthetic organization of sound. 

Beautiful songs, but not by Lorca


Friday, January 29, 2021

My eye doctor

 My eye doctor recommends artificial tears...

My real ones are enough, thank you very much.  

Color shift

 While on the phone with my daughter I listened to a recording she made of an etude. It is a very musical piece, but also part of famous collection of etudes used to study the instrument. (Charlier 2.) Anyway, at one point, after a particular phrase, I said wow, or "nice!] orsomething like that. She told me at the end that she had tried a particular musical effect at that exact moment, which she described as a "color shift." I didn't know quite what it was, but I heard it very distinctly as being a striking effect. It was almost supernatural. 

Book of the Pigments 4

 It is a block of undifferentiated text of indefinite extension, without paragraph or page breaks, though conventionally punctuated. Lines on the page begin or end arbitrarily, as in other works of conventional prose. The margins are set arbitrarily. It is intimidating and seemingly impenetrable. Where to begin? That is not the problem. Rather, the question is how to continue, and for how long, and why. The end is not in sight, so it is difficult to say where the landmarks might fall. Where, for example, is the end of the beginning, the middle of the middle, the beginning or middle of the end? Coming back to the text another day, it is hard to remember where to begin again. Surely not from the beginning! How to mark one's place? And the purpose of such a text also seems unclear. Black against a white background, it offers nothing lavender or chartreuse, nothing smelling of thyme or cinnamon. Little by little, a plot emerges, unrushed, lavishly prepared for, greatly anticipated. A silvery thread runs through it. Now, finally, something not black or white. But isn't this just the name for something something gray but lustrous? It gathers strength; though still thin as a thread, standing out more clearly from the background of other whites, blacks, and grays. The reader can grab on to it. It is unclear from this example how well the reader knows the language of the text, a detail that was not apparent from the beginning. You merely took for granted the reader's proficiency at the beginning, but what if the impenetrable monolith were only partially comprehensible. Moreover, the reader might be learning the language of the text through the act of reading it, so that the text increases in clarity throughout the reading process. Since theoretically the text has no end, any time the reading stops the text simply breaks off without any reason. Now its continuity is in question again... 

Folk hero

 I thought of that colloquial phrase. Isn't that what Lorca is? Also, with the double meaning, hero of the genre of folk music. I have to work this into a title somewhere. 

Spanish Wikipedia doesn't have an entry for it, but Portuguese does:

Um herói popular, herói folclórico ou herói nacional é um tipo de herói - real, fictício ou mitológico - com nome, personalidade e atos incorporados à consciência popular de um povo, mencionado com frequência em canções folclóricas, contos folclóricos e outros folclores; e com status tropo moderno na literatura, arte e filmes. 

Book of the Pigments 3

 Windchimes from the balcony, one wood, the other metal

the chirping of small birds, the scurrying of squirrels

these are are my pigments, my soundscapes 

roar of furnace, hum of refrigerator

my own breath, in and out, my own heartbeat at quieter moments

They have created a radio station for me

Monk and Mompou, guessing at my deepest desires

These too are pigments, as vivid as the green of my succulents 

as brown as the smell of coffee, of onions carmelizing in the pan... 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Book of the Pigments 2

 Some were confined to their homes for months

others thrown into the street

Some suffered extreme solitude

others, forced into the company of gregarious fools

Some sickened and died

others lived in fear 

All were lied to, all menaced 

all broken

Some lamented

others said next to nothing 

Some wrote songs and painted paintings

others did not 

Usually I don't write poems that aren't funny. I also never write poems "about" anything. Except for this one. I think this will be my Covid statement for my evaluation.  

Book of the Pigments I

 The heart of the pigment

avecs les enfants


I love. But you love too. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Libro de los pigmentos

 I've discovered another obscure manuscript by the poet Mateo del Olmo, book of the pigments. I feel obliged to translate it. The urge came to me as I read another, very good book yesterday and today, by an unrelated poet, Teresa Soto, Crónicas de I.  


 I've discovered something quite interesting. In academic television studies they talk about "quality television" quite openly. That is the exact phrase. It's mostly in a European context. I'm not sure why that is a striking fact for me. I suppose it is because it implies a default setting of non-quality tv.  Is there a category of "quality [pop] music." ?? Music critics don't talk like that. 

