The Michael Jackson Diaries: On Composing "The Facts and Dreams of the World According to Michael Jackson"

Damien Hirst, Submission (1989)


In the car listening to whatever bullshit comes on my iPod. Somewhere between Closing Time and Come On Eileen I start thinking about Damien Hirst's Medicine Cabinets.  I remember looking at images of them and being drawn to the directness of the subject matter and the simplicity of how boxes and bottles of various mundane pharmaceuticals were arranged within the cabinetry.  White and colors.  Simply put, he hung the shelving that you would see in pharmacies on the wall and voila, art.

A hint at a title appears in my head:  A Catalogue of All Known Psychotropic Drugs.

Or: A Catalogue on the Efficacy of All Known Psychotropic Drugs.

I begin to imagine that the orchestra piece (the first of the six pieces due (soon)) could be like a catalogue.  Much like my trio from a few months back and the cowboy piece, this piece too could be broken into subsections (not movements) inspired by the clinical name – not trade name – of several drugs.  Some kind of colorful arrangement of names and treatments contained within an orchestral cabinet, not unlike the arrangements of medicines in Hirst's.



No music yet.  Just considering options for musical trajectory, particularly harmonic trajectory.  We know the following so far:

  • The piece is probably going to be a concatenation of 4-5 parts.  These parts should be harmonically related and feel as if they are cut from the same cloth.
  • I'm not going to steer too far away from my current harmonic language, which is somewhat diatonic but prefers the interplay of minor thirds and 0134 collections.
  • Because of the nature of the performance, the piece should be easy to understand.  Meaning the harmonic narrative should be clear; the timbral narrative can be complex.

I should do something I'm good at and not try to recreate the mess that was the previous orchestra piece, against Colorado (more on this later)I'm good at starting from a single point and opening up from there.

I'm considering that using my oboe concerto, eating filumena lionheart, as a point of departure may be for the best. Meaning, chains of minor thirds to create a false sense of diatonicism.


Snapshot of "quarternotes" in Logic.


I've been thinking about using pieces/experiments I already have as a springboard for the piece. Usually, if I'm bored (or out of ideas) and sitting in front of my keyboard, I generally tool around and try to make at least some kind of music – sketches, experiments, soundscapes, loops – whatever comes to mind, whether it be bad or good. The outcome of these sketches are these short and succinct pieces that range from ridiculous to not-so-bad. Over the course of writing all of these pieces to come, I'm sure there will be a lot of them.

I've been kicking around the idea of perhaps using some sketches that I've made over the past few months. The first is Fanfare B, one of two in a series of sketches commemorating the lines of the wonderful NYC subway (the other one is Q). I may use this because it has the kind of opening this orchestra piece needs: Big and bold. Please ignore the mambo in the middle of it. The second piece, quarternotes, is well, interesting. I don't know how I would incorporate the sung material. Maybe I'll make the violas sing it.  Regardless, it has a luminescent quality I like.

Here are those pieces:



Finally wrote something. I don't think its going to make it as is, but at least its another (skeletal) option of how to start the piece.

It's pretty minor thirdsy.

If you're reading this, I'm curious what you think about the three sketches I posted. What works or doesn't work? Which is a better opening? Leave a comment!

Sketch  of "Phenylephrine".

Sketch  of "Phenylephrine".


Day 8 was productive. I think I have a good start now to the orchestra piece – It's aggressive and I like it.

Since the piece will be a catalogue of various pharmaceuticals (their relationships to each other are still unknown at this point (title also TBA)), it is fitting the first drug in the catalogue is Phenylephrine. Phenylephrine that is injected directly into the corpus cavernosa as a detumescent.

Attached is a sound file of what I have so far. Again, my caveat is: it's not final, it will be expanded, and will hopefully be better in the long run.



9:32 pm.

So far this is what I have of the Orchestra piece. Its okay, but Im frustrated and I dont know what to do with it.

9:55 pm.

I start fucking around with A major and E major chords.  I like it, but I'm afraid I like it too much.  Its getting too close to the deadline to start something new...

10:00 pm.

I email a friend the audio of what I just came up with.  They like it, I'm afraid to like it.  Fuck it.  I'll run with it and see where it goes...

11:52 pm.

An hour or so of nuancing and I think I have something that might work...

Page one of the predecessor to Michael Jackson, "A Catalogue of All Known Psychotropics and Their Uses."

Page 1 of Michael Jackson.

Continuing to work on this new beginning which now has a name: The Facts and Dreams of the World According to Michael Jackson.  Here is what I have so far...




Not very productive, though I thought it would be; feeling tired and drained.  Have the house to myself for a week, so I figured it would be a perfect time to get as much done as humanly possible before heading back to NYC.  Stopped at the art store to buy more supplies. Purchased a Pentel Hi-Polymer Eraser – I highly recommend it!

• • •

Also, started tooling around with mimicking the handwritten Schott scores.  Particularly Die Soldaten. Doesn't look too bad, though I still can't figure out how to write a god damned quarter rest after all these years.

Schott manuscript experiment (Zimmermann: Die Soldaten): Original (L) and my version (R).



11:45  – Wake up. Drink Coffee.  Shower.  Smoke a few cigarettes wondering how I can bridge the gap between m.24ish and what comes after.  Need to have more space between the entrance of the rest of the orchestra.  That is today's plan along with expanding the 'what comes after.'  At that point I'll have two minutes – then, 8 more fucking minutes to go.  Fuck.

14:00 – Shovel the driveway. Eat lunch. Watch a few episodes of Game of Thrones. Take a nap.

18:30 – Make some tea.  Sit down and begin...

The current snow situation in Buffalo.




Working on expanding the middle section of this movement...


5:00 pm

What I have thus far:


3:40 am

Done with movement 1.




Meanwhile, back in New York...

DAY FOURTY-NINE — Lost endings (and parts) of Michael Jackson

Up until a few days before the deadline to finish the piece, Michael Jackson was supposed to have five movements.  The last movement was to be quiet, distant, slow all to avoid the "big ending."  The title was: against love, against live, against being. It essentially was a ridiculous vision of Michael Jackson ascending into heaven.

It was to be connected to the ending of mo. 4, and begin without pause.  On the left is a sketch of what that movement would have looked like, if it was written. Musically, the actual ending would have sounded like this:

Attempt 1: Fifth movement with random tuba blasts ending:

Attempt 2: The final version of the ending:


Out of time and the deadline very very near, I scrapped what I had of the 5th movement and tried to find an ending to the fourth movement, which would now be the last. My first attempt was to merge an older experiment into the ending:

This didnt seem to work, so I chose to go with an idea I had from when the piece was still about phamaceuticals.  Thus, the piece's current ending.

Notebook sketch of the hypothetical last (and missing) movement of Michael Jackson.

Sketch from some time in January. Already thinking of the scream ending.

As a side note, there also some music that never made it into the piece, that I particularly liked.  This part was to come immediately after the second movement, but it was (of course) cut because I thought it sounded to filmic:

Forty-nine days later, the piece was finished!

Finishing page 53, the final page.