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Dreams are Confused

Dreams are confused, yet men seek clarity there Oracles speak with twisted tongues; men trust them and do not despair From confusion--do...

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Dreams are Confused

Dreams are confused, yet men seek clarity there

Oracles speak with twisted tongues; men trust them and do not despair

From confusion--dogma, false hope

Through fog, on slick roads--stupid, dismal determination

Sunday, November 19, 2017


By using the tag Popular songs I am able to trace the development of my short and unsuccessful songwriting efforts. I started in September '15, so I have been writing for 2 years and 2 months. I couldn't do song in all the keys that I know now.  I've been able to do more complex things, though complexity is not an end in itself. My playing is far better: I only started piano lesson in fall of '16, or a year after I had started. My new teacher now is teaching me proper piano technique, which makes it much easier to play well.

I need a system to write them down and keep track of them.


The only way to learn improvisation is to do it.  So I set a timer for 15 minutes, choose a set of chord changes, and just do it. You can play many choruses in 15 minutes. The trick is getting to where you can sing it to yourself in your head what you are about to play, just before you play it. If you then go on to play something different than you thought of, you know you are not hearing it correctly in your head.


 I realize I've been holding myself back unnecessarily in many ways, making things harder for myself. It would take me a long time to learn a relatively simple classical piece, when I could be learning it faster, simply by choosing an 8-bar section and practicing only that for 15 minutes at a time. I thought I could only reach an octave and it turns out I can reach a 9th, etc...


I've decided to use Zotero to keep track of references.  That is what I am worst at, so that will make my next project all that easier to complete.   I won't be stuck at the last minute with many incomplete references like I normally do.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Lilt: a theory of melody

A melody has to catch the ear. A lilt is an up and down movement that has to be asymmetrical or surprising in some way. It can go up, and then down. That is fine, if there some surprise there, or some element not completely predictable. It also has to have a shape, and be intelligible as a series of related phrases. I think that everyone, even those with no musical knowledge, understands a melody, everyone could be able to say: it goes down, then up, then down again but to a place lower than where it started. Or it leaps up and then comes down by steps. Or it goes up in smaller leaps and then down on the same notes.  Just as there is a harmonic rhythm (how fast the chords change) there is melodic rhythm, in the same that the same sequence notes will not be same melody if the rhythm is very different.

I know how to write a melody, and I did it well the first time I tried. A melody can be very simple, like the first three phrases of "I got rhythm." A simple melody is not worse than a complicated one, though.  It can have more or less movement, and move across a wider or narrower range. Since my melodies are mine, I like them. They express exactly what I want them to. I work them over until they are what I want them to be. I'm not afraid to repeat a note 5 times in a row.

I generate melodies through tension with the chords, using a lot of ninths and chromatic movement in the underlying harmonies.

Could someone explain why one melody is better than another? I know some melodies are more catchy, some are beautiful. Some are elegant and symmetrical. Some of my favorites are these

The Blessing (Ornette Coleman)
Monk's Mood (Monk)
Wachet Auf... (Bach)
Star Dust (Carmichael)
Lester Leaps Up (Young)
Nessun Dorma

Sometimes I know there is a melody, in a technical sense: notes that move in a way that is intelligible, but I feel that there is not really melody in the sense of something that I would have wanted to write as a melody. It is scrub-a-scrub baroque music of the mediocre sort, or its Clementi equivalent. I get tired of jazz improvisation when it involves a lot of aimless running up and down scales, rather than melodic development. You can have a melody that happens to coincide with a certain sequence of notes of a scale, in fact that is impossible to avoid. But you shouldn't write a melody that's just a scale.

I saw the movie Evita, and, though it is all sung, there are not melodies in the sense I mean. It is like talking, but non-melodically, on designated pitches.


I always liked this word. It follows the morphological pattern of sacacorchos or aguafiestas: third-person singular verb + plural noun. Someone "who spares your life" or allows you to live is a bully, or someone who acts like they are braver than they are.

"Perdonarle la vida a alguien," to spare someone's life, means to condescend to them. So if someone writers that in a newspaper column, someone spares Borges's life, it means they are treating them with condescension, deciding whether Borges can live or die.  It is arrogance, or the arrogation of an authority the critic doesn't have.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017


I've read two books in the past few days, one for a book review, the other for a tenure review. Both deal with several authors, but they are all male. Another book I reviewed for a press this summer dealt with Spanish writers in New York.  Once gain, only male writers appear.

You could guess the genders of the authors of these books. But the last one was written by a woman. So my question is: why not put some women in your books? Why do women authors have to be studied in books only about women, with a lot of other books about other general topics (modernism, translation, etc...) ignoring women completely?