Monday, September 13, 2010

The Lost Chord: Installment 25

...continued from the previous installment of "The Lost Chord," (my musical parody of Dan Brown's “The Lost Symbol") in which Yoda Leahy-Hu began her interrogation of V.C. D'Arcy. LauraLynn, realizing the cab driver has called the police, devised another plan of escape. Meanwhile, Tr'iTone began a flashback to the night he broke into the Sullivan Homestead, when was chased into the woods and shot by Robertson, then left for dead.

(If you are new to “The Lost Chord,” begin your adventure, here.)

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It took years for Zoose – Tr'iTone, Dr. Dhabbodhú, whatever – to regroup after this, the whole time plotting how to succeed at his goal and in the process totally ruin the Sullivans. There must be another way. His beautiful body, expanded and hardened by years of dedication and discipline, had been badly damaged by the various cuts and bruises, by the weasel bites but most especially by the hole in his side that, like Amfortas' wound, had refused to heal.

He had stopped composing during this time, feeling if he sublimated his creativity into his obsession with Robertson Sullivan and his gizmo (so to speak), the sooner he would come up with a solution – one, this time, that would not fail.

But he felt empty inside so, after a year of isolation – very difficult to achieve, living on the Upper West Side – he began attending new music concerts, hoping he would hear something that might inspire him. Mostly what he heard was junk, no matter what side of the musico-political spectrum he would hear. But still, his “I-can-do-better-than-that” reactions failed to ignite any creative spark inside him.

Then one night, he went to a contemporary chamber music concert at the Symphony Space where he met a young composer whose latest work had been premiered on the program, the only piece he'd heard in recent years that even mildly interested him. The composer's name was Luke van Rhiarden and over a few post-concert beers they talked shop for about a half hour when he mentioned how he had only recently come out of a long creative slump, thanks to having taken a course on Julia Cameron's popular book for people undergoing artistic mid-life crises called “The Artist's Way.”

Zoose mentioned he'd heard of it.

The young composer then confessed that Luke van Rhiarden wasn't his real name but one he had created to “empower” his creative side.

This whole idea of “empowerment” struck Zoose as very trendy but he listened intently. He knew that was something he lacked but whether he could make it work for him was less a matter of taste than one of conviction. He certainly knew about recreating your identity in a name, but how did that affect your “creative side”?

“Oh, it's much more than just coming up with any old name,” Luke explained. “Mine, for instance, is an anagram.” He winked at his new-found friend and finished his beer.

“Anagram?” Zoose sneered. “You mean like turning Dmitri Shostakovich into 'Oh Christ, a kid vomits'?”

“But you turn it into a name and draw something from the original source. My name,” he said, starting in on his next beer, “is an anagram from the name Adrian Leverkühn – well, without the umlaut, unfortunately. Lüke's a bit pretentious, even for me...”

Adrian Leverkühn, the fictitious composer in Thomas Mann's “Doctor Faustus” who sells his soul to the devil in return for his genius. Fascinating.

“In fact, the piece you just heard? Called 'Adonai's Umbilical'?”

“Yes, I was wondering about that title.” He thought it had been the result of a game of chance inspired by John Cage – you go to the dictionary and open it to some random pages, slapping your finger down on a word on each page, then shaping a title out of them. Either that or playing with those do-it-yourself poetry kits you see on refrigerator doors.

“It, too, is an anagram,” he added mysteriously, taking a pregnant pause long enough it could go into labor any minute, now. But Zoose decided to wait.

Luke looked deeply into his eyes before he deemed his new friend worthy, then broke the anticipation. “It comes from DIABOLUS IN MUSICA.”

“Ha!” The Devil in Music – an old nickname for a harmonically unstable interval, the tritone or augmented fourth. Cute.

“The Devil and God – Adonai – in one thought, the perfect syllogism.”

“Hegel would be proud.” Zoose smiled but found it awkward sipping his beer at the same time.

“And, of course, the whole idea that God, who existed before creation, should have an umbilical cord...” Luke chuckled. “If God and the angels existed before the Creation, I mean, who created them, right? Who, in fact, takes credit for creating Lucifer in the first place, especially after things went... you know, all dysfunctional in Heaven?”

“So, ah... do you actually have an Umbilical Chord?”

“Of course, silly boy! And out of it, I create everything the piece needs – all its harmony, all its melodic ideas, in fact even its rhythms – even though I don't explain any of this in the program notes which are purely technical mumbo-jumbo, all terribly left-brained of me to appease the new music fanatics. The two contrasting motives – first and second theme, if you will – are really just different orderings of the same six pitches. One represents God, the other Lucifer – or Satan, if you prefer.”

