Existential Doubt

A piano album concerning the uncertainty of our future –

This album has gone through some conceptual changes since it was first recorded.  The music is quite passionate, and at first I thought of it as romantic, though cautious and tentative.  But as the time of recording grew more distant, I started to see the music as not romantic at all.  It is passionate, yes, and there are moments that are quite tender.  But the overall feeling of the music is much more brooding than I initially realized.  Also the hesitancy and tentative nature is not just present, it is probably the most notable characteristic of the album.

As long as I can remember, there has been real concern about the direction in which humanity is heading.  When I was young, the focus seemed to be on nuclear war and overpopulation.  I remember there was actually a HIT song titled, “We’re On the Eve of Destruction!”  Today, the concern seems to be more about climate change, which is maybe less immediate or glamorous, but no less apocalyptic.  Maybe this sort of doubt is somewhat endemic to the species, centering around the subject du jour.  I don’t know.  Civilization certainly brings compromises and stresses that were not as present in a more rural, peaceful, or stable lifestyle, and it has been doing so for thousands of years.

Maybe it is just the added concern of the pandemic, but the present level of real consternation over our future seems more widespread lately.  In this album, I try to deal with this angst from both an intellectual and emotional point of view.  Though there are many who are convinced, or at least hopeful, that technology will bale us out of our present crisis, others are daring to look over the edge and imagine what it might be like on the other side.  The possibilities and emotional impact are not always pleasant, nevertheless we carry on, but hopefully we engender an enlightened sense of environmental commitment..  

Suite from “Bridge to Nowhere” (2018)

for solo piano

This suite is a transcription and adaptation of four tracks from the album, Bridge to Nowhere, which I released in 2017.

I am using “Bridge to Nowhere” as a metaphor for spiritual awakening.  The experience is described in the literature of several religions and is characterized by replacing one’s image of oneself (ego) with an acceptance of one’s experience as oneself.  It is a realization that we are not separate from the world.  It is us, and we are it.  

But the experience changes nothing except one’s attitude.  Everything is the same.  As the Buddhist Ch’ing-yüan puts it:

Before I had studied Zen for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and waters as waters.  When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and waters are not waters.  But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest.  For it’s just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and waters once again as waters.

I can’t say to have ever had this experience myself, but I have always been fascinated by what I have read about it.  It is always described as a loss of self, or rather the loss of one’s image of oneself.  It is sort of an intellectual and emotional suicide in order to accept the world as it is (or the world as God. depending on your viewpoint).  It seems very risky. 

My link to understanding is through music. It is beautiful, socially engaging, and its mysterious depths seem bottomless. This suite explores some of those mysteries.

Call of the Crossing, explores the strange allure of spiritual practice.

Fear of Heights is about the trepidation that accompanies a spiritual commitment.

You Can See Forever is an encounter with emptiness.

Beautiful Water is a reassessment of and reemergence in the world.

Suite from “Bridge To Nowhere” is available from American Composers Edition (composers.com) and may be ordered here.

Love Couplet (2020)

for solo piano

Love Couplet is an adaptation of two tracks from my albums of piano improvisations.  The first movement, “Enlightened Moment” is from the album Retreat, and the second movement, “Weightless in Starlight”, is from the album Downhill.  Both have been adapted and subtly revised for this presentation.

Enlightened Moment starts off in a somber, if not a little sullen mood.  Moments of wistfulness dissolve back into episodes of bad temper, and then something touching and enlightened appears as if out of nowhere.  A moment of endearment and connection takes over and enchants for a while and then slowly fades.  But memories of the experience endure.

Weightless in Starlight is about the lightness amidst ecstasy, the thrill of being in love . . . as if floating several inches off the ground.  It is just far enough that you can almost touch the ground with your toes extended. Nothing can dampen the feeling, yet nothing can make it happen, it just does.  It can only be accepted and enjoyed.

Love Couplet is available from American Composers Edition (composers.com) and may be ordered here.