Thursday, November 18

35 Piano Etudes

          for David Rakowski

On an otherwise empty stage, a grand piano stands with its lid fully open, the stool a few feet from the pedals. The pianist lid fully open, the stool a few feet from the pedals. The pianist enters, carrying a toy piano and scrunches under the body of the grand pianos with it, making him/herself as comfortable as possible.

The pianist, with a smile, acknowledges the audience and, using a white handkerchief, dusts off the keys of the toy piano. Then, he/she performs John Cage's 4'33" twice in succession. Between the two performances he or she may or may not improvise a brief statement explaining why the piece is being performed again.

The pianist approaches the piano cautiously, as though not knowing what it is. The lid is down, the keyboard is covered. The pianist taps various parts of the piano, testing its sounds.

Then with the briefest of glances at the audience he/she sits down on the stool, flips the tails of a tuxedo jacket he/she isn't wearing free of the stool, and, turning to the audience, announces he/she will play ___________.

He/she proceeds to do so, without opening the keyboard. When the piece is over, he/she rises, bows to the audience and leaves the stage.

The pianist comes on stage carrying a leash, which he/she attaches to the right-front leg of the piano. He/she then turns back toward the door by which he/she entered and starts forward. If the piano, like a recalitrant puppy, fails to move, the pianist drops the leash, goes to the stage-door and waves onto the stage another pianist who attaches a leash to the left-front leg of the piano. If the piano again fails to move, a third pianist is enlisted to help . . . and then a fourth, fifth, sixth, etc., if necessary, until the piano begins to move.

When the piano is finally moving, the assembled pianists walk it once in a circle around the stage. When at last it is back more or less in its original position, then unleash it and, applauding politely, say, "Good dog! Good boy!" Then, they pat its lid and file off the stage.

At any point in an otherwise normal recital (though not at the very beginning or end, or just before or after intermission), the pianist invites all of the members of the audience who care to do so to file onto the stage and play a single note on the piano. After all who care to participate have done so, he or she applauds the audience and invites its members to applaud themselves.

The formally dressed pianist comes on stage carrying a tool kit. He or she, during the first half of the concert, disassembles the grand piano while whistling tunes from various pieces by Chopin. Then, after intermission, the pianist returns to the stage, bows, and proceeds, in silence, to reassemble the piano. A piano-tuner then retunes the piano, and, as an encore, the pianist performs Schumann's Toccata in C.

Six or more pianos (depending on space available) are wheeled on stage and six (or more) pianists in gym togs and begin doing jumping jacks and push-ups near each of the pianos. Each of the pianists in turn stops exercising and plays a three- or four-minute etude of his or her choice as the others continue their jumping jacks and push-ups. When the last pianist has played and resumed exercising, the exercising continues for another four or five minutes, after which the exercising stops and the performers take their bows.

The soloist, struggling mightily, pushes his/her piano up a hill, perhaps one of the lows hills surrounding the Hollywood Bowl. When, at the crest of the hill, there is a moment's pause before the piano begins to roll back down, the pianist is able to rest briefly and savor his/her freedom, before trudging down to begin the task of pushing the piano up the hill, yet again.

Two nanopianos are inserted into the Large Hadron Collider at the CERN facility near the border of France and Switzerland. They are fired, molto vivace, in opposite directions, and when they collide the resultant tempi and fingerings are studied for any hints as to how music first came into being.

Prepare to perform an evening of Beethoven piano sonatas, but on a piano prepared for a performance of John Cage's Sonatas and Interludes. (A piano prepared by Aleck Karis is recommended.) The choice of Beethoven sonatas is yours.

Choosing individual movements from among the piano sonatas of Scriabin, Beethoven, Prokofiev, Bach, Chopin, Haydn, and Mozart, prepare an evening of piano sonatas. Rules: 1) three sonatas minimum, four maximum; 2) no composer represented more than once in each sonata or more than three times in the program as a whole.

The piano body, having been waterproofed, is filled with water, and then several varieties of fish are added. The more fish the better. Extremely sensitive underwater microphones (as many as possible) are suspended throughout the "tank." The sound is amplified by means of a rock concert-like array of speakers. The pianist plays a recital of his/her own choosing. Pieces having to do with water (e.g. Debussy, Ravel) are encouraged but not required. Large monitors enabling the audience to watch the fish as the recital proceeds would be a nice touch.



Monday, November 15

Works in Progress, 51

getting in touch with the cable guys
swinging the birches
testing the waters
pushing radical music agendas

rewriting the country's labor laws
seeing a psychic map of our obsessions
building electoral coalitions that will win
emphasizing the overlapping interests of the affluent

cleaning up after Gustav, Hanna, Ike
cleaning up after Bush, after Cheney
rewriting the history of consciousness
blurring the possibilities

supporting any effort to reunionize
failing to generate meaningful responses
becoming one with the centipede in oneself
getting some good poems out of it

slumbering well until after nightfall
setting this brain of mine afire
reaching irritably after fact & reason
shunning easy consolations

subsidizing extraction industries
helping women victimized by male violence
doubling the sign-up bonus for volunteers
supporting the troops while doubting the war

counting the dead
waiting for them to break silence
descending the steeps of the soughing twilight
assimilating foreign cultures

demilitarizing outer space
completing the application and mailing it back
reviewing our few remaining options
showing off poetry's "extreme generosity"

