Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Trip to Cuba



One of the Aguada Hotel pleasures is meeting other transplants in progress; people decompressing, falling in love with a place, waiting.

I check out and see Bill Butcher calling from the van: "Are you Philip Blackburn?" Has he just realized something? Remembered my initial email or fame or new gossip? Won't find out for a few weeks.

Ayala's taxi to Toni's concrete basement. His mother built the first half of a house and is waiting for money to start the upstairs. Optimistic rebar sticks out everywhere. No indoor plumbing just cramped quarters, plants, and TV (The Nanny is playing). Down from eleven cats to two. Everyone knows Olympia Cruz, his mother.

Mystery bus ($3) from Benque picks me up and seems to be going past Belmopan exclusively for gringo tourists. I am the only Belmopan stop and am lucky to find a taxi into the town center ($10). Then the Kafka story begins.

Go the the Land Tax cashier, bumped to the Tax Clerk, sent to another building behind the passport office where the valuation Man has an unmarked door, no filing cabinets, and piles of files and maps. At least he seems happy to see someone. The form says we are assessed at $508/acre (which adds up times 93) but it doesn't really mean per acre, that's the total. Taxes are still owed from June 2003 when we bought it (and thought we had paid through now), this time with 1% interest penalty. The same rates will apply for three years then be reassessed. Forms in hand, back to the Tax Clerk and Cashier, past the Typing Pool. What year is this?

Now on to the driveway task. Head to the Ministry of Works. the secretary is from Unitedville so we hit it off as neighbors but the Chief Engineer boss man is out all day. their budget is blown but they might bring a grader for our road if I pay the fuel costs. Stop off at the Bank and Guang Dong restaurant before the express bus to Belize City with my heavy bag.

Arrive in time to take a taxi to the Museum of Belize. Gut-wrenching old prison building with friendly people and fine things. Every window, and there are many of them close to each other, represents the size of a cell with 6 people in. Just the right size for a museum though; cool Mayan loot (the best always from Caracol) and incredible bug display.

Then the bus saga. Bus passess fleets of sugar cane trucks near Orange Walk and arrives at the Mexican border with a flat tire. So the passengers are left to fend for themselves to get to Chetumal. We lose passengers at every stage: immigration (where they don't take travelers' checks), no-man's land, and finding the promised next bus. I have no peses so can't do much and don't want to miss my connection. Now down to me, Nicaols the Chilean surfer with a big board, and another Pamela Z lookalike. Next bus drops us at a side street in Chetumal. We reject three cabs before one will take us and the board to the real station. Get there (the big blue one with a supermarket next door); 'Pamela' has to pay for my taxi fare, moments later after visiting the ATM I buy her bus ticket with seconds to spare.

Down to Nicolas and me who wants to risk fate by taking another cab for a quiet beer somewhere. Why not. He rejects the first four clubs (noisy discos for getting robbed) in favor of the Piano Bar. We are the only customers: black loight, catwalk, mirrors, and deafening crap. Outside by a fountain we can at least chat about Pinochet (good for the country but at what price?).

Back for the midnight bus and freeze in the AC for 6 hours. Note to self: bring warm clothes.


Cancun bus station men's room: pay 20c, take the paper you think you'll need (why underestimate?), sit directly on the porcelain, then push button for three seconds. Ah, progress. At least there is anow a cheap bus to the airport.

Airport has Spring Break Fever: packed like an MTV Cancun Special Hetero College Fest. Beer-boasting T-shirts are still popular. With their appetite for fast food they won't stay pretty long.

My flight number and time has changed four times but it looks like I am indeed going to Cuba, despite Homeland Security's wishes and Mexicana Airlines organizational ability. before landing they spray the aisle with disinfectant (but what about the mouth part of Foot and Mouth?). Or has Fidel found that capitalism is a virus? Immigration is easy, never have to declare my electronics, and the San Cristobal guide, 'Peter' Cesar, eventually appears. He tells me people can no longer move to the city unless they are married to someone there. Poor rural gays.

The architecture turns fabulous: massive stone structures, open, full of holes, imposing, solid, enclosing courtyards, reclaimed ruins hugely atmospheric, a Spanish Venice in the Caribbean/Atlantic. And bevvies of gorgeous people.

The Hostal El Comendador is an 18th Century house; you need to stoop to avoid the beams, but full of heavy doors, antiques, shutters, even a clawfoot bathtub which I proceed to use (sans plug).