All value judgment are suspended in a particular kind of cultural studies, but not with respect to television. Everyone seems to know what quality is.  


 Lester Young had a unique slang. If you believe everything you read, he is the first person to use the word cool in its contemporary sense of laid back and hip, and the first person to call money bread. His name for the police was Bob and Bing (Crosby). If someone around was racist he would say "I feel a draft."  

Anyway, he called every musician lady, man or woman, so Billy Holiday, a very good friend, became Lady Day. Everyone know this nickname, and everyone knows the Frank O'Hara poem "The Day Lady Died," which reverses the two words, but the habit of Pres calling everyone lady makes the name sound a little different from its decontextualized use.  Everyone's a lady, nothing so specialized about it any more. But... the name only stuck to her, not to every one else he called this. And then it got used in titles like Lady Sings the Blues

Jazz slang filtered into the general population in the 1960s, then most of it waned eventually. All the cats, chicks, pads, threads. The hip, the cool. Mailer foresaw this in a 1957 essay called "The White Negro," but he was already running behind what Kerouac had thought long before.  


Tuesday, January 26, 2021


I just read back through several months of dreams. {not a dream; I just did this}.  I did not remember most of them.  I'm sure I had the dreams, but I only know of them from what I wrote. They are in my style (of writing, of dreaming,). 


 Amanda Gorman signed with a top modeling agency. Her books are best sellers, now, even the ones that haven't actually been released yet. She was offered a job as poet in residence by a college president. The media adore her. Poets and professors of English and Spanish on Facebook are praising her. One person on FB was protesting vociferously about negative opinions of her, but I saw nothing at all of this kind on my FB feed. At worst a few opinions that the poem wasn't very good "on the page," but with the caveat that it was great read aloud, and that it is *hard* to write occasional poetry.  A lot of the sentiment that it is good that people are finally paying attention to *poetry.*. 

It strikes me that we don't treat any other art form like this, with this variety of infantilizing condescension. I'm going to have to give up writing bad poetry now... 

Dream of FF

 I was going to have meeting with Franco to tell him that he killed Lorca. I wasn't particularly afraid or apprehensive about it, worrying more how other people might react. When I woke I remembered that Franco had died in 1975. 

Monday, January 25, 2021

Dream of syllabus

 I dreamed everyone's syllabus was a glossy wall calendar with pictures. I was embarrassed mine was not and I hadn't thought of it.  

Friday, January 22, 2021

None dare call it doggerel

 I am of two minds, like a line of poetry in which there are

two words.


I do not know which to prefer

this line

or this one.  


I was planning for this couplet to rhyme

but it doesn't 

and it isn't a couplet now I've added this to it

if I keep going it will be string quintet 


Thursday, January 21, 2021

New Outline

 1. Intro

2. Why Lorca?

3. Elegies

4. Lorca in Miniature: Song Cycles

5. The Fortunes of Don Perlimplín 

6. The Literary Turn and the Canción de autor

7. Flamenco Variations

8. Peripheral Vision: Lorca and Postmodernism 


 The classical chapter split into three, one on elegies, another on art songs, and a third on version of Perlimplín. I guess the vernacular section could also split: one on singer-song writers, a second on flamenco, a third on peripheral versions, merging into conclusion on postmodernism? 

Wednesday, January 20, 2021


 I was totally unprepared to listen Maderna's Perlimplín, a delightful work that was not at all what I expected. Perlimplín should be a chapter of the book or a peel-away article. There's another Perlimplín that I haven't even heard yet.  This is the most attractive play for musicians. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Shitting on values

 I don't post much on politics, because I think many others are more eloquent on the subject. What is most notable about Trump's four years of hell is the way he has shat on the values of his followers. Christianity? The value of military service? Populism? He openly mocks all those things, or pays the most transparently hypocritical allegiance to them. For example, he favors billionaires economically, is personally irreligious and dissolute, and mocks as suckers people who have died or been captured in wars. The wall on the Mexico border is purely symbolic. 

The mistake is to think that people who really have those values will wake up to this fact and reject him. We keep waiting until the right-leaning people rise up en masse and say enough is enough, but that is never going to happen. 

