Notes for: Your Reality Check is in the Mail

In Paul Mazursky’s film, Moscow on the Hudson Robin William’s character proclaims "But I love my misery!" when describing his life in the former Soviet Union. Somehow that phrase sums up the human condition at the end of our beloved twentieth century. All those wonderful promises that we saw in the pavilions of countless world’s fairs and expositions did not really come to pass: technology did not save us from our preoccupation with war, gossip, and junk food. The essential question is: do we greet change and evolution with stoic resignation or do we go with the flow and transform ourselves. A number of scientists have suggested that as a species, human beings will probably be supplanted by something better. While we may be living through that process in slow motion, we might reflect on who and what we really are.

The dawning of the twenty-first century had an especially profound effect on my perception of human nature. We, as human beings have always been beset by follies, but with the new century, perhaps we can look at ourselves with renewed humor. A favored foster child of the last century, Existentialism, urges continual growth by self definition. Looking back, this hope may be hopelessly naive: we are not going to figure it (nor us) out. Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell will not likely take our hand and save us.

Your Reality Check is in the Mail, the piece’s title, fits comfortably in our postmodern world, a place where the quest is more satisfying than the reward. I would reassure the listener that I would not paint a nihilistic and depressing present; rather, I would paint a morphing amusement park landscape where we can embrace all aspects of the human condition (like Herman Hesse’s Harry Haller in Steppenwolf, meeting Mozart after a series of sensual fantasies in the "Magic Theater"). We can find ourselves guided by an imaginary Hermine (a character in the novel) into bizarre conclusions: Existentialism is, thus a parody.

Each of the three movements of the piece conjures up a specific image that amplifies to a conceptual attitude in the mind.. "March of the Robot Monks" does not necessarily suggest men of the cloth: it could be George W. Bush’s Cabinet, or the governing board of the SPCA. The image confirms the stolidity of propriety over reason, righteousness over compassion, faith over reason. The mechanical music eventually succumbs to a moment of chaos with the wailing of sirens. The resolution is merely musical.

"Was that Elvis?" practically needs no explanation. "Love Me Tender" ("Aura Lee," based on a traditional American song) permeates the slow movement like an overripe ghost of the pop icon. We search for our fallen idols in the clouds of delusion; and, somehow in our imagination they reappear to comfort us. At the end of the movement the tune transmogrifies into a fugue. Elvis becomes triumphant in a kind of Coplandesque reduction of the harmonic matrix to common chords. I like to think of the movement’s end as a kind of American stew.
>P>"Waiting for Godot" is a direct reference to the Samuel Beckett play of the same name. The deliberately vulgar opening attempts to strip away all pretense, preparing us for a celestial journey. How many of us await Judgment Day; and, what if we never wake up? Things literally come to a boil with development of the opening. After a pseudo-Mozartian diversion, the moment of chaos from Movement I reappears, only to be displaced by the sounds of Russian Orthodox monks. I am trying to capture that moment in Fellini’s film, 8 1/2 in which Guido Anselmi’s (Marcello Mastroianni’s) audience with the cardinal is transformed into a kind of bath house fantasy. Behind the screen the cardinal intones: ”Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus.” (there is no salvation outside the church). Perhaps that is not so: maybe no Claudia will arrive to assuage our confusion. You are on your own, brother, and that is what makes us human. The following coda is like “Ewig” (eternity) at the end of Mahler’s Das Lied von Der Erde, stretching out beyond all horizons. And so Movement III ends (or doesn’t end) in this manner, the ultimate fadeout with the last strain of "Love Me Tender."

Your Reality Check is in the Mail was commissioned by The Definiens Project for their 2006-2007 season. This piece is a deliberate attempt to brainwash the listener from all memories of modernism. It is time to forget all that and become human again.

P. R. Fall, 2006