Friday evening stroll with tape recorder. the hotel cleaner is practising her flamenco steps; the first hint of the symphony to come. And an indicator of how many jobs she has to hold down in order to make ends meet. The alleys, houses, bars, restaurnats are alive with music and play. Every few seconds a new transition. A bit windy for the mics but I got some treasures. Should be easy to gather enougb material for a Havana Symphony or Habanero.

Eventually get disoriented. End up near Central Park.


Joaquin and lovely quiet wife ask the time and where I'm from. It's her 25th birthday. Let's celebrate with a mojito cocktail. Lucky me. Half way through he calls his teacher on a cell phone to introduce me to the world of cigars (he claims to work in the Cohiba factory). Drinks in hand, looking for cops, we visit his house where there are stacks of fineboxes. They won't take no for an answer so I get a pretty box of Romeo and Juliets for $40 (like W. Churchill used to smoke). Back in the bar he asks me a favor, he needs some powdered milk for his baby from the dollar store next door. Thinking he'd pay me back or it would at least be cheap, I say yes. he gets six bags, totalling $36. Ouch, but I've had a great evening... Back at the bar, one more round of mojitos. Time to settle up. Six drinks $42! Expected maybe $10. I only have $35 left. Stalemate. The barman shakes my hand for the difference. I storm off. No more $100 evenings when everyone is in collusion like this. Have to be super thrifty now or I'll be broke with no access to cash.


Still no word on the festival; when, where or if.

Morning walk: craft market, old convent with smiling church lady guide, Capitol building with 50s cars everywhere (or at least newer Skoda engines with Dodge and Olds bodies). I can see why tires are the most precious gift one could bring.

Return to hotel at 11:30 for noon meeting. e-pal George is already there waiting. Achh. It's 12:30 pm local time; noone at the airport told me and there are no public clocks. (Why is that? Knowledge is power...?)

The other missing thing is graffiti on construction sites. You can tell a controlled populace by its graffiti; these people have been silenced.

George just broke up with his English-speaking boyfriend of 2 months so he brings William, an architect. They have never been to the Camara Oscura. It has a focal length of about 20 feet for a 5foot wide dish. The guide starts a public discussion about how to translate for my benefit (not really needed).

Cafe Hanoi is OK food for a decent price; I was thinking such a thing was impossible in this tourist economy. George seems sad, like the vegetables, always overcooked green beans. "Is it only a few who are deperate to escape?" "No, everyone wants to leave." An architect earns $7 a month. You can only be on the Internet for 6 hours a month, all URLs are spid on, all emails read, all sites go through the government servers' filters. Penalty: "being shot." George wants a collection of Ginsberg poetry in translation...

Head over to see Vedado; big, modern concrete but real. Still not the slums. Windy walk along the Malecon to see Elian Park, erected especially for the international TV coverage of little Elian Gonzalez. Then Coppelia's Ice Cream stand in the park, as featured in "Fresa y Chocolate." After the movie sales of Fresa flavor declined sharply in case anyone thought they might ne a homo.

Back to the hotel in a Coco taxi shaped like a coconut; Bangkok noisy and wind resistant. The Havana initial charm seems less today; a sad, beautiful prison. Sitting by the Capitol someone approached me but reached for something nehind where I was sitting; fresh mint growing in the grass. I hope he is emjoying a mojito now courtesy of politicians.

Shit. I didn't bring the Minidisc cradle necessary for recharging the thing. Have to be stingy from now on about what sounds to record in my remaining minutes.


No church bells on Sunday, despite plenty of churches within potential earshot. Hard to make plans for the week with no information about the schedule. Walk to Museo de Belles Artes, Cuban Section to see if they have info. Some concerts are indeed listed.

Nice modern galleries with Colonial art. Those Spaniards sure invested a lot of time, money, trade and weapons in this place, recreating home. Where is the art from the slaves' point of view? early Twentieth Century shows an awareness of European movements; they too have their Mattisse, Bracques and Magritte substitutes. Teh come the political cartoons and big time Socialist Realism: Warholesque Che, Marti and Fidel. Soviet peasants making progress.

A children's presentation downstairs echies through the stairwells (still a few minutes of Minidisc batteries left). Visit Harris Brothers Department Store; surely no Sears. Crowds line up outside each boutique so only two or three can shop at a time. OK lunch someplace despite beggars reaching through the fences to share my tourist wealth. Back at the hotel, Katrin (Pedro's wife) has called. Will see them tomorrow. Teresa from the festival calls; they had sent a schedule to ACF.