It could be that those values are bogus in the first place. In other words, the followers themselves are just like Trump, with the same underlying contempt for those things. The values are a cynical performative facade and nothing more. That is why the waking up moment never occurs, or occurs only when some official falls out of favor with Trump, or some Republican senator retires and can speak freely.  

Some might hold those values sincerely, and simply be too stupid, uninformed, or insane to realize the cognitive dissonance involved. What I've noticed is a lot of flat-earthism. If you see people who sincerely believe the earth is flat on youtube, you realize there is no argument to be made. It is more important to have a sense of solidarity with a group of like-minded people, than to use common sense and come up with a scientifically informed view. The people who believe the election was stolen are similar. 

Monday, January 18, 2021

March Orchard

 My apple tree

now has shade and  birds.

How my dream leaps

from moon to wind!

My apple tree

gives its arms to the green.

From March, how I see

January's white forehead!

My apple tree...

(low wind).

My apple tree...

(high sky). 


Sunday, January 17, 2021


 Looking at my cv, my first Lorca papers (aside from a super early one on Yerma) are from 2006. So I'm 15 years down the Lorca rabbit hole, with no end in sight. I've done a few other things, like publishing a book in 2009 on recent Spanish poetry, which I had written before. 

Saturday, January 16, 2021


 I took a walk and when I came back I wrote these paragrphs:


 I can pivot from discussion of Lorca art songs to vernacular Lorca music, because they are all songs with a folkloric bent. A classical singer like María José Montiel can sing Lorca's folksongs along with Montsalvatge, whereas a pop singer can sing those same songs along with settings of other poems. 

Song cycles

 Composite of song-cycles:  written by men, sung mostly by women. Lots of children's songs, and other songs from Canciones. Very short poems on the whole. Texts mostly in original Spanish. Link between childlike sensibility and folkloric, neopopular aspects of Lorca. 

On one record, songs with texts from the popular tradition are mislabeled as Lorca songs.  "De Cádiz a Gilbraltar."  [García Leoz].  

The fear of missing something. My answer: I will miss something. Since my approach is selective, it shouldn't matter. I guess if Stravinsky or Bartok had a Lorca setting I missed that would be bad. 

Friday, January 15, 2021


If you had to invent a composite composer interested on setting Lorca to music. 

The composer would lean left politically and be interested in vocal music, but also in musical styles that use the human voice in unconventional ways. He (it would be a he) would make music in an eclectic, innovative style, with multi-cultural influences, including innovative use of percussion. He would be interested not only in Spain but in Latin America. He would be likely to admire Debussy and Falla. Likely to be born between 1898 and 1930.  

The profile of someone singing in vernacular styles. Still likely to be a man with left-leaning politics. He would be born around 1945 in Spain and also sing the poetry of other canonical poets. He would be either a flamenco singer or a singer-songwriter, but in either case someone with a strong "literary" orientation. 


 I've decided opera is a different thing from what I'm studying. Opera belongs more to adaptation studies, like studies of movies based on novels or plays. The same for ballets. I know nothing about dance. Ballets and operas could be the subject of a whole 'nother book, which someone else should write.  

I don't even know where to get the scores for 2 operas based on Yerma. I don't find all the ballets based on Perlimplín all that interesting to me. 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Pandemic research

 I got off the zoom with a British musicologist, who spent an hour with me talking about the part of my project within her expertise. This is something I might not have done before the pandemic. Yesterday, we had a first meeting of a Spanish poetry reading club. Three or four or us from the US and the same number from Spain. That, too, was lovely, and wouldn't have happened otherwise.  I spend more on books, much less on eating out and drinks at bars (nothing now). Don't go to conferences, but these forms of contact are more satisfying in many cases. At conference I remember seeing friends and not having time to talk to them. I might never to the MLA again.  

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Zen and value judgments

 We talk about having an open, spacious mind and not clinging to opinions and judgments. Of course, I am very prone to making value judgments about works of music and literature. I am a literary critic, after all. One of our zen teachers is a translator who never wrote a scholarly book in his field, but I am a critic, and now a music critic too. 

So I do arrive at judgments, but these judgments are simply the starting point, not the arrival. Instead of saying, I don't like it (or I do) and stopping there, I use that value judgment as the starting point for curious reflection. What don't I like? Why? It could be the same for positive judgments. Being attached to a high valuation of a piece of music is equally problematic, although people often act as though only negative judgments are a problem. Logically, this is not so. Zen helps to cut through the traps of conceptual thinking. 

