Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Science Fiction of Sleep

I haven’t been having many dreams for the last several months, so I was happy the other night (during a blissful ten-hour sleep, much needed) to recall one crisply. Basically it was a science fiction set-piece: in a labaratory orbiting the planet Neptune, I was made privy to secret specimens of earthlike creatures kept there. Viewing tiny plants under a macroscope revealed fernlike fronds and weird hollow tubules in cross section; Neptune-insects in a hidden terrarium-room moved and lived familiarly but had unusual Precambrian-like body forms. All of this was impressively figmented in better-than-usual dream detail. Since some of the Neptune-insects were escaping, causing alarm and general heebie-jeebies, I didn’t get to see the back of the lab where the Most Terrible Secret was kept: heretofore unknown Neptune people, who were like humans but unable to respirate oxygen, making them hideously deformed and very angry.

Unfortunately the dream fell apart before building to an appropriate B-movie climax; it petered out while I was travelling back to Earth, surrounded by Neptune people (who were not actually deformed) in a kind of space-bus driven by Futurama’s Dr. Zoidberg. Later I was making out with one of the hotter Neptune women; even later I was sitting in our empty high school auditorium, which had been re-outfitted to host the Academy Awards, alone at a table with placecards set out for David Hyde Pierce and several contemporary American composers. I think the utility of recalling this dream pretty much ends here.

Back in real life I went with Stu last night to Wesleyan University up in Middletown, where the FLUX Quartet performed a concert of avant-garde string quartet music. Enjoyable and highly stimulating as a whole, but somehow lacking something in each of the parts. The centerpiece was György Ligeti's Second Quartet, from 1968 — despite frequent moments of brilliance this piece hasn't aged very well, suffering from the harmonic grayness and emotional disattachment that characterize a lot of modern music from that time. The other works were compelling, but each had its own kind of signal-to-noise ratio problem: Elliott Sharp's lacerating bow-sawing would kick all kinds of ass except that acoustically it's blunted and too quiet (I think this needs to be amped up to be successful — on CD it's awesome); Giacinto Scelsi's undulating drones communicate on only a thin band of musical variation, and moreover tend to sound like someone on a riding lawnmower a few yards down. A quartet by free-jazz legend Ornette Coleman throws together a scalding hot tangle of atonal riffs to fine effect, but it's a lot of fiddling for only a few real contrasts.

The most exciting piece turned out to be the finale, what looked on the program to be an experimental throwaway by Wesleyan composer/professor Alvin Lucier, an aleatoric bit produced by the quartet members meandering slowly around the stage tapping the bodies of their instruments in irregular metronomic patterns. For ten minutes I was convinced it was bullshit, and then suddenly I found myself absorbed: like a clean rain, it was dissipating the atonal fog from the last hour and a half. By the time it ended, I wanted it to go on for another thirty or forty minutes.

If you don't know where you're going in Middletown, it's easy to drive through it completely and end up over a river in a place called Portland, CT. So we had dinner there beforehand at the Portland Restaurant, figuring that any eatery named after the town it's in has got to be legitimate. Stu ate what he only characterized as "not the worst steak sandwich I've had in Connecticut"; I found my hot roast beef & mashed potatoes very satisfying, though.


Blogger Pete said...

A restaurant name "Portland"? You should have had breakfast for dinner.

11/04/2006 11:10 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

I don't think you'd mistake Portland, Connecticut, for Portland, Oregon.

As it happened I did have breakfast later that night, since we stopped at a diner afterwards for coffee & I couldn't resist having a couple of pancakes too.

The diner (identified, in neon red, as "DINER") was at the edge of a mall-plaza parking lot, and there were high schoolers everywhere. Back in middle America, are we...

11/05/2006 12:50 PM  

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