Visit a 17th century baroque church with local artwork and organs and harpsichords lying around. No music this week though from their orchestra.

My USAF sunglasses broke after 30 years; perhaps time for some new ones but where to buy? Department stores and tourist spots sure don't have any. Beer and fish dinner in the Plaza Vieja. My tattoo is a conversation piece but the waiter can't show me his for professional reasons.


Here comes the diarrea with sinus headache: either the cold that everyone has (the traffic pollution is revolting) or just overheating and microbes.

Taxi to Pedro Luis Ferrer, Katrin and Lena's compound in Playa; a single family home with 4 or 5 strangers living there. A revolutionary paiting on the porch was found in an alley and celebrates Cuba's close friendship with Angola. later I learn that distinughed composer Juan Blanco used to be the army band leader until he played the wrong national anthem for some African visitors. Result: 6 months hard labor on a prison island.

Katrin is South African with a PhD in Anthropology from Oxford. She manages to put up with the State somehow and studies it with interest. Their email and internet have been cut off; there is a black market for ftp codes and passwords that bypass the censors, but they got caught.

How come a Commie country supports esoteric electroacoustic music? Like opera or symphony it is not inherently elitist as long as access costs are covered. Juan Blanco used to take a flatbed truck with a PA system out to the peasants to introduce it, and it will always be a minority artform. Guv is only really concerned about mass movements.

Pedro needs money to pay his musicians to finish his CD of Changui-sa music; a little remembered tradition from the east near Guantanamo. It will show another side of his work than the political songs. The songs he has done so far are pleasant tuneful and bouncy. He has a good producer for his home studio (equipment gathered over the course of several overseas trips). He likes the idea of an innova release but is suspicious of major labels (Caliente/Atlantic) that don't involve him in the process. We'll need to assemble a budget and see if funding can be found to get ours off the ground. He will start thinking about other musicians who could benefit from what innova has to offer so I can meet them while I am here.

Festival folk start to gather: talented buch includes famous John Oswald, Todd Reynolds and Orlando Garcia. Half the plane headed here for a film festival last week was thrown off by Homeland Security. Some composers didn't make it. Those who applied for Specific Licences were denied. Looks like I did the right thing with Cancun and a UK exit strategy.

Stinky bus back to Playa for the first concert at the Art Institute (where Che and Fidel used to play golf when it was a country club); big tunnels and domes with moths and a tropical Arts Hi School feel. Big turn out and sounds from practice all around. 1/2 hour delay in set up so we watch the very Cageian pre-performance. Music is generic 60s to 90s academic but with nice touches from Carlos Farinas (dance, video, poetry, slow drones). Give a copy of Sonic Circuits 9 CD to Roberto Valera Chancizo the director. Let's see what they make of Uptown Sound Labyrinth. This would be the place to send more innova to for their library teaching purposes.

Guava, papaya, mojito reception then a late dinner under a huge palapa.


The same breakfast is getting stale: hard dry petit breads, fruit samples delicately arranged (one pineapple stretched to feed the entire hotel), canned veg, and wafer thin egg ( scrambled is the same as a chopped omelette).

Morning concert is in the National Music Museum's tiny drab theater. Progam is average Sonic Circuits submission played back in mono. Museum is not too special; some pianos, Edison cylinders, African drums. The CD store can't be too representative if they censor half the artists. Leo Brouwer is well covered. They make a big deal of integrating women and blacks. Things aren't as bad as they were in that regard but they still out up with all the revolutionary crap and ended up the victims of racism, misogyny and homophobia. Some victory.

Lunch at the Meson Flota with thumping flamencista. Finally locate sunglasses: $7.50 for some Chinese plastic.

Concerts are all marathons: Larry Axelrod, Todd Reynolds, Neil Rolnick at the basilica: 2.5 hours. Juan Pinera has several radio shows and would be the best guy to send CDs to.

Dinner at the Park View (tired menu again) with Orlando, John and Jarrmo who runs a Finnish CD label ("Easy to make, hard to sell. Is Osmo Vanska really as popular as their press tells them he is in Minnesota?"). We are 40 minutes late for the concert but they wait for us in the AC frozen theater. Another marathon bore.

Nose drips and a heat rash; might be the new diet of sugar and no protein.


Stay feverish in bed all morning.

