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Extracts from the Fall of the House of Usher

Extracts from the Fall of the House of Usher

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Price: $16.33

Product Notes

If you're reading this, I am assuming you are interested in the story of how this extraordinary piece came to be. Rather than discussing the work or offering some description made irrelevant by merely inserting the CD into a CD player and pressing "play", my purpose here is to tell how it came to be rather than to assert what you're supposed to make of it, although I reveal, later and with abundant immodesty, that I want it to transform you. But that revelation abides only near my simpler project of recounting it's advent, a project to which I return now without further digression from my purpose. Tracing the origins of the piece on this recording forces us to return to when I first met Christian Asplund. I was serving on a faculty search committee at the University of Oklahoma, a fine institution of higher learning located on a singularly dreary tract of country, for a new composition professor. We asked for scores up front from all applicants, for I rather subversively sought a boon companion and felt that scores revealed companionability more readily than vitae or transcripts. Among the small mountain of carefully bound scores made using various computer programs like Finale and Sibelius, were a handful by Christian Asplund that were notated free hand. Something about handmade scores suggested that this was a composer proud to reveal himself to potential colleagues as disconnected from the conventions and manners of his times. Our institution possessed drastic need of precisely such an unconventional personage, or so my fevered thinking ran. An artisanal quality marked not only the scores, but the music hidden within them. This music revealed itself the product of some by-gone practices difficult to ascertain on examination, but present in the sometimes shaky handwriting. Later, on meeting Asplund at the Will Rogers World Airport (possibly America's only airport named for a man who died in a plane crash and one marked with the shame of having lost it's only international flight and therefore the coveted designation "international" so thus inventing for itself the meaningless designation "world"), he wore a white suit, vintage clothing from the 80s and therefore unfashionable for being too recent for the full measure implied by vintage yet too far removed from then contemporary notions of the fashionable to avoid notice. A man out of his time walked out of the airport with me that day, confirming in part my instincts on peering upon those basilisk eyes that comprised the note heads of his handwritten scores. Soon, the nature of his by-gone compositional practices unfolded before my eyes during the roughly three years Christian called Oklahoma home. Christian's music is the unapologetic product of such quaint practices as sincerity (difficult to discern for materialists caught up in an age of irony, but easy to see for souls trapped outside their times), purely musical intuition, and-perhaps most controversially-divine intervention. I learned a good deal about such matters working with Christian over the next few years. Then BYU summoned Christian away from Oklahoma to teach Music Theory at their distinguished school of music. I was disconsolate, but made as many excuses as a faltering state budget could afford to bring him back. On one of his returns, I had a problem. The University of Oklahoma's Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, an improbably good museum housed in a knockout building imagined by architect Hugh Jacobson, asked me to do a concert in the museum celebrating the museum's new collection of works by Robert Rauschenberg. I needed Christian to provide a signature piece to anchor the concert. Toward that end he created "The Goat, No Weeds" for speaker, percussion, violin, viola, cello and bass. The piece was a happy success and both composer and speaker found themselves the recipients of warm praise and good will. Later, I wanted to put on a self-serving festival of music by people I like called "Love Feast." I asked Christian to write a piece, and he wanted to follow up "The Goat, No Weeds" with a similar work tapping my efforts as a speaker joined by colleagues at the University of Oklahoma who are kind enough to participate in the sort of shows I put on. The resulting ensemble of flute, clarinet, violin, bass, piano and percussion stemmed from the formation of a "coalition of the willing", which is to say friends who make the time to lend their artistry to the cause of new music and to whom both the composer and present author are deeply grateful. Now Christian had a problem. While he had found the text for "The Goat, No Weeds" from the writings of Rauschenberg's friend John Cage's essay on Rauschenberg, he didn't have a text in mind for the "Love Feast." I made two suggestions. The first was the manifesto found in the first issue of "Source Magazine: Music of the Avant-Garde." In it, the editors opined that for most readers the contents of their magazine would be either a mere intellectual curiosity or an unseemly celebration of non-music, but for those who admire this music as music, "this magazine will be a LOVE FEAST." Indeed this passage prompted the name of my festival and therefore struck me a supreme text for Christian's use. Christian mulled over this text, but it did not speak to him musically. Next I suggested my absolute favorite piece of literature, Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher", for this was a self-indulgent enterprise on my part. Poe's tale has inspired some really great music, most notably by Claude Debussy, and also some really interesting literature. Charles Baudelaire, for example, translated it into French and declared it central to understanding the