maneuvering pothole-sized cars around
designing more effective marketing campaigns
speaking solely in terms of racial justice
examining burial pits and naked skulls

getting out the vote
fetching water from the well
educating the masses
confessing to our personal demons

clearing minefields from past wars
laying them for wars yet to come
staying executions, pardoning the innocent
blurring the boundaries, the borders

reading maps in the dark with the top light off
folding them all back up rightly
cramming them into the glove compartment
getting moving again in the right direction

cooling our wardheelers
voting early and often
keeping our fingers crossed
paying full-price for our journey

assembling a glossary of oft-used phrases
keeping silent while the tea is poured
maintaining an inventory of our beliefs and unbeliefs
finding time to clean up around the house

making the world safe for gerontocracy
clearing the minefields and cow pastures
converting analog files to digital
rereading An Anatomy of Melancholy

fighting the high cost of prescription meditations
comparing the works of Proust, Gide, and Sartre
putting something aside for a rainy day
asking for another user's name and password

scanning the shelves for news
cleaning up after the latest tsunami
trying not to think about elephants
looking forward to end-of-life decisions

reassessing works already completed
exterminating the brutes
chipping ice from the windshield of the car
rebuilding the old road from Fredrikstad to Skjeberg

getting more bang for the buck
setting something aside for that rainy day
worry about what to really worry about
getting back to the Bang, the Big One

teaching the Chinese how to speak English
learning about Putin, reading his soul
cashing in on Homeland Security
making that list of things to make lists of

deciding whether or not to escape to Canada
enhancing revenue without raising taxes
learning more about hematology--its life, its times
mapping talk-free zones in public parks

making the punishment fit the criminal
recovering our census-takers
fitting the glove to the velvet hand
dialing for (four) dollars

laying mines at the Prose/Poetry border
celebrating the rebirth of death
transferring funds to overshore accounts
counting the years from start to finish

unpacking after the last long/short journey
saying goodbye to the undead
finding trusty pocket tools for indoor use
pleasing others in letters

recouping ancient losses
moving data from there to over here
scanning the text as rapidly as possible
keeping Kandinsky in mind

replacing old maps with new ones
preparing the cat for summer camp
paying the bills in advance
brushing up on our Spanish

stealing stones from the temple
building a nearby church
stealing stones from the church
building a nearby bank

filling the sandbags
repairing the levee
spreading plutocracy around the world
counting and bagging the dead

cleaning up after Rita, Katrina
remembering we must pay our bills
washing windows of opportunity
trying to find the snows of yesteryear

covering up the latest cover-up
rereading all we've reread as of now
reviewing the plays of Pinter, their silences
uncovering the cover-up of the cover-up

comparing apples to orangutans
criminalizing conservative politics
finding new ways to profit from disasters
rescuing painting from the dead end of Pop Art

robbing Peter and Paul to pay Mark and Luke
waking up to a brand-new day
forgetting that old Underwood we once loved
overcoming inertia and ignorance

freeing the slaves
admonishing those who do evil
stamping out political brushfires
democratizing the US

closing the books on the old year
balancing the checkbook (first time ever)
remembering to reshape my face (yet again)
changing course (as always)

securing the seaports
transfiguring the night of the prom
seeking an audience with His Holiness, the President
bombing the Middle East into freedom and democracy

telling civil war from your garden-variety insurgency
recognizing our deepest needs, wants, and wishes
finally getting that poodle to the groomer
learning to live on self-serve island

keeping an eye on the military-industrial complex
reseeding the lawn for the nth and final time
staking out claims on the future
moving the party toward a more radical center

restoring the Gulf to its pre-US condition
administering flu shots to every chicken in every pot
studying studies on the results of previous studies
reducing the pulse of alien shadows

reducing light pollution in our major cities
rescuing the castaways
creating unwanted database gaps
accommodating carbon dating to Biblical truth

bombing our way to an "endurable" peace
retelling the tales of bygone wars
seeing what might be learned there
measuring the manatee

returning that defective broadband router
speaking kindly of those we no longer respect
giving up keeping up as a modus vivendi
putting our thoughts into action

sticking to issues that directly affect us
bemoaning the cautiousness of today's athletes
co-opting the arguments of their opposition
welcoming Latino immigrants at the border

throwing our hats in the ring
translating our actions into thought
seeing that Anna Nicole Smith achieves sainthood
rehanging Saddam and getting it right

paying off our debts, incurring new ones
getting the MS of the new book out into the mail
preparing ourselves for our press conference
seeking an end to cross-pollination

hammering out justice, all over this land
disturbing the neighbors by night, by day
enjoying privacy at our place in the country
transmuting dross into gold

pronouncing the names of the dead
bringing Elian back to his Miami relatives
rejuvenating all those pre-aged youngsters out there
throwing our hats in the ring

finding our way to the next whiskey bar
extending that fence to both east and west coasts
revising our previously revised revisions
building the ark to end arks

preventing its dividing itself up
realizing our potential potential
spending more time with the family
waking up to unreality

finding the photos of the old house
rowing the boat ashore
thinking things through again
keeping the guard up

parsing the genome
flinging sweets down the staircase
exhaling only when necessary
tearing myself away


parsing the genome
fleshing out the diagram
refilling the lungs, yet again
reacquainting ourselves



Just before dawn, we splashed ashore.
No one there. Nothing awake.
Nothing there. No one