Seeking music for innove from UNEAC, the radio or from studios won't help; the rights are all state controlled. Licensing them for the US would be impossible. Smuggling out scores to be performed and recorded overseas would be easier; Orlando has some contacts who are doing just that and he will tell them about innova. Pedro is still thinking about who else would be right for innova (and will keep us in mind for all future projects too that he hears about). He thinks a general announcement would bring in the wrong crowd of inappropriate and greedy crazies. Some he thinks of are too famous and already have record deals. A few are currently away on tour so he will have to inform them when they return.

Call Gloria La Nina Rivera's godfather, Lorenzo Alfonso Abdul. He barely knows Marta Valdez, bolero singer and Gloria's godmother, but can get her CD to her. Lorenzo is an Obi, a Santeria priest. The tradition dervies from Yoruba, Bantu and Araras people not, heaven forbid, from Vodou. There are two shrines in his house for the various orishas: dolls, urns, crucifix in water, chains, flowers, snakes, etc adorn. The bantu Palo shrine is much scarier with burned sticks, garlic, dried bat, pigeon feathers and magical chalk designs on the wall. One 'working' has a pair of jeans on a pile of twigs: a man was sentenced to 10 years in jail for murder. Lorenzo promises he will be released next week. The ceremonies are private and photos not allowed.

UNEAC is nearby but there's nothing happening in the way of concerts or meetings so noone is around.

At dinner I ask Orlando Garcia about the posters everywhere asking for people to rally against the US injustice for 5 suspected terrorists. The waiter butts in and asks where I'm from. "Inglaterra" I reply luckily. "We are all brothers," he replies. A little knowledge(in this case of English) is also dangerous.

At last a decent festival piece: John Oswald's 30 minute piece on one note, phenomenal textures and shifts. Neil Rolnick and Orlando have CDs coming up and will consider innova soon.


Sleep better, still headachy. Just fruit for breakfast. Sounds of a military brass band rehearsing the national antherm near my room but it stops when I try to record it. My room has 220V and 110V so I can charge Erdem's Minidisc recorder (and borrow it until I next see him). Record: educational TV analysing the grammar of a speech by Jose Marti (imagine doing that with Bush), a mind-numbing ramble by Fidel on slavery in Ancient Rome, Kyoto agreement, and terrorism (bear in mind he rose to power through terror tactics), a cheesily dubbed war movie, cigar-toting jineteros... Take pictures of a ceiba tree with egg and fruit casually strewn about its roots; an orisha hang-out in the Plaza de Armes. More flamenco for lunch and the daily carnaval players on stilts; what seems lucky to catch once is just a gig for the musicians and happens every day. Do they assume tourists are only here for one day then move on? Like Disneyland has a parade every day; somehow it seems less special and eventful. Ready to go home to Belize now where I'm not a tourist anymore.

Visit the old Casa de la Obrapia and record a colonial era barrel piano and smell the huge Ylang Ylang tree in the slave quarters.

Meet Yoni Alba, a young composer from Cienfuegos (240km away) who has limited studio access there and yearns for more contact. His British e-pal Rajmil Fishman didn't make it so we hang out instead.

Orlando talks with Enmanuel Blanco, son of Juan, the Otto Luening of Cuba. Founder of everything, teacher of everyone, ideologically sound for Cuba (but not for Miami), and 85 with Parkinson's. His CD deal with the Electronic Music Foundation fell through because of lack of funds but he has a master ready to go with innova, which I am sure we can do as a Short Run. This is kind of a coup and can only happen in this way because of his stature.

Orlando's own piece for cello and tape is good, full of quiet harmonics and will go on his (innova?) CD.

Risotto dinner (rice with canned mushrooms instead of beans; how did they get that one by the state recipe guidelines?) at the fancy St. Angel in the square. A fiddle, accordian and bass trio surrounds us at a distance with very loose coordination and no internal pulse. Cafe Brant.

Evening concert is unmemorable but then comes the official VIP welcome party, rum and rumba, at the huge Art Deco "American" theater. Pretty chicas glom onto my arm in order to gain entry (they can't enter solo). Up in the VIP balcony they give us cigars, lighters, havana Club rum and revolting fried nibbles. Liberace-esque announcer, histrionic ballroom dancers (remember Pan's People?), unfunny clowns mimicking Celine Dion and Michael Jackson; all trashy, faggy, and amusing to the straight crowd. Then the salsa band kicks in: oily gyrations, instantly danceable, so we do,

Henry Vega, Gaburo fan I met at SEAMUS, lives in the Hague, 1/3 of Electric Hammer (percussion and 2 computer trio) invites me to critique his band, and present on Partch, Gaburo and Blackburn at the Royal Conservatory. He's eager to improve and there's room for it. A tipsy walk home for rum dreams and tomorrow's big day.


