Text: Now Music in New Albion - from February 2002

This is an old text, and much of it is out of date, but as it generated the title of my blog I thought I'd throw it out there. - kee 12/2010
Now Music in New Albion

I. A Muckscape

In the winter it is dark.

Far off the coast of Kamchatka islands arise, rimming the North Pacific in an arching archipelago like the smoking ruin of a great dragon crashed to sea, congealing as it swings northeasterly around the Gulf of Alaska: Attu, Kiska, Amchitka, Ulak, Tanaga, Adak, Atka, Unaska, Amlia, Umnak, Unalaska, Akutan, Unimak, Chignik, Kodiak, Kenai. At Anchorage Denali stands due north and the curve of coast wraps southeasterly around the Seamounts and disintegrates into the fjords of firs and furs, a complex inland waterway of isles, bays, sounds, and passages — Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, Hecate, the Queen Charlottes, Bella Bella, Nootka, Vancouver, Gabriola, Juan de Fuca, the San Juans — petering out damply at its far southern extremity in the lumpy clay islands, steep pebbly beaches, and broad clammy mudflats of Puget Sound: Fidalgo, Whidbey, Vashon, Maury, Kitsap, Duwamish, Puyallup, Nisqually.

One land, many voices. This is the motto emblazoned on my son’s shirt, the school year’s focus. It is illustrated by an elaborate Thunderbird image in the radiant heraldic style of the Northwest Coast Indians. Sprawling from the Alaskan panhandle to Gray’s Harbor, their complex matrilineal social structure of intricate moieties and clans mirrored the subtly involved landscape of mazelike backwaters and passages, of icebound mountains and nearly impenetrable rainforest. Some two dozen and more languages existed in the Salish family alone, nestled at the southern extremity – Puget Sound into Southern British Columbia.

Duwamps, bights and bays, Duwamps, shoals and spits, Duwamps, sloughing hills and sudden ravines, Duwamps, clay banks and riptide passes, Duwamps, skunk cabbage and devil’s club, Duwamps, salmonberry and stinging nettle, Duwamps, huckleberry and yarrow, Duwamps, frog and banana slug, Duwamps, octopus and geoduck, Duwamps, red alder and dinosaur grass, Duwamps, sea anemone and sea cucumber, Duwamps, salmon and orca, Duwamps, seal and sea otter, Duwamps, beaver and river otter, Duwamps, bear and lion, Duwamps, eagle and raven, Duwamps, hemlock, cedar, fir.

II. Duwamps an History

Anyone just got here.

Anyone just got here. Once we washed ashore. “Tlon-honnipts” in Clatsop. Except for the arctic regions, we were the most remote, the last place on earth accurately mapped by Europeans. We were Fu-Sang of the Japanese. We were Brobdingnag of Swift, and New Albion of later maps, if indeed we weren’t presumed to be inundated in the “Offen See”, the Sea of the West, cog of that grand dream of mariners, the Northwest Passage. That dream didn’t die until the Bitter Root Mountains broke the hearts of Lewis and Clark, hoping to find an easy portage from the Missouri to the Columbia. HA!

Anyone just got here. There was nobody but the indigenous clans of Makah, Puyallup, Nisqually, et al, when Bach and Mozart were tracing out the high point of Western culture. George Vancouver didn’t map Puget Sound until 1792, when Wolfgang was quite dead. It wasn’t until Wagner was penning Tristan and launching music’s modern era that the first land records were made in Duwamps. There was hardly anyone here during the Civil War. It made no impact here. Then. We brought it all with us.

One land, many voices. There is an astonishing variety of music here: classical in all its guises, from symphony orchestra (professional, semi-pro, and amateur) to opera to dance to chamber groups. Popular and related music abounds from bars to nightclubs to concert halls to the spectacular lump-hall of Experience Music Project. Traditional varietals from all corners of the planet find ready ears, from bluegrass to palmwine to steel drum. Amateur groups thrive from recorder societies to mandolin orchestras to mix&match bands of free-improvisers. Choral groups swarm from church choirs to oratorio societies to the virtuoso ensemble of the Esoterics. It’s really quite amazing to think about.

Anyone just got here. Boomtown. A shipload of gold from Alaska finally made a city of us when Debussy was contemplating Pelléas et Mélisande. Fifty years later it was Boeing’s turn to boom Duwamps. It was a Duwamps plane that carried the bombs to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Damn! A few years later John Cage invented the prepared piano at Cornish in Duwamps. I guess that’s something.