Before they parted company, they both paid a visit to the men's room where inadvertently Zoose saw an unusual tattoo on Luke's groin, just below the navel but mostly above the elastic band of his underwear. It looked like the notes of a chord but what an odd thing to put there.

“Actually, that's my Umbilical Chord,” he said, turning to face Zoose as modestly as he could. “All six notes placed as a single harmony. It's there because I had a birthmark that left an ugly little scar when I had it removed, so I decided to – well, empower myself by covering it up with a musical motif – my musical motif.”

Zoose thought of his own ugly scars, the results of his fall up at Sullivan's house that disastrous Thanksgiving Day and decided he could “empower” himself by covering them up with some tattoos, too. But Luke explained that he shouldn't just go get any tattoo – he should think about it and design something himself, something that would have personal significance.

“Then, when you are ready, contact this guy – he's a true artist.” And with that, he handed him a small, tattered business card for a tattoo parlor in the Village.

So much to think about.

Zoose left the bar feeling both exhilarated and despondent but not sure which was the result of the beer or of all the information he'd learned from his new friend. He looked forward to meeting him again some time, though he'd forgotten to get his own phone number on the back of that business card. Well, it won't matter: I'm sure I'll run into him at some new music concert in the future.

But he never saw Luke van Rhiarden again, in fact never even heard of him again, either. After several months, he decided to start asking around, but no one seemed to know whom he meant. He contacted the tattoo parlor and no one had ever heard of him (perhaps he had been using his original name, back then). Finally, he contacted the violinist from the ensemble that had played Luke's piece. He told him Luke had wanted the parts back to make some corrections before publishing it but that was the last they'd ever heard from him. His phone had been disconnected; e-mail came back undeliverable. He just vanished like a butterfly on a breeze.

And Zoose had much he wanted to tell this new friend. He had started reading Cameron's “The Artist's Way,” working his way through the various exercises but looking at it in a slightly different spiritual way. It wasn't that he was becoming a Satanist but he scoffed at the idea of mentioning God or at least some god-like lower-case power in almost every breath. So he would replace the word with Lucifer or Satan or Moloch or even Neil Tobin.

When he started writing his “Morning Pages,” he became aware how obsessed he was with destroying Robertson Sullivan, finding the guide to the “Old Secrets” Sullivan's sorry-assed spoiled little nephew, Anthony, had been full of, how this would allow him, like a motivic theme by Franz Liszt, to transform himself into something new, a composer to be reckoned with. In fact, combining that information with the spiritual quest he was taking now, he could in fact become the Greatest Composer Who Ever Lived.

When it came to what Cameron calls “Artist Dates,” Zoose was meditating on what he should do, what would be a significant enough event planned during a time “especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist.”

Looking for some kind of divine – or rather demonic – intervention while he was getting his lunch ready, at that moment a ferret scrambled into his apartment through the open kitchen window, no doubt from his neighbor's apartment.

Terrified by the sight of the weaselly little creature, he was once again taken back to that Thanksgiving night he'd fallen over the cliff at Sullivan's estate, coming to to find his flesh ripped to tatters by creepy little rodents with nasty big pointy teeth. Instinctively, he grabbed the ferret in one hand and took a knife in the other and stabbed it. Blood spilled into a mixing bowl and splattered against his naked chest, warm and consoling to the touch.

Unaware of what he was doing, he suddenly realized the poor animal was gasping for its breath, choking on its own blood before expiring in his hand.

He took the blood and spread it over some of his scars, especially the one on his side, rubbing it in as he discovered how soothing it felt, sensing the tough, ugly skin had begun to soften and smooth itself out. After all the blood had drained out of the small creature, he realized he had been given his “Artist Date” and held up the bowl as if it were an offering before dabbing his face and neck, chest and abdomen with dollops of blood, smoothing it across the skin like a face cream, then massaging it gently with small upward swirls of motion, stroking upwards so as not pull the skin down and stretch it.

As odd as it seemed, it was like a beauty regimen that would prepare his skin and help heal his body. Feeling almost immediately rejuvenated, he knew it would help perfect him for the next step in the process of obtaining his ultimate goal.

And he knew what he had to do.

He went to a local pet store to purchase a pair of young ferrets and a couple of cages. He would mate them and raise their young to supply him with generation after generation of what he decided would become his weekly “artist date.”

He picked them out carefully, naming the female Lilith Boulanger and the male, a particularly satanic-looking albino, Wolfgang Asmodeus Mozart.