I discovered three more Spanish composers this morning, so there's that. One wrote songs not based on Lorca, but they seem like they are attributed to Lorca on the album somehow.  

Many songs are very minor in the sense that they are brief, often light in tone without much gravitas, and their value is often in their charm. Why should a very short song be of less value than a symphony, though? 

Friday, January 8, 2021

postmodernism and Bourdieu

 I'm sure it's been pointed before, but Bourdieu isn't very keen on popular cultural. He almost worse than Adorno. Of course, his purpose is not to evaluate this culture, but to see how it works in relation to the working class. This class makes a virtue of necessity, liking its cheap, uncomplicated food and decor because it cannot afford anything better, or the time and educational level to pursue it.  Elite taste doesn't come off much better, since it is a stand-in for elite social status, and middlebrow taste merely aspires to elite or "legitimate" taste without ever getting there. Of course, his aim is not to evaluate these three kinds of culture, but to line them up with the cultural self-definitions of social classes. By not evaluating, he simply lets his own elitism come through. 

Postmodernism basically blows Bourdieu out of the water. The avant-garde goes eclectically in search of kitsch inspirations and doesn't mind being accessible. The middlebrow loses its stigma, as college professors read Mary Oliver. Popular culture is vibrant in rock and jazz, and even intellectuals realize where the action is. Bourdieu published his book in 1979, after doing his research in the 1960s. But after 1968 the entire cultural landscape shifts under his feet. Now it has been pointed out that the social classes are still differentiated by the type of music they like, but that now the intellectual elites like many genres, from classical and jazz to folk (omnibrows), with others being less eclectic in taste. The stigma around pop music only obtains within genres, so that rock and roll snobs, if there are any, will look down on bands that aren't as good. 

Probably Bourdieu's categories never were as relevant in the US or Spain anyway. It's not that there are not hierarchies of taste corresponding to sociological hierarchies, as must be the case to some extent everywhere, but that these aren't going to line up so perfectly as they do in France before 1968.  

Postmodernism in this context: eclecticism in elite forms + explosion of youth culture after the 1960s.  

Monday, January 4, 2021

The challenge

 I'm studying how the Lorca music intersects with categories of taste, like middlebrow or kitsch. But I myself occupy a position in this hierarchy. I like music that has a certain integrity. It can be alienated from what Lorca was doing, different in whatever way, but it cannot be cheap in its effects.  

It's actually an objective judgment to call something middle-brow or kitsch. That simply is that sort of taste. The cursi is cursi and is perfectly recognizable as such. Those are sociological facts. 

So middle-brow elevates in cheap ways (adding strings to a song that doesn't need them, to make it sound more refined). Kitsch just goes all out, and has the strings + a canned rock-beat on the drums. Kitsch doesn't care whether it's elevated, but will add a little bit of strings just to be sure. It is hybrid in all the wrong ways. 

Obviously I am just arguing with myself here.  Instead of saying "this is kitsch," I could say, "this is the sort of thing people call kitsch." Or middle-brow. Instead of trying to find a non-pejorative way of talking about it, I could just own it. 

Carlos Cano

 I couldn't sleep, and was writing in my head. I remembered suddenly Carlos Cano's Diván del Tamarit, which I have to at least mention.  

Gacela del amor imprevisto.  Starts off with a horn section, a female voice sings "nadie," a male voice comes in. Then the male voice, Cano, sings with a guitar. Semi-flamenco style. Drum beat enters, then violins and woodwinds. Very pretentious-sounding. I'm not getting an emotional feel from the song that corresponds to my idea of of the poem. The mood changes half-way through; it's a bit lachrymose. The arrangement is too much. That string section. 

Gacela de la terrible presencia. Starts off with pulsing intro, drum beat and electric guitar. The tempo is too fast for the poem, the dramatic emphases are off. The soprano is doing vocalese in the background. He uses strings in a similar way. 

Gacela del amor desesperado.  Starts with flamenco-style singing. Then the orchestra comes in. The arrangement is almost unbearably pretentious. Castanets. The pseudo-flamenco is reminiscent of españoladas. 

Gacela del amor que no se deja ver. Starts with bells, and then the line about bells in the poem. A woman whispering. He is not a bad singer, but the melodies are not convincing to me. 

