Friday, March 18, 2016

The Birth of EJ and the Litany Against Fear

They say that every birthing experience is different, and I can say that having been there for the birth of both of my daughters, this is inarguably true. The delivery of my second daughter was almost diametrically opposed to that of my first. To start with, the Little One (whom, to head off any future confusion, will henceforth be referred in this blog by her social media moniker P) was delivered three weeks early due to complications. The labor process that brought her little sister EJ into the world began exactly on time, in the early evening of her due date.

My wife had been routinely active that day taking a walk and working in the garden. As most women report at that stage of the pregnancy, she was quite tired of being pregnant. That evening, in a somewhat casual attempt to get things started, she proposed that we go out to eat some spicy Thai food. Soon thereafter, she started to report some “cramps.”

Now, I would not say that I was dismissive of her complaints, but I was skeptical. In my defense, she had been having “cramps” in various forms for the better part of six months, so I was not ready to pack up for the hospital at the first sign of discomfort.  When we got home, I realized that we needed dog food, so after P was down for the night I ran to the neighborhood grocery store. By the time I got back, I knew my wife was serious. Normally, such an excursion would be a reason for her to wind down for the evening. She had, instead, taken a shower, put on fresh clothes, packed three bags, and was waiting by the door with shoes on.

Still, I was skeptical. I really did not want to go to the hospital and get sent back home on a false alarm. I suggested we sit down and watch TV for a little while to track timing of the “cramps” on an app she had downloaded. Within ten minutes, she was on all fours.

I scooped up P and we left.

We were in new territory. We had never actually gone through labor and delivery. P was induced and ultimately delivered by c-section, and whatever emotional support tools I had were all informed by that experience. Looking back on P's birth, my wife was, at one point, exhausted and terrified, and I remember feeling helpless to soothe her fears.  A few weeks before EJ's due date, I decided to come prepared if we found ourselves in a similar situation this time around.

Frank Herbert’s Dune had been on my mind recently due to the release of the soundtrack to Jodorowsky’s Dune, a documentary about an imaginative 70s movie adaptation of the sci-fi classic that stalled in preproduction. I will admit that I have yet to see the documentary itself, but the descriptions I read of the soundtrack’s explicit deference to 70s synth composers like Tangerine Dream and Jean-Michel Jarre piqued my interest. A Dune-themed synth album seemed intriguing, especially since I have a somewhat unfulfilled sense of musical nostalgia for the Dune universe.

Unfulfilled because no adaptation, and therefore no soundtrack, has ever done the book justice.  I still say that Dune is impossible to do in a traditional film format.  The Sci-Fi channel had the right idea at one point, however, by making it a visually disappointing mini-series.  It seems like with all the world-building that is going on right now in cinema and current effects, Dune is a deep, deep property that is just waiting for someone to pick up and develop properly.  For now, though, Dune fans have to satisfy ourselves with morsels like Kurt Stenzel's soundtrack for this documentary.

The results are varied. Despite having a certain meandering feel, Jodorowsky’s Dune OST does do a convincing job of capturing something that is unique to the Dune universe. In that regard, it might be one of the better Dune-related musical offerings in existence. Despite this, however, it is not the soundtrack to a Dune movie, but rather the soundtrack to a documentary about a Dune movie. This is a little less appealing to my inner vision of the music’s narrative. I might be able to function under the delusion that this is not the case, pretending that it is the actual unreleased soundtrack. There are several instances, however, in which the inclusion of quotes from the documentary shatter the illusion. Still, these are few and far between, and for the most part, the soundtrack is pretty compelling.

In any case, in an effort to come into the delivery with some conceptual ammo, I began to think about the famous Bene Gesserit “Litany Against Fear” (seen left). I won't go into the context of this passage from the book, because that was not my concern at the time I started thinking about it.  I was more concerned about is practicality.  I was convinced that if my wife was on the verge of having a panic attack, having this in my back pocket would be useful.  I took it upon myself to commit it to memory.

As it turned out out she did not need it at all. Not to say that EJ's birth was easy or without some hard moments, but my wife was a total rock star during the whole thing.  To be frank, I think I needed the Litany more than she did. I recited it during labor and delivery, arguably to be prepared for when she might need support.  It actually gave my racing mind something to focus on in quieter moments. And yes, these are words that come from a 60s sci-fi novel, and using them in a real-world way such as this might seem ridiculous. They elegantly describe a profound aspect of the human condition, however, in the way that only the best sci-fi is able.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

February/March Roundup: Spring Cleaning

Where did February go? It seemed like just yesterday that I was pledging to get caught up on my blog and maintain it consistently. Now look where we are. A month and a half has gone by and despite best intentions, I haven’t posted a word. It’s not because nothing has happened – in fact, quite the contrary! Life has been astoundingly complex since that last post in January, and many episodes have attached themselves to music both new and old:

I took my band to Pre-UIL concert and sightreading contest with less than desirable results. I went on leave and became the father of two. My MS band subsequently went to UIL in my absence and got greatly improved marks. I’ve wrestled with lack of sleep and keeping my eldest entertained. I played a great gig with Ethnos. Keith Emerson died. Previously mentioned eldest daughter broke her collarbone in a freak chair-spinning accident. Plus, there’s that Star Wars soundtrack project I have been mapping out since last Fall.

It’s no wonder that I have felt overwhelmed with documenting all that. Seriously, any free time I have had has been spent fighting to stay awake while I watch samurai movies and John Oliver clips. I am going to try to make a push in the coming days, however, to try to get caught up. For the time being, however, here’s a roundup of the post-birthday stuff that has passed through the player in the past month and a half:

ToeHear You: Hear You is significantly more mellow and jazzy than I have heard previously from Toe. It retains the band’s signature mathy undercurrents, though.

John Williams – The Force Awakens OST: The recording quality and performances on The Force Awakens breathes new life into familiar themes. There is also some standout new material, as well.

RiversideLove, Fear, and the Time Machine: Despite identifying as a prog rock fan and liking a broad range of music within the genre, I also have a myopic aspect that is pretty critical of contemporary prog. Riverside has evolved into a band that balances all of the variables in just the right way for my tastes.

Jean-Michel JarreEquinoxe:  Jarre was around a lot when I was growing up, and I could have sworn that somewhere along the line I got acquainted with Equinoxe. When I recently got ahold of a used copy, however, it seemed gloriously unfamiliar and quite captivating.

Esperanza SpaldingEmily’s D+Evolution: It’s comforting to know that albums like this are still being made. Spalding’s experimental side recalls the heyday of 70s jazz, rock, and prog crossovers and brings it into startling relevancy.

MuteMathVitals: I have come to accept that none of MuteMath’s releases will ever touch me like their self-titled debut did. Vitals, however, is a bit of a departure and as such, it favorably resists comparison to that excellent album.

Field Music Commontime: With several album titles that harbor musical double meanings, it’s clear that Field Music wears their musicianship on their sleeve. The potential for pretentiousness is high if they were unable to back it up, but their incredible musical skills always stand in service to their amazing songs and compositions.

Pink FloydSaucerful of Secrets: The final Pink Floyd studio album that has been missing in my collection finally finds its way in. It’s a necessary document of the group at its most unstable as they headed away from Barrett’s psychedelic pop towards the cerebral soundscapes Pink Floyd would later perfect.