entire Symbolist Movement. The most remarkable feature of the story is how the narrator manages to outline in a few paragraphs the urgent need for an interrogation of the so-called Enlightenment. The story opens with the narrator reaching Usher's house. He finds that he cannot enter, so unnerving was the impression the house made upon his senses. He attempts an amazing experiment, which he dismisses as childish, but which launched the Symbolist Movement, he looks at the house reflected in the black and lurid tarn surrounding it that this re-arrangement of it's physical structure within the waters of the tarn might make it possible for him to enter. So much of our society's efforts over the years since the philosophes first proposed that Man recourse to his senses to order his world has been focused on the arrangement of things. Material things must be arranged for expedience and efficiency. Immaterial things classified, interrogated and made somehow material that they too might be so arranged. Even the compositional software mentioned previously, Finale and Sibelius, seek orderly arrangement of notes in a score as their high and only goal. Poe lends the blueprint for a counter-strategy. He demonstrates how imagination, here symbolized by the waters of the tarn and the reflections thereon, can derange the material world into the immaterial that a man, not Man, might move about more freely. His work bucks the dominant intellectual order of things in favor of the irrational, the childlike, the imaginative. His words don a white suit of by-gone style, to risk making rhetoric of what initially promised to be a mere recounting of a tale. Christian read the story and came to impressions distinct yet comparable to my own. He next set about deranging the story such-wise as to extract from it's pages all that might pass for mundane narrative and drab character development. There's precious little of each in this story wherein Poe allows descriptive fancy to overwhelm the slender storyline in an avalanche of obscure references, lexical felicities, and raw description untrammelled by any literary convention. Christian's cuts removed the tale from the tale that the descriptive energies Poe exerted might sing more clearly. Something in this rather recent work of Christian's draws me back to those first handwritten scores of his I examined before meeting him. Poe's project, his critique of the project of his times, his celebration of art deranged over arranged, reminds me of Christian's practice. Christian consistently makes choices that literally no one, I mean absolutely no one else makes. Immune to the siren song of efficient methods and the easily classified, Christian's music still sounds to me handwritten for being thrillingly disengaged from the current societal project of shielding ourselves from the heartbreaking reality of our times through impervious irony. Whatever Christian may be as a composer, he is sincere in method and aim. More sincere, I would argue, than Poe himself, and therefore all the more a soul caught out of his time. On being handed my copy of the score, I quickly found myself at a loss how best to present myself to the audience as narrator with naught to narrate. I quickly determined that Christian's narrator is most certainly unreliable, a charge often aimed at Poe's narrator. This decision allowed for an unhinged performance of the sort captured on this CD in which inhibitions prompted by modesty or restraint quickly give way to raving and self-indulgence. Christian's narrator speaks, raps, luxuriates in his own reveries, cringes at his own conjurations. He was also supposed to sing, but I balked at this. So Christian reinforces his speaker with two exquisite singers who render the poem within the tale, "The Haunted Palace", so hauntingly. No doubt if you are still reading this, you have not been alienated entirely by my immodesty in recounting the tale of it's creation. Permit me one more immodesty for I was involved in it's creation to some scant degree and therefore overstep by praising it, I think it's a terrific piece of musical drama. Christian has outdone himself by deploying a host of techniques to help his small ensemble present a sumptuous work at once intimate and vast, frightening and funny, familiar and fresh, canny and unhinged, material and immaterial. I hope you enjoy it and further propose that you allow it to guide you to your own dark and lurid tarn wherein you might derange the stones of your world into something more accommodating of what is singular in your nature. --Michael Lee Recorded 20 October 2012, E250 Harris Fine Arts Center, Provo, Utah Texts by Edgar Allan Poe Music by Christian Asplund Michael Lee - Narrator; Lara Candland - Voice; Heather Foutz - Voice Ron Brough - Percussion; April Clayton - Flute, Piccolo, Alto Flute; Mayu Greenhalgh - Violin; Jaren Hinckley - Clarinet, Bass Clarinet; Rob Qualls - Contrabass; Kyle Shaw - Piano Christian Asplund - Conductor Recording and Mixing: Sheldyn Smith Mastering: Troy Sales Art and Graphics: Danijel Zezelj Funding support: The Barlow Endowment for Music Composition at Brigham Young University [Inside, perhaps in columns?] Texts (extracted from "The Fall of the House of Usher", by Edgar Allan Poe) I. A dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens. A singularly dreary tract of country ; the shades of the evening. The melancholy House of Usher. A sense of insufferable gloom unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible. The mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain - the bleak walls - the vacant eye-like windows - a few rank sedges - and a few white trunks of decayed trees - which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium - the bitter lapse into everyday life - the hideous dropping off of the veil. There was an iciness, a sinking, an unredeemed dreariness of the sublime. II . The precipitous brink of a black and