One land, many voices. On the creative front the fringe elements of all stripes come together readily and with pleasure. Two of the meeting grounds I have become familiar with are the Washington Composers Forum, which, among its many activities and sponsorships, hosts a monthly series of talks by composers or performers, both local and visiting. We have heard jazz composers, free improvisers, ethno-musicologists, local specimens of the avant-garde and the academic, as well as instrumentalists from all over the Pacific Rim talk about and perform their music. At the bi-monthly Seattle Composers’ Salon we bring anything we’re interested in sharing to an informal concert setting. After each work is performed the audience is invited to ask questions of the composer or performers. We have heard everything from a computer-enhanced conch shell solo to an electro-acoustic seven-minute tour of Mardi Gras to a scene from a teen opera based on Spiderman. It is really difficult to convey the sheer inter-galactic range of things people are doing around here, and it is wonderful to find how ready people are to hear and to accept this variety, and these are just two of the dozens of places musicians come together to share and discuss their work.

Anyone just got here. Boomtown. Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Starbucks, Pearl Jam, Nirvana. Seattle Art Museum gets a new space. Seattle Symphony gets a new space. (Benaroya Hall — very nice, thank you!) Experience Music Project — pretty spectacular. Seattle Opera is getting a refurbished space. The Seattle Super Sonics got a new space. The Seattle Mariners got a new space. We even blew up the Kingdome (got the boom on DAT too off the radio) so the Seahawks could be getting a new space. A new library is in the works that will look like a stack of glass books. Boomtown!

III. Careers in Music in Duwamps

A career is what anyone is doing. What is doing. Many are doing what is doing. What is doing. Anyone can do what is doing. What is doing. A career is what anyone is doing in New Albion. What is doing. Many are doing what is doing in New Albion. What is doing. Anyone can do what is doing in New Albion. What is doing. A career is what anyone is doing in Duwamps, a city in New Albion. What is doing. Many are doing what is doing in Duwamps, a city in New Albion. What is doing. Anyone can do what is doing in Duwamps, a city in New Albion. What is doing.

One land, many voices. It is not possible to talk about creative music in the Seattle area without waxing enthusiastic about the role of The Tentacle. This volunteer-operated website, weekly email calendar, and occasional print newsletter covers a bewildering array of creative music events, radio listings, and local releases from Vancouver on the north to Portland on the south. I can only recommend a visit to www.tentacle.org [alas, no longer active] to give you a sense of its scope. You wouldn’t have to hang out here very long before you discovered how wonderful a resource it is for all of us.

Seattle Symphony, Seattle Opera, Northwest Chamber Orchestra, Seattle Philharmonic, Philharmonia Northwest, Seattle Creative Orchestra, Seattle Choral Company, Seattle Symphony Chorale, Seattle Opera, The Mahler Festival, Seattle Pro Musica, The Esoterics, Experience Music Project, concerts at the Paramount, at the Gorge, Earshot Jazz Festival, SIL2K, Other Sounds, Jack Straw Foundation, Cornish, UW Contemporary Group, Sorrelle, Quake, to name but a very few among a multitude.

One land, many voices. Of course it isn’t entirely a rosy picture. Not being a really large city, there is a perennial problem of adequate venues, and that was before the OK Hotel was kayoed by the earthquake last year, and the Speakeasy was gutted by fire. The big budget endeavors such as the Seattle Symphony and the Seattle Opera are forever scraping for donors, and mid-scale endeavors often rely on just a few lucrative concerts during the holidays to keep their budgets in the black. The more avant-garde elements complain of lack of coverage in the media and consequently sparse audiences. On the popular music front, oppressive city ordinances make it difficult for kids to go and hear the music they want to hear.

What is doing. A career is what anyone is doing in Duwamps, a city in New Albion. Do what is doing. A career is doing what is doing in Duwamps, a city in New Albion. What is doing. A career is what anyone is doing in New Albion. Do what is doing. A career is doing what is doing in New Albion. What is doing. A career is what anyone is doing. Do what is doing. A career is doing what is doing. Do what is doing. What is doing. A career is what anyone is doing.

One land, many voices. Seattle is justifiably proud of its role as a cultural meeting ground, a place where East meets West. But we fail, I think, in that we rarely listen to what is or was right here to begin with. The visual elements of Salish culture are ubiquitous in every tourist trap on the waterfront, and even some aspects of their language-sound have survived, albeit in anglicized forms, (since our tongues have never wrapped themselves easily around uvular fricatives), in hundreds of local place names. But I have heard more of traditional Japanese music than of our own indigenous sounds. In fact, I have lived here over 40 years and have never heard any Salish music, nor do I have any sense at all of what it might be like as either a traditional music or as a contemporary one. As I write this I am chagrined that my word processing program, a local product, doesn’t even recognize “Salish” as a word. One land, many voices. But where is the voice of this land?

One land, many voices.
A career is what anyone is doing.
Anyone just got here.
In the winter it is dark.

Keith E. Eisenbrey, Seattle, February 3, 2002