Soundcheck at Museo. All very Cuban. The Theater is closed, they tell me to wait. 20' later I see someone inside who tells me about the back entrance. They are excited about the Red Blue glasses: "I'd pay $5 for those."

After insisting they only had VHS, they do in fact have DVD. Can the colors be changed? "No, the projector was just repaired and they said not to adjust it." But they do. The visuals are fine, set a little dark like silhouettes, but clear. Sound is good and has none of the blown circuit problem it had the night before.

In the evening, the speaker connection fries again and the sound is totally garbled (anything sustained above pp. has a machine fluttering/grinding noise). We stop, vamp, and they come back on this time showing the VHS we had not tested. It looks horrible. Start the DVD again and let it run. Embarrassing for all. Luckily not my only purpose for the trip and obviously not my soundtrack. People polite and sympathetic.

I give Fred Ho's Black Panther Suite DVD to Eugenio, head of Cineteca here who will be happy to show it.

Before lunch I go through the craft market and buy a cheap necklace, band, 3d wooden postcard, and a $45 Afro Cuban sanetria oil painting.

The availability of fresh juice is impressive: guava and mamey especially good.

Basilica concert is OK with Diego Garcia's video. Meet up with Yoni and translater pal for a beer. This country is criminal in its waste of resources:

"The best job in this country is being a waiter." Everythin g is about connections; the anonymous names have no chance, even if they have talent. If they do not live in Havana they have even less chance. It starts at birth. To be accepted to the Instituto you need connections, then you are guaranteed a job. To meet the people who work at the Laboratorio you need connections. Even I cannot broker such connections. The waiters that serve us are smiley only because I am with them and might pay in dollars. Without me they would be surly.

Access to technology is totally controlled. Also information. How does one find out about the international field of electroacoustics or electronica? If Juan Pinera plays it on the radio there is no way to find out when.

Take away the embargo and these are the people who will benefit, those who are already members of their own club. the only hope is to escape. But where? And they have had no access to making work samples yet, so they must apply for opportunities abroad with almost nothing they can send. In this case I suggest Mexico City and Cecdiscuss listserv. His demo CD turns out to be fairly good dance club electronica and some fugal exercises; talented but even entrepreneural spirit won't help him here.

Salted pork dinner at the Telegrafo, a fine Deco building. Then the evening fiasco begins with 40' of Canadian scapes from Rob Mulder and co. The evening ends with a Chusid-worthy Mexican girl crooning over bad techno, bad even for shower technique. but she is Yoni's friend and carries a nice flower, so everyone congratulates her.

George appears, he had to repeat his radio show so he could come tonight (he is an art critic for a magazine and has a radio show to earn his $6/month). He's still miserable. He reads his most treasured poem in an empty hallway to be included in my composition.

Stormy night, rain floods my room. Sinuses more tolerable. Blood on the hotel steps with a small chunk of flesh still lying in it. I know better than to ask.


I expect Cuban customs will confiscate my cigars since I don't have a receipt. Shouldn't they be punishing the jineteros instead of the ignorant tourists? The money still end up in the state dollar stores anyway. How cagey should I be about my Minidisc recordings? Rename them Madonna?

Is the embargo right? US money would indeed go straight into the hands of the already privileged and support the oppression of others. Still they are humans too, working the system. The dispossessed wouldn't see any direct improvement but contact and exposure might help a few, and they couldn't be that much worse off.

Fidel on TV berated US racism today (eg, the black death rate). Things are better here but only because the common denominator is lower.

Vist the Museo de Belles Artes International building. Forgettable Spanisg Jesuses and frumpy ladies, but an incredible Ancient Greek, Roman, Egyptian show in their spacious jewel box hall and coiling marble stairs: mosaics, mummies and ceramics.

The state provides all the recipes and methods for the restaurants. No wonder I have had the same bad meal wherever I go; variety and flair went out with the revolution.

Afternoon concert is blessedly short since a sax player couldn't come. Attendance has dropped each year: 90, 37, 30. sad that 30 is still enough of a tourist draw to make it worthwhile for the San Cristobal agency to sponsor it. Also anyone who applies and promises to intend to come, has their work accepted; the selection criteria are not quality based.