lurid tarn that lay in unruffled lustre by the dwelling, and gazed down - but with a shudder even more thrilling than before - upon the remodelled and inverted images of the gray sedge, and the ghastly tree-stems, and the vacant and eye-like windows. III. About the whole mansion and domain there hung an atmosphere peculiar to themselves and their immediate vicinity - an atmosphere which had no affinity with the air of heaven, but which had reeked up from the decayed trees, and the gray wall, and the silent tarn - a pestilent and mystic vapor, dull, sluggish, faintly discernible, and leaden-hued. IV. It's principal feature seemed to be that of an excessive antiquity. The discoloration of ages had been great. Minute fungi overspread the whole exterior, hanging in a fine tangled web-work from the eaves. Yet all this was apart from any extraordinary dilapidation. No portion of the masonry had fallen ; and there appeared to be a wild inconsistency between it's still perfect adaptation of parts, and the crumbling condition of the individual stones. V. In this there was much that reminded me of the specious totality of old wood-work which has rotted for long years in some neglected vault, with no disturbance from the breath of the external air. Beyond this indication of extensive decay, however, the fabric gave little token of instability. Perhaps the eye of a scrutinizing observer might have discovered a barely perceptible fissure, which, extending from the roof of the building in front, made it's way down the wall in a zigzag direction, until it became lost in the sullen waters of the tarn. VI. While the objects around me - while the carvings of the ceilings, the sombre tapestries of the walls, the ebon blackness of the floors, and the phantasmagoric armorial trophies which rattled as I strode, were but matters to which, or to such as which, I had been accustomed from my infancy - while I hesitated not to acknowledge how familiar was all this - I still wondered to find how unfamiliar were the fancies which ordinary images were stirring up. VII. The room was very large and lofty. The windows were long, narrow, and pointed, and at so vast a distance from the black oaken floor as to be altogether inaccessible from within. Feeble gleams of encrimsoned light made their way through the trellissed panes, and served to render sufficiently distinct the more prominent objects around ; the eye, however, struggled in vain to reach the remoter angles of the chamber, or the recesses of the vaulted and fretted ceiling. Dark draperies hung upon the walls. The general furniture was profuse, antique, and tattered. Many books and musical instruments lay scattered about. VIII. Darkness, as if an inherent positive quality, poured forth upon all objects of the moral and physical universe, in one unceasing radiation of gloom. IX. An excited and highly distempered ideality threw a sulphureous lustre over all. His long improvised dirges will ring forever in my ears. Among other things, I hold painfully in mind a certain singular perversion and amplification of the wild air of the last waltz of Von Weber. X. From the paintings over which his elaborate fancy brooded, and which grew, touch by touch, into vaguenesses at which I shuddered the more thrillingly, because I shuddered knowing not why; from these paintings (vivid as their images now are before me) I would in vain endeavor to educe more than a small portion which should lie within the compass of merely written words. By the utter simplicity, by the nakedness of his designs, he arrested and overawed attention. If ever mortal painted an idea, that mortal was Roderick Usher. For me at least - in the circumstances then surrounding me - there arose out of the pure abstractions which the hypochondriac contrived to throw upon his canvass, an intensity of intolerable awe, no shadow of which felt I ever yet in the contemplation of the certainly glowing yet too concrete reveries of Fuseli. One of the phantasmagoric conceptions of my friend, partaking not so rigidly of the spirit of abstraction, may be shadowed forth, although feebly, in words. A small picture presented the interior of an immensely long and rectangular vault or tunnel, with low walls, smooth, white, and without interruption or device. Certain accessory points of the design served well to convey the idea that this excavation lay at an exceeding depth below the surface of the earth. No outlet was observed in any portion of it's vast extent, and no torch, or other artificial source of light was discernible; yet a flood of intense rays rolled throughout, and bathed the whole in a ghastly and inappropriate splendor. XI. I have just spoken of that morbid condition of the auditory nerve which rendered all music intolerable to the sufferer, with the exception of certain effects of stringed instruments. It was, perhaps, the narrow limits to which he thus confined himself upon the guitar, which gave birth, in great measure, to the fantastic character of his performances. But the fervid facility of his impromptus could not be so accounted for. They must have been, and were, in the notes, as well as in the words of his wild fantasias (for he not unfrequently accompanied himself with rhymed verbal improvisations), the result of that intense mental collectedness and concentration to which I have previously alluded as observable only in particular moments of the highest artificial excitement. The words of one of these rhapsodies I have easily remembered. I was, perhaps, the more forcibly impressed with it, as he gave it, because, in the under or mystic current of it's meaning, I fancied that I perceived, and for the first time, a full consciousness on the part of Usher, of the tottering of his lofty reason upon her throne. The verses, which were entitled 'The Haunted Palace,' ran very nearly, if not accurately, thus: XII. The Haunted Palace In the greenest of our valleys By good angels