Our Album is about night journeys -- but if the night is its usual metaphor, then this project is really about the process of attempting to get from one place to another, from here to there without the usual, obvious and dependable sources of light. It means we must use other guideposts t0 re-orient ourselves. There is the implicit necessity to put our faith both in ourselves as well as in unseen forces and hands, given the absence of the usual progress markers. Destinations can become elusive, unexpected or nonexistent. At the end of the day (so to speak), it is about the journey and how we conduct ourselves through it.
The absence of the obvious sources of light will stimulate or unleash any number of emotional states: exhilaration, loneliness, love, and especially shifting degrees of trepidation, anxiety, and terror. Sadness is de rigueur for many reasons, none of which will be elaborated upon here. Perhaps the idea is to shift our perspective from looking at these states not merely as reactions to the journey, but also as one's assigned traveling companions.
The songs that we have selected seem to be about solo journeys. The night journey is a mucky trek through the marshes of one's own soul, with the annoying squishy sounds of one's own faltering boots as the principal soundtrack. The sense of isolation certainly darkens the shade of the darkness. But perhaps the journey resolves once we make a peace with loneliness, and in so doing, find new sources of connectedness. It is a journey that we all make alone together.
And getting our Night Journey Program under way, we start with Insomnia, untethering ourselves from our usual biological rhythms so that we can be more facilely hurled into The Night. But with any modicum of luck we return (con) Recuerdo, and like the inadvertent singing passengers, we are very tired but very merry, having emerged from waters that otherwise might have engulfed us. We return to the safety and familiarity of the ground from which we left; but it is more sacred ground for having made the Night Journey...
Praise for Noctambule: Travel in the Shadows
'The irregular phrases, unpredictable meters and strangely beautiful harmonies produced by Notctambule's overlapping voices, guitars, and mandolins conjure a nocturnal world in which the words of some of our finest poets take shape and snap together magically like recently discovered pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Travel in the Shadows is folk music at its best--hand made, without a template.' - Alex De Grassi
'..deeply moved and impressed! Ambitious and evocative theme, wonderfully chosen texts, beautiful and intricate arrangements, and highly polished performances, both musically and sonically.'
-Neal Stulberg, Professor of Music and Director of Orchestral Studies, UCLA
'...sweet plucked string textures and wonderful vocal layers!' - Mike Marshall
Song Notes -
1. Insomnia Robert Service
A case of insomnia opens the door to a night of unexpected adventure. Following World War I, Robert Service settled in Paris. While a wealthy man, he would don old clothes at night and visit the darkest dives in the city. These experiences were then memorialized in Service’s Ballads of a Bohemian (1921). Our setting of Insomnia actually represents Marla's interweaving of two consecutive poems in this volume, Insomnia and Moon Song.
2. Noctambule Robert Service
Another from Service's Ballads of a Bohemian, Noctambule takes us down from the glistening rooftops to the darker underbelly of the same vaunted city. As the bars close, we ramble with our well-oiled hero through the dirty back alleys in his valiant, lurching attempt to return safely to his garret before sunrise.
3. Madam I’m a Darlin’ Traditional
We depart from the realm of poetry and the rhapsodizing of solitary romantic or existential quests, into the realm of inelegant, lustful cruising -- no less a ‘night journey’ in its delicious upbeat, uptempo baseness. A traditional song popularized by Dublin singer Frank Harte, the irrepressible spirit of the song and its protagonist has inspired many creative interpretations over the years...
4. Travel in the Shadows Pablo Neruda
We were both inspired and transported by the lyricism and kaleidoscopic imagery in these sonnets. As the darkness takes hold, Neruda beseeches his beloved to join him in the nocturnal fusion of their souls, to combine their dreams into one shared transcendent journey, to ‘travel in the shadows’ with him. We condensed sonnets 81, 82 and 84 into a single set of verses to make our setting of Neruda’s phantasmagoric ‘travels.’
5. The Bohemian Dreams Robert Service
We travel back to Service’s Paris now, where we find our 'Bohemian' slouched with a wine glass in a dark and smoky bistro. Affixed to his chair, he conjures up visions of whirling motion; though his own journey seems stalled, he hurtles forward in the realm of imagination. Marla took her inspiration for the music from a Quebecois waltz clog, which, when slowed way down, endeavors to evoke the more languid Parisian pace...
6. Waltz for Danae
The myth of Danae assails man’s vanity in believing he can control events and outcomes in the face of larger, more powerful forces. Danae is locked in a tower by her father, Acrisius to prevent her giving birth to a child that, according to prophesy, would kill him. Zeus, undeterred, impregnates her in a glorious shower of stars! We wanted to celebrate the ephemeralness and permeability of human-created boundaries, and the triumph of mythos over biology, and we thought she deserved her own tune.
7. Lost Robert Service
Not all journeys are undertaken at propitious times, with accommodating conditions, or by people prepared to undertake them. This poem comes from Service’s time in Alaska, where this tragic journey takes place, with its reverberations painfully felt. It is the chilling story (sorry...) of a young man getting lost and freezing to death in a blizzard in the Alaskan wilderness, interwoven with the experience of his parents, thousands of miles away, uncannily connected to the moment.
8. A Suddenness of Trees Theodore Roethke
A speeding train changes the relationship of the traveler to what he encounters - scenes arise suddenly, then disappear in an instant. Theodore Roethke’s classic poem, Night Journey, wonderfully evokes the visceral embodiment of the raw power of the train, as well as a sense of wonder at being hurled through magically morphing landscapes...
9. The Sisters Alfred Lord Tennyson
In Tennyson’s poem of the same name, the darkness of the night provides both the stage and the cloak for the expression of a deeper human darkness.
10. Captain Chalupa
Heroes of epic nocturnal journeys need not only be bipeds. This tune was written by Marla as an homage to her funny-looking, battle-scarred, but otherwise nondescript cat, who, she is convinced, dons a cape by night and transforms into a superhero, avenging evil on the streets of Oakland....
11. The Bohemian Dreams (les rêves continue...)
We return to the Rue de Montparnasse where Bruce now ascends the barstool to give voice to the reverie.
12. Recuerdo Edna St. Vincent Millay
And finally, after our multifarious forays into the night, we are transported safely home with Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem, “Recuerdo,” appropriately translated as ‘memory’ or ‘souvenir.’ We hope you enjoyed the journey! As our stalwart friends sing a fond farewell, we also wish to thank you for joining us on these noctambulations...