Walk through Chinatown and buy a gibberish T shirt at a big dollar store. I am clearly alone and visible at the checkout but security at the exit examines my bag and tells me to return the shirt. I produce the receipt and he waves me on. This is the first time my tourist status has been second to that of shoplifter.

The cannon fires a single shot every evening at 9pm; a heady aural landmark for Orlando. Must be included in my composition. Fernando from the ISA asked for a copy of my DVD of Hentracks to show his students. I'll make another copy for Orlando's students and his festival in Miami.

The water system in Old Havana is completely inadequate (or they forgot to put one in) so a big truck comes by each evening pumping water into each building through a leaky floppy hose. Who knows how the water leaves again.

Evening concert in anfiteatro draws a youth crowd for a Puerto Rican Latin Soul star. Grammy winner apparently. No-one cares much. He should have lost some weight given his energetic movements. The same guy gave the lecture on Reason and Pro Tools. No regrets missing that one. Then the three local techno guys are better: Powerbooks, iMovie, and simple dreamy scapes somehow inspire a strong local fervour. At least it's dark enough for necking and they must also have hard drive envy: demonstrations of technology are powerful, as conquering missionaries will attest throughout history.

A small dachshund on the castle drawbridge in the way home; a surrealist guard dog.


The street offers have now gone from Cigar? to Weed? to Cocaine? At least they know better than to offer me their sister. Try to record the cathedral bells but they never play and it's always windy. I get the start of mass instead. Buy some santeria recordings and a print. Photograph old revolutionary type in uniform, selling Granma paper, and chomping a cigar for toursists' cameras. After the picture he asks for a dollar and says Hasta la Victoria Siempre. Looks like I am the victor since I have a dollar to give him.

No time to get to Lorenzo's guiro ceremony so head to Pedro's barbecue. Quite the odd bunch:

1. Rapper from Obsession; a megastar;

2. Bill and Jane, elderly bi-racial couple escaped Oakland in 1969 "because of associations with the Black Panthers." He's writing a book about Cuban race relations, she about dogs.

3. English gal been here seven years studying composition.

4. Jorge i, a Puerto Rican journalist who writes about popular musical styles and the scene. Also a Bill Snyder clone.

5. Jorge ii, and his Soviet wife. He is the conductor of the National Symphony and composer of the "Happiness is a Warm Gun" Oboe Concerto: "John Lennon died by a warm gun so this must have been what he wanted." He studied with Aram Khatchaturian in Moscow and it shows. My piece too will exhibit Socialist Realism. He would like to have ACF composers send him their scores and parts for the orchestra to play.

6. A writer of Terpsichore magazine

7. Pedro, Katrin, Lena, roast pig and brownies.

All very amusing and instructive. Good not to be part of the tourist apartheid. Show Hentracks and other videos to the guests to good effect.

Katrin buys fresh strawberries from a farm girl by paying for them with old clothes. Clothes and rags are more valuable than money outside Havana.

Cine Charles Chaplin is packed for the gala perfroamce of Suite Habana, a Spanish/Cuban too late to be censored. Live accompaniment by last night's techno band, whose main contribution is disco lights and smoke machine expending over the audience. The camera follows a day in the life of typical habaneros: a retarded boy, a peanut granny, laborers, ballet dancers and others all working like dogs to scratch a living. No dialogue, just glum faces (except for the clown). On the positive side there is some heartwarming care shown for each other and a strong community spirit. The rest is definitely grim: life is tough. Is this intended as the condemnation of the revolution or a realistic ennobling of everyday lives? They probably told the censors the latter.

The show is preceded by a long awards ceremony for highlights of Cuban film music history; more disgusting mutual back-slapping from the in-crowd but actually no different from Hollywood.

An audience with the great Juan Blanco follows, for us and the press.85, legs failing, Parkinson's, but used to being the center of attention and exuding platitudes and charm: "See you here in 2 years..." Happy to have CD project with innova (he's high up enough he can send his work anywhere). He's still younger than Henry B. and Elliott Carter, I tell him.

Bus has a flat tire, so cab it home; that will save my lungs for a while.