tenanted, Once a fair and stately palace- Radiant palace- reared it's head. In the monarch Thought's dominion- It stood there! Never seraph spread a pinion Over fabric half so fair! Banners yellow, glorious, golden, On it's roof did float and flow, (This- all this- was in the olden Time long ago,) And every gentle air that dallied, In that sweet day, Along the ramparts plumed and pallid, A winged odor went away. Wanderers in that happy valley, Through two luminous windows, saw Spirits moving musically, To a lute's well-tuned law, Round about a throne where, sitting (Porphyrogene!) In state his glory well-befitting, The ruler of the realm was seen. And all with pearl and ruby glowing Was the fair palace door, Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing, And sparkling evermore, A troop of Echoes, whose sweet duty Was but to sing, In voices of surpassing beauty, The wit and wisdom of their king. But evil things, in robes of sorrow, Assailed the monarch's high estate. (Ah, let us mourn!- for never morrow Shall dawn upon him desolate!) And round about his home the glory That blushed and bloomed, Is but a dim-remembered story Of the old time entombed. And travellers, now, within that valley, Through the red-litten windows see Vast forms, that move fantastically To a discordant melody, While, like a ghastly rapid river, Through the pale door A hideous throng rush out forever And laugh- but smile no more. XIII. This opinion, in it's general form, was that of the sentience of all vegetable things. But, in his disordered fancy, the idea had assumed a more daring character, and trespassed, under certain conditions, upon the kingdom of inorganization. The belief, however, was connected (as I have previously hinted) with the gray stones of the home of his forefathers. The conditions of the sentience had been here, he imagined, fulfilled in the method of collocation of these stones - in the order of their arrangement, as well as in that of the many fungi which overspread them, and of the decayed trees which stood around - above all, in the long undisturbed endurance of this arrangement, and in it's reduplication in the still waters of the tarn. It's evidence - the evidence of the sentience - was to be seen, he said, (and I here started as he spoke,) in the gradual yet certain condensation of an atmosphere of their own about the waters and the walls. The result was discoverable, he added, in that silent, yet importunate and terrible influence which for centuries had moulded the destinies of his family, and which made him what I now saw him - what he was. XIV. The Ververt et Chartreuse of Gresset; the Belphegor of Machiavelli; the Heaven and Hell of Swedenborg ; the Subterranean Voyage of Nicholas Klimm by Holberg; the Chiromancy of Robert Flud, of Jean D'Indaginé, and of De la Chambre; the Journey into the Blue Distance of Tieck; and the City of the Sun of Campanella. One favorite volume was a small octavo edition of the Directorium Inquisitorium, by the Dominican Eymeric de Gironne; and there were passages in Pomponius Mela, about the old African Satyrs and Oegipans, an exceedingly rare and curious book in quarto Gothic - the manual of a forgotten church - the Vigiliae Mortuorum secundum Chorum Ecclesiae Maguntinae. XV. The vault, which had been so long unopened that our torches, half smothered in it's oppressive atmosphere, gave us little opportunity for investigation, was small, damp, and entirely without means of admission for light; lying, at great depth, immediately beneath that portion of the building in which was my own sleeping apartment. A portion of it's floor, and the whole interior of a long archway through which we reached it, were carefully sheathed with copper. The door, of massive iron, had been, also, similarly protected. It's immense weight caused an unusually sharp grating sound, as it moved upon it's hinges. XVI. The bewildering influence of the gloomy furniture of the room - of the dark and tattered draperies, which, tortured into motion by the breath of a rising tempest, swayed fitfully to and fro upon the walls, and rustled uneasily about the decorations of the bed. XVII. It was, indeed, a tempestuous yet sternly beautiful night, and one wildly singular in it's terror and it's beauty. A whirlwind had apparently collected it's force in our vicinity ; for there were frequent and violent alterations in the direction of the wind ; and the exceeding density of the clouds (which hung so low as to press upon the turrets of the house) did not prevent our perceiving the life-like velocity with which they flew careering from all points against each other, without passing away into the distance. I say that even their exceeding density did not prevent our perceiving this - yet we had no glimpse of the moon or stars - nor was there any flashing forth of the lightning. But the under surfaces of the huge masses of agitated vapor, as well as all terrestrial objects immediately around us, were glowing in the unnatural light of a faintly luminous and distinctly visible gaseous exhalation which hung about and enshrouded the mansion. XVIII. The radiance was that of the full, setting, and blood-red moon, which now shone vividly through that once barely-discernible fissure, of which I have before spoken as extending from the roof of the building, in a zigzag direction, to the base. This fissure rapidly widened - there came a fierce breath of the whirlwind - the entire orb of the satellite burst at once upon my sight - I saw the mighty walls rushing asunder - there was a long tumultuous shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters - and the deep and dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the 'House of Usher.'

Details

Artist: Christian Asplund
Title: Extracts from the Fall of the House of Usher
Genre: Rock
Release Date: 24/10/2013
Label: CD Baby
Media Format: CD
UPC: 700261391885
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