The album title and cover illustration were inspired by a dream about Quan-yin, the bodhisattva of compassion.
In the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, a bodhisattva (lit. ‘enlightened being’) has reached nirvana, but remains in the cycle of reincarnation to help release all beings from suffering. Quan-yin is the one who “hears the cries of the world,” an emanation of Avalokitesvara, the embodiment of perfect compassion.
In 2003, when I was in the process of recording this album, one of my annual Christmas projects (please visit my website to see a more complete catalog), I shared a puzzling dream with the dream-analysis group I was meeting with. On the surface, it appeared to be center around a figure who resembled an Asian girl from a choir that I sing in.
But when I followed the group leader’s recommendation to engage in a dialog with the personality in the dream, it became apparent, both to myself and to others in the group, that the energy I had become engaged with struck a chord of resonance with the archetype of Quan-yin.
Although I have spent many hours over the years studying various spiritual literature, I have never studied Quan-yin in depth. Perhaps, as Jeremy Taylor suggests, her appearance in my dream was an example of the sacred as it manifests in every-day life. I like to think that, no matter where we are, we are constantly in the presence of the Divine (however one wishes to name it). And that it is these simple, ordinary, every-day manifestations that play a truly important part in our lives, rather than the lofty super-perfect archetypes that one encounters only rarely, if ever.
Musically speaking, “Dragon and Bodhisattva” is a collection of old and new, simple and complex, with a heavy dose of the ever-popular piano improvisations.
1. “Dragon” - The dragon often accompanies representations of Quan-yin. It represents tumultuous change, but amid the swirl of noise and confusion, the dragon holds the pearl of wisdom. The chaotic opening composition, “Dragon,” was a piece I began in 1986, during a period of tumultuous change. At that time, however, my equipment (cassette 4-track) was neither up to the task of recording it satisfactorily, nor (pencil and paper) effective notation. Fast forward a few decades, both of these situations remedied by the computer, I was finally able to approximate the sounds I was originally hearing in my head.
2. “Highland Reflection” - Contrasting immediately the swirl and chaos is a simple celtic theme which I found playing in my head after attending a local Scottish festival a few years back.
3. “The Late-for-work Rag” - was something I wrote while I was supposed to be getting ready to go to work. I have always enjoyed the happy sound that ragtime has, blended here with a bit of the Creole influence, as inspired by the Preservation Hall Dixieland Band.
4. “Quan-yin” - an elusive melody emerges from the mists of improvisation. The sound you hear is a synthesizer patch that I designed specifically for this particular piece.
5. “White Canyon” - referring to the locale of the Quan-yin dream mentioned above. A contrapuntal development of a theme.
6. “Mercury” - a piano piece I wrote in 1983, but which is too complex for me to perform. Thanks to the magic of computer technology, it has finally emerged into audibility. The form consists of the interplay of two themes, in pseudo-classic styling. It begins as a sonata-allegro, with the two themes stated according to tradition, with the first in the tonic and the second in the dominant. What then emerges is a series of variations on both themes, with the two themes alternating, emerging one from the other, and then finally blending together. This transformation gave inspiration to the title “Mercury,” the God of change, and which also happens to be the ruling planet of my sun sign.
7. “Oblivion, Scenic Route” - inspired by a free concert in the park with Brian Auger, founder of the great rock group “Oblivion Express.”
8. Everone seems to love the piano improvisations, so there are a lot of them on this album...
9. “Another room” - It’s so irresistably fun to play around electronic toys, such as sequencer-generated drum rhythms. Are any of these instruments in the same room as any of the others?
10. - 14. Enjoy!