I tell you now: there are no epiphanies.

Category: miscellany

Fahey Dizz

Fahey playing over the hidden speakers at California Adventures. Brown acid?

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I’ve been remiss in much posting.  Truth is, I’m doing more tweeting than anything else these days.  If you’d care to follow, it’s @xiankiefer.  There’s a facebook page too.  If I were smarter about these things I’d have direct clickable links here but I’m not all that.

In more better news, The Infinite Tides, will appear on the 4th of July (officially) from Bloomsbury in the US and in mid-September from Bloomsbury UK.  This is good news.  If you poke around the Internet you’ll find both covers, which are beautiful.  I hope to feed the first chapter or so on this here website in the future but as of yet, you’ll have to wait.   It’ll be worth it, I promise.

Hard at work on the next book, which is something I’ve been working on for nearly a decade in one form or another.  The images won’t leave me alone and so it needs to be properly finished.  I have 9 drafts and am working on number 10.  The Infinite Tides took me 41 drafts to get right. I guess that’s how I’m wired.


We three Presidential songwriters, along with about 10 other musicians, played a gig a few weeks ago in Sacramento–a kind of local celebration of the release of Of Great and Mortal Men.  I took some of the proceeds of that gig and joined the National Organization for Women (NOW if you dig acronyms).

There are numerous reasons to do this–it’s an important organization for forwarding the rights of over half of the people on this planet: geniuses, scientists, writers, mothers, poets, wives, doctors, etc.  But more immediate for me is the knowledge that Jefferson, Matthew and I collected over 50 musicians together to put together Of Great and Mortal Men and I think there are only four women on the entire project.  That seems embarrassing to me.  (Not to mention that to my immediately knowledge there are no people of color whatsoever.)  One could make the argument, I suppose, that we wrote a bunch of songs about white men and hence the “casting” makes sense, but I still don’t like it, and I’d guess my co-writers have similar feelings on the issue.

In any case, there’s much a man can to do help, and this is just one way.  Apologies to women everywhere for our phallocentric representation of a phallocentric history.

If you’re interested in NOW, just click here.

Branca from NYT

I got the idea for this piece from mathematician David Hilbert’s well-known list of 23 “Paris Problems” (1900) that he hoped to see solved in the new century. Of course there is not the slightest connection between Hilbert’s list of problems and this list of questions. Not to mention the fact that many of these questions contain the answers simply in the asking.

Klein bottleQuestion mark Klein bottle.

1. Should a modern composer be judged against only the very best works of the past?

2. Can there be truly objective criteria for judging a work of art?

3. If a composer can write one or two or more great works of music why cannot all of his or her works be great?

4. Why does the contemporary musical establishment remain so conservative when all other fields of the arts embrace new ideas?

5. Should a composer, if confronted with a choice, write for the musicians who will play a piece or write for the audience who will hear it?

6. When is an audience big enough to satisfy a composer or a musician? 100? 1000? 10,000? 100,000? 1,000,000? 100,000,000?

7. Is the symphony orchestra still relevant or is it just a museum?

8. Is micro-tonality a viable compositional tool or a burned out modernist concept?

9. In an orchestra of 80 to 100 musicians does the use of improvisation make any sense?

10. What is the dichotomy between dissonance and. tonality and where should the line be drawn?

11. Can the music that sooths the savage beast be savage?

12. Should a composer speak with the voice of his or her own time?

13. If there’s already so much good music to listen to what’s the point of more composers writing more music?

14. If Bach were alive today would he be writing in the baroque style?

15. Must all modern composers reject the past, a la John Cage or Milton Babbitt’s “Who Cares If You Listen?”

16. Is the symphony an antiquated idea or is it, like the novel in literature, still a viable long form of music?

17. Can harmony be non-linear?

18. Was Cage’s “4:33” a good piece of music?

19. Artists are expected to accept criticism, should critics be expected to accept it as well?

20. Sometimes I’m tempted to talk about the role that corporate culture plays in the sale and distribution of illegal drugs throughout the United States and the world, and that the opium crop in Afghanistan has increased by 86 percent since the American occupation, and the fact that there are 126,000 civilian contractors in Iraq, but what does this have to do with music?

21. Can the orchestra be replaced by increasingly sophisticated computer-sampling programs and recording techniques, at least as far as recordings are concerned?

22. When a visual artist can sell a one-of-a-kind work for hundreds of thousands of dollars and anyone on the internet can have a composer’s work for nothing, how is a composer going to survive?
And does it matter?

23. Should composers try to reflect in their music the truth of their natures and the visions of their dreams whether or not this music appeals to a wide audience?

24. Why are advances in science and technology not paralleled by advances in music theory and compositional technique?

25. Post-Post Minimalism? Since Minimalism and Post-Minimalism we’ve seen a short-lived Neo-Romanticism, mainly based on misguided attempts to return to a 19th century tonality, then an improv scene which had little or nothing to do with composition, then a hodge-podge of styles: a little old “new music,” a little “60’s sound colorism”, then an eclectic pomo stew of jazz, rock and classical, then a little retro-chic Renaissance … even tonal 12-tonalism. And now in Germany some “conceptual” re-readings of Wagner. What have I left out? Where’s the music?

From Matthew

I’m stealing this wholesale from Matthew Gerken’s blog because, hey, that’s how I roll.  It made me laugh.  Particularly, the last sentence, which has no business being the last sentence.  No business at all, I tell you.  Anyway, here it is and this is all it is.  Rat tails unite!

When I was young it wasn’t fair. I was so deprived, let me tell you. I didn’t get to have a rat tail or have a moped and I had to go to sleep sometimes when all the other kids were still playing and I didn’t get to have a bb gun or a pellet gun; but now that I am an adult, I am a moped-riding, rat tail having, bb gun shooting, stay-out-all night vandal…. Iowa is the best place to be from and my family is the best family there is…

Shout! Shout, Ukrainians!

This morning I am abruptly shaken from sleep the my clock radio singing “Shout!  Shout!  Let it all out!  These are the things we can do without!  Come on!  I’m talking to you!  Come on!” 

I have been pulled from a dream.  I am leading two young Ukrainian exchange students on a dawnlight tour of some town.  There are many people in the streets and some of them are celebrating.  For some reason, once of the students wears a face mask of the kind worn by doctors, only hers is so small that it barely covers the opening of her abnormally small mouth.  There are a group of people jumping up and down in a circle shouting something.  In the dream, I think it’s a fraternity of some kind.  A local college perhaps.  Then I feel like perhaps I’m the immigrant and they are the ones leading me through their strange Ukranian town.

I’m not sure what to say about this except that the mind is a strange thing and going from that weirdness to Roland Orzabal is a second weirdness.  My day is shattered into glass.

Winter’s Tale

I may have misspoke on my previous post about Winter’s Tale.  The greatest book ever?  Nope.  Still quite effective though.  When you’re in the middle of it, it’s seems impossible that there are any other books in the world, but it partially disintegrates under the weight of its own sometimes histrionic use of magic realism–or rather the magic that I found so quaint and appealing during the first 1/3 of the book seemed increasingly silly during the last 1/3.  So a bit out of balance.

On to Invisible Cities.  Ah gods.


I have nothing else to say on this subject.


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