march of the reanimated
|03/24/2017 by ASM at the National Opera Center (A is for Accordion);
05/19/2017 by ASM at ShapeShifter Lab (The Wind in the Bellows)
I’ve been trying to use deadlines to keep myself composing (it’s hard to make time to write with little kids and a full-time job) and often that ends with a mad scramble. But there have been enough developments in current events to give me plenty to write about.
(Note: writing political commentary is not something I aspire to do with music, or on this site in general. But I firmly believe that we, citizens and artists alike, must hold accountable the powers that be. We must not be silent, musically or otherwise.)
This piece describes a certain generation of thought that is fading, but not without a fight. Every few years, it rebrands itself and tries a new tactic to recast itself as The Defender Of The Truth; we take three steps forward and one step back.
I began as I often do, with wordplay: early concepts were playing off of various stems – the etymology of “accordion,” and “accord” as well as “discord.” This led me down a researching rabbit hole, from Discordianism through several other topics (the Illuminati, the war against critical thinking, the Invisible Hand of capitalism, civic ignorance, etc). The working title was “march of the blank,” but I had nothing for the blank.
Eventually, I came across Cyril M. Kornbluth’s “The Marching Morons,” a 1951 novella about a futuristic society wherein the majority of the population has an IQ below 45, and the minority population (whose IQ is 100 and higher) is effectively enslaved to keep society functioning; this imbalance was a result of the morons out-breeding the rest. They have no solution to their “Population Problem” until a salesman from the present is revived from suspended animation and comes to their aid, for his own gain.
I was already writing a march, so it seemed fitting to tie all of these concepts—discord, treaties, the golem that is the modern GOP, tuning—into the plans to march in protest of the 2017 inauguration. That way the “march” conceit could work both ways.
The theme is not quite right, but it’s certainly loud and aggressive. It’s just a bit (?) dissonant, resembling the shambling reanimated masses – proud themes that are supported by harmony that is more patched together than sewn. (Sure, they’re walking, but they’re falling apart and, unlike in a zombie movie, they will eventually crumble back into oblivion.) Each melody statement is slightly different, alternating in verse-chorus form, but employing several tricks along the way: harmonizing the melody, changing the underlying harmony, a brief round, quieter framing of the secondary themes, etc. In fact, the full theme only appears boldly once, in the first third of the piece. Ultimately, the march falls apart despite its best intentions, obliterated by an emerging (predominantly) harmonic consonance, and finally dissipates like an extinguished candle.
I realized in the score preparation stage that I had unconsciously stylistically and melodically echoed two earlier pieces, “lethologica” and “dance of history repeating”. The former was my first piece with ASM (ten years ago!) as well as the last piece I’d written for accordion; the latter was explicitly about this sort of historical cycle. I decided to revise the ending, including direct quotes of the latter in the closing measures.
It’s impossible to deny that history has repeated itself; but we know that we must act to extinguish it.