Lerlys has been gone all week so only saw her briefly but today I visit the Havana Company Soundtrack Department, where her boyfriend works. It is a Canadian company that seeks to promote the next Limp Bizkit of Cuba to the international pop market. they also have a tour department and modeling agency. Olivia runs the show and is a friend of Ione and Pauline's from Deep Listening retreats. Armando used to work in radio and is passionate about finding Cuban musics; now doing a documentary for PBS on Changui music. He has found some traces of native (pre hispaanic) Cuban descendents, a band from Boricua, and some spirit chants from the Guantanamo area. Next time, we'll go together. They are so poor they cut down telephone wires to use as tres guitar strings.

The company wants a complete list of Cuban artists they can promote for film and TV work (I should send Gloria's contact info). They will keep innova in mind as projects come up.

Eventually, after calling everywhere, a San Cristobal agent arrives to take me to the airport. Bit of a culture shock seeing the historic area recede as we sit in modern traffic once more. No hassles at the airport, no inspections, confiscations, or interrogations. Also no information about departure gates; you need 'connections' even here to get the info you need. I see baggage handlers being frisked before getting bags from the hold; so they won't stow away on the next flight? Another disinfection of the aisle and a bagged cheese sandwich. Cancun is a breeze; show the UK passport even though there are no stamps in it. The shuttle bus to the bus station goes through the Hotel Zone Hetero Land. Yikes. Take the red eye bus to Chetumal, once again frozen like a meat truck. Arrive 5am at Chetumal with the next Novelos at 10:45, so take the Mexican workers' shuttle bus (along with a blonde space girl from Playa who needs a beach, speaks no Spanish, but has a Mexican passport). No time to potty in Chetumal or the border and what seems to be a fart is more substantial than that... Stinky farce ensues, ending in stopping the bus to crap by the road; I'm the Merde guy.

Time to clean up (the Image factory has the best public loo in Belize) and have a real 24 hour vacation in San Pedro so off for a 90-minute boat ride. Stay at Lily's. Nice to be back with the laid back Caribs; free at last. Here they just ask if you're looking for something. Good Colombian shit is what they mean.

Now I'm back in San Ignacio, staying at the lovely Casa Blanca (not that White House), going about the tasks of buying a 1991 Yamaha 175cc trail bike and getting the man from the ministry to come and identify the access road. The next three days I'll be back in the jungle camping for the first time along with jungle man Winston Harris (who has an MBE from the queen it turns out, and 12 children. he's a snake master and wrote part of the Rainforest Remedies book). Preston comes next week to check on my (lack of) progress. If something should take one day to accomplish here, allow for two weeks.

Call of the Sea (2007)



first performed by 37 conch shells from the Schubert Club's Kugler Collection

by Philip Blackburn

March 16, 2007

Science Museum of Minnesota, Discovery Hall, St. Paul

Wild Music A Go-Go

LISTEN (Wild Music encore)

LISTEN (Wild Music premiere)

LISTEN (Moorhead State University, 2009)

• For as many conch players as possible playing the Kugler Collection shells. Duration 3-4 mins.
• Memorize these instructions so you don't need to carry anything but your shell
• Ensemble stands surrounding the audience in a circle.
• Choose a phone number you have in your memory (including area code and country code if applicable). This number may be your own, that of a friend, or someone you want to send a message to. All operations are determined by your Number, repeated and interpreted in various ways according to the following scheme:
0 = no sound, no rest, ie delete any zeroes in your Number
1 = one sound for one beat followed by one rest for one beat
2 = sound for two beats, rest for two beats
3 = sound for three beats, rest for three beats
4 = sound for four beats, rest for four beats

Thus, 651 714-4963 (where X = sound and - = rest)
XXXXXX------XXXXX-----X-XXXXXXX-------X-XXXX----XXXX----XXXXXXXXX---------XXXXXX------XXX--- [then repeat as instructed]

Two players select shells near-unison (that produce strong beats when sounded together). Stand close to each other and play one long tone, at least 10" long, changing proximity very slightly to affect the standing waves. Stop as soon as you hear the next soloist.
• One soloist interrupts, using the number: 4 1 1 (XXXX----X-X-)
• Tempo is set by soloist's heart-rate just prior to starting
• Articulate each beat with a staccato tone

• All performers enter together, each articulating your Number in tempo, staccato (sounds and rests will be independent)
• As you reach the end of your Number move on, independently, to SECTION B

Using your same Number, play long tones (the resonant fundamental pitch) for the duration of the digits (no staccato, same rest scheme)

Repeat SECTION B but using staccato breathtone only for the area code, and long air-tones for the remainder of the Number

Sound your Number by slapping the palm of your hand over the mouthpiece in double tempo.

