Composition with Pitch Cells

December 22, 2018

To me, music is an art form that has only one rule. That rule was enunciated by the composer Duke Ellington when he said, “If it sounds good, it is good.” For this rule to work, we must understand that “good” may mean different things in different contexts. The dissonance of an Alban Berg opera never sounded “good” to my ‘cello teacher, who regularly attended a full season of the Metropolitan Opera. But I and a friend once listened to a Met broadcast of Lulu following a vocal score which had an English translation. At the end, he looked at me and said, “This is a drama.” We had discovered that Berg had placed the dissonance and atonality of his music at the service of the dark themes that he explored in his work.

A composer makes a set of aesthetic choices. If the choices please us we say it sounds good. For about the past twenty years, I’ve composed music based on a series of aesthetic choices around a set of five-note pitch cells. Each pitch cell, as I define it, contains five note-families, with a note family being defined as a set of notes all of which differ from every other note in that family by an octave or a multiple of an octave. Thus, in the system of equal temperament which has become the basis of notated Western music their are twelve note families, with seven notes identified by the letters “A” through “G” and the remaining five identified by adding a flat (Ñ) to show a note a semi-tone below a lettered note or a sharp (©) to indicate a note a semi-tone above a lettered note. All of this is, of course, familiar to you if you have a rudimentary knowledge of music theory.

In a melodic line I will use every note of the governing pitch cell at least once and will use it as often as I wish in any octave. Consider this melodic line which is the opening of “Lyric Piece” a work for solo clarinet:

Here the first measure is based on a pitch cell containing the note families F, G-flat, A, C-sharp, and D. G-flat and C-sharp are each used once. F, and A are used twice in the same octave, and D is used twice in different octaves. This pitch cell, transposed by varying intervals, governs all of the measures in this example.

The second measure is based on the same pitch cell with all notes transposed up a half step. The third measure is based on the same pitch cell, this time transposed up a minor sixth from the first measure. In the fourth measure the same pitch cell has been transposed up a major sixth from the first measure – making it just a semi-tone higher than the third measure, In the fifth measure the same pitch cell is a major third higher than it is in measure one. In the sixth measure the same pitch cell is a half-step lower than it is in measure one.

Thus the pitch cells for measures one and two are a half-step apart. The pitch cells for measures three and four are a half-step apart. The pitch cell for measure five transposed by a half step up or down does not correspond to any transposition used thus far, and the pitch cell for measure six is a half step lower than the pitch cell for measure one.

From the standpoint of all the work I have done using this system, this passage is atypical in several respects: the solo instrument is unaccompanied; a single pitch cell is used for six measures; and the pitch cell’s transposition changes with each measure. In other compositions there is an accompaniment which is also based on the pitch cell; a pitch cell may govern more or less than one measure, and different pitch cells may be used one after another. In future blog posts, it is my intention to expand on all of the possible aesthetic choices that I make when using this system of composition with pitch cells.

Two months ago I wrote about my planned second visit to the Torus Porta – this time for a marathon of performance art lasting from six in the evening to about three the next morning. It has been a busy summer, and my memory of that evening is now vague, but I’ve assembled some still and video images into a report of the evenings. You can draw your own conclusions.

When I say that my summer was busy, it was nothing compared to that of the two founders of the Torus Porta, the team known as Wild Torus: Estonia, Latvia, Finland, Sweden, Greece and the US. have been on their tour; and in one week they’re coming to Easyon Mountain, for an event called Q-Topia. The will be leading a workshop on Saturday and will be part of the performance on Sunday. You can read about this on Easton Mountain’s website.

About a year ago. I set up a channel on Vimeo called “Erotic Imagination.” I described it in this way:

The erotic is an entry to the transcendent. While these videos contain both male and female nudity, they use reality, fantasy and art to focus on authentic human relationships in a way that transcends humanity and draws us into a consciousness that is both individual and universal.

Since then, I’ve added 134 videos to the channel. I’ve realized that in doing this I’ve really been asking a question: How can nudity in video and in performance (as many of these are video recordings of live performances) create a “focus on authentic human relationships,” and how can nudity do this “in a way that transcends humanity and draws us into a consciousness that is both individual and universal”?

To the extent that the videos in the collection use nudity to either show us something profound about human relationships or draw us into a change of consciousness, they themselves are an answer to this question – but not an answer that is easily put into words.

Miguel Thomé, a director/editor from Brazil, has created “Inanimado.” The name is Portugese and means inanimate, lifeless or insensitive. Thomé describes the work as, “A surrealist journey through the unconscious of a couple belittled by the metropolis.” As I see the end of this film, I find myself asking: Is the man’s scream one of ecstasy, anger or terror? What would have been the effect of having two men or two women perform the scene? — of alternating opposite and same sex couples? — of using electronic editing to have a man dance with himself?