Until his Fibonacci Ferret Farm could be fully operational, Zoose decided he would alternate between various pet stores in the area, buying a couple of rats here, some hamsters there – “for my snakes,” he would explain if anybody ever asked him – so he could maintain his weekly regimen of Musical Blood Offerings

Following the precepts of “The Artist's Way” but, like all good extremists, perverting the original intent far beyond anything the author ever intended, Zoose devised a ritualized incantation as he applied the blood to his skin and massaged it deep into his muscles:

Arsin, thesin – cantillation.
Frottola, fauxbourdon – mensuration.
O angels of Lucifer, find me worthy:
Prepare me for my revelation.

Soon, his vitality – both physical and mental – increased considerably and his skin grew smoother and more resilient, darker in hue but glowing from within like amber, changes he could only ascribe to the weekly blood regimen. He could go for longer runs in the park, exercise at the gym longer, he was no longer afraid to show his once wounded body in public.

Then, while browsing through the book racks at Patelson's Music House, he discovered something else – a copy of Elliott Carter's “Harmony Book,” a compendium of every chord combination possible from simple intervals to massive constructions created out of all twelve notes of the chromatic scale: hundreds and hundreds of chords of all different sizes and shapes, all numbered and categorized according to the composer's own system.

At first, he thought it was going to be the Rosetta Stone, something that would lead him to be able to figure out how Carter himself composed. Would it be like unearthing Prospero's books that would reveal the secrets of creativity itself? Would this be the place where he would find that most elusive of musical symbols sought by composition students for generations, the infamous “Lost Chord”?

But Carter's “Harmony Book” wasn't a “how to” book, no collection of harmonic rules and regulations about how Carter wrote his music or even chose his chords. It's a reference work, pure and simple.

Well, 'simple' may be stretching it a bit...

Have a three-note chord and need to find out which six-note chords it could be a subset of? Look on page 124. Have a seven-note chord and you want to find out which sets of three notes it can be broken down into? Look on page 260. It was all there. Even if it didn't unlock ancient creative secrets that composers have discovered time and time again themselves, it was a powerful reference tool and could come in very handy with his own composing.

It was a way of putting things in order. Have a four-note chord but you want to move smoothly into a different chord's sound-world for the next section of your piece, one that emphasizes a different set of intervals? Well, find out which three-note chords are subsets of it and then, after choosing one, find other four-note chords it can be found in so you can modulate from one chord-group to the next just as smoothly as Schubert modulated from C-sharp Minor to F Major or Wagner modulated from A Minor to what could have been, at least momentarily, E-flat Major.

At first, he was disappointed it was not the answer he was looking for but the possibilities it offered astounded him, just the same. Before long, he was staying awake long into the night mapping out different collections of pitches he might use in future combinations, eventually realizing many of them would fit onto parts of his body, the way a struggling student might scribble a cheat-sheet onto his palm or forearm.

Soon he had mapped out many of the book's charts as tattoos to be engraved onto his skin until his body was covered from toe to head by his distillation of some 350 pages of Carter's chords.

Unfortunately, by then, the tattoo parlor Luke van Rhiarden recommended had closed its doors and no one had any idea where he could find the artist he'd suggested. After months of searching, Zoose found a parlor and an artist who called himself Adramalekh, someone he felt comfortable with, who he sensed would help him realize his plan. He took in his life-size map, his master plan, and unfurled it against the greasy wall of this little shop in the East Village. Adramalekh's eyes widened as the project was explained to him.

Here is the masterpiece of a lifetime. It will cost him a fortune!

And so Adramalakh agreed to work with him: once a week, Zoose would come to him for another session, what he called an “Artist's Date,” though Adramalekh didn't care much for the 'date' idea until Zoose explained what he meant by it.

Zoose was now on his way to making another modulation, this one a smooth transformation into becoming Tr'iTone.

And now, standing there in front of his mirror admiring his tattoos, listening to Carl Orff's hair-raising “De temporum fine comoedia – The Play for the End of Time,” he began the preparations for his greatest and final modulation. It was only a matter of a few hours before everything would be progressing to its ultimate, inevitable conclusion.

- - - - - - -
to be continued...

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The Lost Chord, a Music Appreciation Thriller, is a serial novel written by Dick Strawser and is a musical parody of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol. It is being serialized on this blog: watch for the next segment on Thursday, September 16th.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:35 AM

    Wow, Dick -- thanks so much for the shout-out. I've never been referenced in a work of fiction before!

    Neil Tobin, Necromancer