Hold the horn end close to your ear and listen to the ocean until everyone has stopped playing. Then, together, turn the horn around to face the audience. Hold for 10" to encourage listening to the ocean waves.

Put them down gently, together.

The Organ of Democracy

The pipe organ is the king of instruments for a reason; usually one guy with many units doing his bidding on command. How can we make it a bit less monarchical? In the democratic system it is One Person, One Vote: Repeat Every Four Years (modified here so that everyone with a pipe to play gets to play One Person, One Toot). Sometimes we just play when there are gaps and we want our precious single tone to be heard. Sometimes we take it in turns to be queen for a day (before passing the role on to the next peasant).

The first Organ of Democracy presentation took place during the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, August 2008, about the time Sarah Palin showed up.

The pipes were an eBay find from a barn in Oshkosh, WI and an old farmer who was sure they would end up in a church. The lead-tin alloy mouthpieces have been removed and the spiders routed with baby wipes.

LISTEN (Studio Bricolage, Mpls)
LISTEN (Studio Z)
LISTEN (Banshees at Studio Bricolage)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

No Nutritional Value (2001)

LISTEN (world premiere)
LISTEN (Univ of Arizona, Kendra D'Ercole, dir)

For as many players as possible, amplified as needed. You will need:

• Ingredients list of a commercial junk food product (the "Recipe"). Use several Recipes, at least one Recipe per player, switch around so ingredients do not become too familiar.

• Bubble Gum (such as Ouch! or Bazouka brands for maximum burst factor). For safety reasons, Bubble Gum is not used by those who Swig and Hoot or use pop Rocks.

• Pop Rocks (not used with Bubble Gum)

• Straw Friction Drums (empty plastic cups with lids and straw that squeaks when pulled; use Rosin if necessary).

• Twisties: Empty plastic soda bottles for twisting and manipulating in rhythm.

• Slurpies (nearly empty malted milk shake cups with lids and straws for sucking and slurping the last remains)

• Reddi Wip can of whipped cream product.

• Swig and Hooters: Full bottles of Classic Coke. (Not used with Bubble Gum.)

• Melody Pops (hard candy slide whistles). Follow each instruction in your own time, independent of others. Parts will go out of phase until brought together in the final section. If not playing in a certain section perform silently so as to maintain timing.

Start together on cue.

1. Pick a recipe. Put Bubble Gum in mouth. Read text as fast and loud as possible.

2. Choose 1 - 10 of your favorite words. Put Pop Rocks in mouth (not for those with Bubble Gum, who remain silently chewing). Whisper the words near the microphone as slowly as possible (eg, one word per breath) bringing out the fizzing vowels.

3. (All) Take the same favorite words at normal reading speed and articulate the verbal rhythm with Straw Friction Drums, Twisties, Slurpies, and Reddi Wip. Repeat pattern 10 times.

4a) Open Coke bottles and Swig and Hoot: alternate long tones with gulp of liquid. Continue until bottle is empty.

4b) Blow Bubble Gum bubbles and make loud random bursts.

5. Take Melody Pops; blow long, slow glissando from high to low. Repeat 5 times.

6. Whisper whole recipe as fast as possible until everyone is whispering.

7. At visual cue, together in unison, take Melody Pops and try to play the first 2 phrases of "Food, Glorious Food" from Oliver. Stop.

Collage of Desire (1998)

Composed in 1998 or so, originally for the pre-show of the Tape Beatles at the Southern Theater, then at CSPS in Cedar Rapids.

For any number of performers.

Collage of Desire is a cut-and-paste mandala made of text and images from the printed medium arranged to create a large circular diagram on the theme of Desire (though you could come up with any other theme). During the act of pasting, participants use the work so far completed as a score for performing.

· From the pile of newspapers and magazines select a fragment of text that relates to Desire . Cut it out and paste it with glue adjacent to other fragments, oriented in any direction. As you add your text, give an interpretive reading/performance of all the materials so far present. You may make as many contributions to the design as you like.

The making of the collage is audio recorded. The completed design with its accompanying recording is then exhibited as a sound installation.

Things you will need:

· Circular floor/table space, at least 10 foot diameter,

· Backing (cardboard, vinyl),

· A selection of magazine and newspaper text and imagery,

· Scissors,

· Paper glue,

· Tape recording equipment (continuous play CD player, microphones, headphones)