Gacela del niño muerto. A middle-eastern feel to the scale being played. A flute. The tempo is too up-beat for the text of the poem. You are doing it wrong!! 

Gacela de la raíz amarga. Just the guitar and voice at the beginning. Then the woodwinds. Flamenco cadence. 

That's about as much as I can stand. This is unspeakably bad. But that's just my opinion.  

Saturday, January 2, 2021


 Out of curiosity I listened to some music by some of the Grupo de 8 composers on Spotify.  One of them, in particular, seemed very bad to me. The H brothers seem quite perfectly mediocre, but this other guy seemed to be writing bad scores for spaghetti Westerns. (And I say this as someone who appreciates the classic scores to those movies by Sergio de Leone.) It just seemed bizarre to me. Abrupt modulations with no reasons behind them, weak sense of momentum, writing in outmoded styles of past centuries, but without "making them new" in an interesting way, cheap romantic effects. 

We only ever get to hear the good stuff. Well, classical FM radio plays conservative composers who are not my thing, but they usually are more technically competent than this. I'm sure there are unknown gems, but minor composers are often minor for good reasons.  Compositional talent is rare. It cannot be taken for granted. 


 Maurice Ohana is interesting. His father was a Sephardic Jew, his mother Spanish. He was born in Casablanca, but gained British citizenship through his father, whose family was from Gibraltar. He knew everyone from Alejo Carpentier and Octavio Paz to La Argentinita and André Gide. He lived mostly in France, and later became a French citizen. He was interested African music (both North African and the Subsaharan).  Like Mompou, he didn't care much for Beethoven, or, in general the Germans. He liked French music, Ravel, Debussy, and Spanish (Falla, Albéniz). You couldn't even make up someone with this background and biographical trajectory. His existence alone justifies my project. 

So there is a musical modernism that stems from everyone except Schoenberg and his school. Debussy, Stravinksy, Falla, Poulenc. It's the French, Russians, and Spanish against the German hegemony in music. Pierre Boulez then imposes that German orthodoxy on French music, with Ohana off to one side with his group, the zodiaque.  {This info comes from the work of Caroline Rae, the main expert on Ohana who is in Wales.  

My rule

 I can't just listen to a piece based on Lorca: I have to listen to several other things by the same composer that aren't related. Otherwise I miss out on who the composer is independently, and also I miss out on my own musical education. 


I don't even like other people's work on "words and music."  In my view, most people who write on literature and music are doing it wrong. But 'you're doing it wrong" could be my motto. I have to watch myself because that's my main approach. 

How do I know I'm doing it right? I think about it and come with the best approach. I see what the material I am studying is telling me, and I change course when I realize I am doing it wrong. I discard assumptions that become obstacles to progress. 


Listening to "Long Night for 3 Pianos" by Kyle Gann. I discovered this composer through his blog several years ago. It sounds postminimalist and a little new-agey in flavor.  


 I still don't like Amancio Prada. The smooth-jazz like sax, the arpeggiation on the piano, the cheesy modulations, the pop drum beats that seem to be out of a box. To me it drags down Lorca to his level, but without really elevating the music itself. It's a kind of middle-brow, conservative approach that makes my skin crawl. I don't have problems with avant-garde music, or late modernist styles.  


I listened to some Cristóbal Halffter works yesterday. He cites part of the melody of "Anda Jaleo" in the midst of an otherwise atonal piece.  He is the nephew of Rodolfo and Ernesto, Spanish composers of the group of 8. I have a hard time getting excited about any of them. Just think if Lorca had stayed with music, he'd be a minor student of Manuel de Falla. 


Looks like there is a book on Encarnación López, "La Argentinita," out. (published in Sept.). Looking forward to that. She was mainly a dancer, but sung on the record with Lorca playing the piano. Now if someone would just do a bio on Germaine Montero. 

Friday, January 1, 2021

Salvador Moreno Manzano

 I discovered another composer today, a Mexican one. The bar is high to get included in my book. I wish there were more women composers to approach Lorca's work, because that would make ME look better.  I don't want to do either a descriptive survey or make claims for a lot of very minor works. 

I also found some Alberti settings by Rodolfo Halffter today. I have to look up the spelling of his name every time. One l, two ffs, one t.