The Greek videographer, Zafeiris Haitidis, describes his video, “West of Eden” in this way: “Adam bites the apple. He abandons Eve and the Garden of Eden in search of his destiny on earth. What he discovers, though, is his worst nightmare… ‘You can’t escape yourself.'” After seeing this video, my thought is it isn’t that Adam can’t escape himself. He can’t find himself – certainly not after moving from the Garden of Eden into a twenty-first century urban world.

The New York choreographer, John Jasperse, has chosen to use same-sex relationships – two men, two women. for “Fort Blossom Revised.” A New York Times review said “Dance, the body, and erotics are topics about which ‘Fort Blossom Revisited’ keeps testing, investigating and analyzing, and often brilliantly. Leaving the theater we are no longer quite what we were when we arrived.” This is the ideal of every artist who strives to go beyond “art for art’s sake. Whether we have spent a few moments contemplating an O’Keefe painting or a half hour listening to a Beethoven symphony, “we are no longer quite what we were” when we started.

Sixteen months ago, I wrote a posting entitled “Who Wrote the Gospel of John.” Since then, I have continued my studies and am now up to the thirteenth chapter, which is the start of something presented as a speech by Jesus to the disciples on the eve of his crucifixion. It runs to the end of the sixteenth chapter, and has passages in which themes are repeated and ideas restated.

In my studies, I have found evidence confirming my theory that the origin of the gospel was the spoken words of the Evangelist – presumably the disciple John, son of Zebedee – given in Aramaic and translated by at least two persons in his community. One point of evidence is the portions of the gospel that give quotations from Hebrew scriptures. The translators would have been familiar with the Greek translation of these scriptures, known as a Septuagint – so when the translators recognized a passage they used the words of the Septuagint as their translation. In other places where the Evangelist speaks of what has been written, the translators may not have recognized the passage and so simply gave a literal translation of the Evangelist’s words.

The order of events in the Gospel seems to have been determined, not by the actual order of events in the life of Jesus but by the Jewish calendar of religious festivals. As you read the gospel, you get what Jesus said at one religious festival, then the next, then the next. When you reach Passover, you have the account of Jesus crucifixion and subsequent events because Jesus was crucified either on the eve of Passover or on the first day of Passover.

This order indicates to me that the Hebrew scriptures would have been read in the community of believers just as it was in the synagogue from which they had been expelled, indicating that those in this community considered themselves to be practicing, not some new religion called Christianity, but the correct version of Judaism – the Judaism of their prophet, Jesus.

The fact that there are passages in the last discourse where ideas are repeated indicates that there were at least two translators who heard the Aramaic words of the evangelist and remembered their differing translations. When they obtained the services of a scribe, they recounted the teachings of Jesus as they had heard them from the Evangelist, and the scribe didn’t think to ask if two passages might not have come from the same Aramaic source.

In future blog posts, I’ll focus on the picture of Jesus that has developed for me as I have studied his ministry as presented in this Gospel.

I’ve watched Enna Chaton’s twelve-minute video, “Errances” twice, to see if I would find more in it the second time than the first. Google Translate says that “Errances” means “Wanderings.” This video show three naked women and five naked men wandering through what is identified in the notes as “Le Abattoirs, Musée d’art Moderne et Contemporain de Toulouse” The video was made in collaboration with the composer-sculptor Céleste Boursier-Mougenot. The notes, as translated by Google Translate, state, concerning the spectators, “their receptivity and their presence is intensified by the whether they are naked.” but these wanderers seem to express no emotion, even when sitting close together on a leather sofa watching a video monitor. Other elements of the exhibit include a balloon and four grand pianos that move under robotic control, forcing the spectators to get out of the way. The spectators seem to have come from another planet – or at least another civilization – where nudity is the norm and they don’t quite know what to make of a planet where a drum kit stands in the middle of a pool of water and a telephone is placed on a pedestal as an art object. I’ve found a description of her work in English on the website of of the Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, California, where she did a residency 2013. I suggest checking it out.   I find her way of working close to what I did in “Innocence“. I’m hoping to see more of her work with Celeste Boursier-Mougenot.

Two Videos

November 13, 2015

I’ve developed two videos out of my work at Easton Mountain. One is an extension of the ritual of innocence that I discussed in my post of January 9, 2014, The Spiritual Explorers website describes this ritual of innocence more fully. The video “Innocence” incorporates the element of touch described on that website, though it doesn’t include other elements, such as undressing and the words of participants.

The second video came out of the sarong dancing that i discussed in my post of June 12 of this year.

While it doesn’t specifically relate to the ritual of the innocence seminar, I see it as a reflect of the basic innocence that Jesus spoke of the the words from the Gospel of Thomas:

When you strip naked without shame and trample your clothing underfoot just as little children do, then you will look at the Son of the Living One without being afraid.

I’ve also mentioned in this blog the Vimeo channel that I maintain called “Erotic Imagination.” I just added a video to that channel that comes from a group in Europe creating events they call “CUE.” Those invited to these events are encouraged to be both performers and audience, with the organizers providing only the place and time for the event. As the imagination of the performer/ spectator is stimulated, the collective imagination of the group may create something that goes beyond the psyche of the individual participant.


I’m interested in helping create a CUE event or something similar in upstate New York.  Contact me if you would like to be a performer/ spectator.  I can’t say that the work of CUE is leading people to transcendent reality – but even if it doesn’t, it looks like fun.


It’s no exaggeration to say that humanity faces the greatest crisis in its history. As a Quaker, I see this as a call equal to that heard in the seventeenth century to resist the tyrannical oppression of church-state alliances – a call that resulted in freedom of religion, first in England and its colonies and then throughout the western world. I see it as a call equal to the one in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to end slavery. Quakers did not achieve religious freedom alone. We did not end slavery alone. We worked with men and women of good will of all faiths to bring revolutionary changes of consciousness in western society.

As I stated in my July 30 post, on September 21 I will participate in the People’s Climate March. I will be marching with men and women of good will to bring about a society which meets the needs of all without degrading the planet . But this march is only one step in this change of consciousness.

Fifteenth Street Meeting in Manhattan has scheduled an evening on what neighborhoods can doto support each other in reducing their energy and water use, building relationships, promoting local food, and strengthening their community’s resilience.” It will take place at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, September 23, at the Friends Meeting House, 15 Rutherford Place, in Manhattan.

In addition, I am one of seven Friends in the Earthcare Working Group preparing to visit other meetings. Our goal is to help them consider how God is leading us to work for climate justice and the transformation of society.

As I’ve said in many of my postings, a spiritual life must include a concern for the welfare of all creation. Please consider what you are led to do in this regard.

Naked Ritual

July 15, 2014

In September of last year I created a meditation and a ritual for the Spiritual Explorers’ Mystery School. It focused on nudity as a symbol of innocence. Since then, the video that I posted on Vimeo to illustrate the meditation has had over a thousand views. However, I’ve had very few people contact me about being part of the ritual.

Recently, I came upon a video of another ritual – this one done in public on a Saturday in April in the small but cosmopolitan city of Biel, Switzerland. The video was entitled “Artwalk with Nude Accents (Documentation)” In this ritual only one of the participants was naked all the time, while others took off and put on clothing during the ritual.

It struck me that both the naked and the clothed participants were equally innocent. This has led me to revise my ritual to allow participants to choose whether to be naked or clothed. A corresponding revision was made to the meditation and the video that supports it. The new video is now referenced on the innocence seminar’s website, and the site itself has been modified to reflect my new understanding.

I’ve had few responses to my call for participants in the ritual, and so have not been able to arrange one — even with just myself and two other people. My sense is that my presentation of the ritual is enough. The message is there. From a spiritual perspective that is sufficient.


Continuing to Work with Art

February 13, 2013

In December I posted something about using watercolor while doing the exercises in Drawing the Light from Within, by Judith Cornell. Last week I completed “Project 2: Painting with Light” using transparent watercolors. I followed the procedure that I had outlined in December and discovered that it takes longer to do the painting in transparent watercolor than it does in poster paint. This is both because I must brush each area with a wet angle brush to make the shading from black to white and because I must let each segment dry before painting an adjacent segment. Here’s the result.


After that I did a second watercolor using one of the drawings that I had done in November using a guided meditation in Judith Cornell’s book. This time I departed from her instructions by intruding a red and yellow area into the painting. Here’s the result.


In all my work with art I feel it’s more important to develop my own instincts for what is right rather than to slavishly follow instructions in a book. As I work more with Drawing the Light from Within, I’ll post the results on this blog.

Agreements – XI

April 27, 2010

A Mutually Supportive Community

On January 25, I started a series that explored the agreements that the residents of Easton Mountain have made with each other, the first of which reads:

I agree that the purpose of my time as a resident at Easton Mountain will be to support the mission and vision of Easton Mountain, Inc., to nurture my own spiritual growth and to contribute to forming a mutually supportive community with the other residents.

From February 2 through April 5, I continued this series with postings that explored the mission and vision of Easton Mountain – a total of ten postings that discussed only the first twenty-six words of the Resident Agreement

This posting reflects on the “mutually supportive community” addressed by the last phrase of the first agreement.

No one would claim that Easton Mountain is a perfect community. We who are in it are not perfect. Sometimes we forget that it is this brokenness that leads us to seek for the mutual support found in of a community. We all have our inner criticism, “this man is too cynical” – “that man talks too much” – “this man doesn’t do his job well.” All of these criticisms are just a way of saying “this man pushes my buttons. And when someone pushes my buttons, I have to own that they are my buttons.

The Buddhists have a concept of the Sangha – usually interpreted as a community of monastic Buddhists. The Sangha shares with the Buddha the quality of being an agent of spiritual growth. Even in its imperfections, I recognize Easton Mountain as my Sangha, as an agent of my spiritual growth. I’ll explore this concept in future postings.

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