Fools & Angels

Program notes

Fools & Angels is a "karaoke madrigal," written for four amplified singers and prerecorded electronic background track. Its five songs are played without pause, and feel a little bit like a George Martin album side. The piece owes a lot to popular music, with its simple melodies, guitar and drum samples, and (I hope) straightforward expressivity. At the same time, there are various incursions from the classical world—through-composed forms, asymmetrical rhythms, more adventurous harmonies, and, in the last song, old-fashioned Renaissance polyphony.

The five poems express two very different sides of the poetic experience. Some are exuberant, intoxicated, and slightly embarrassing in their raw self-revelation. Jeff Dolven’s poems, heard above, are elusive, dreamlike, and cerebral—almost philosophical in their intricate conceptuality.


(Allen Ginsberg)

Pull my daisy,
Tip my cup,
Cut my thoughts
For coconuts,

Bone my shadow,
Dove my soul,
Set a halo
On my skull,

Ark my darkness,
Rack my lacks,
Bleak my lurking,
Lark my looks,

Start my Arden,
Gate my shades,
Silk my garden,
Rose my days,

Whore my door,
Stone my dream,
Milk my mind
And make me cream,

Say my oops,
Ope my shell,
Roll my bones,
Ring my bell,

Pope my parts,
Pop my pot,
Poke my pap,
Pit my plum.


(Jeff Dolven)

“[As a proof of the impossibility of artificial intelligence] the inability to enjoy strawberries and cream may have struck the reader as frivolous. Possibly a machine might be made to enjoy this delicious dish, but any attempt to make one do so would be idiotic.”

—Alan Turing, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence”

It doesn’t make the mmmmmm you might expect
(the level drone refrigerators dream
in nights of never tasting what’s inside),
rather bumps along, its irregular rhythms
expressing subtleties of pleasure I,
its creator, cannot always discern.
Still, what a comfort when it’s working well:
somewhere in its heart a filament thrills
with unreflective pleasure, like a child’s.

The opening in front is like a mouth:
just tall and wide and deep enough for each
morning’s offering, the silver plate
heaped with berries so fresh they might as well
be pumping still, hanging like little hearts
red in the ripening sunlight. The ruddy bruises
of their sudden transport (a deeper red
drawn up from the blood-soaked soil) are soothed
with a dressing of cool, white, mantling cream.

It savors this fruit it never had to choose;
it does not bore or sicken, grow out or up
or old. It runs a tireless electric tongue
over the skin, the dimples plugged with seeds
like mattress buttons, the wrinkled sheets of cream.
Nothing is diminished or consumed:
the feeling is so pure it can be hard
to tell the thing’s turned on at all. Sometimes
I lie for hours, listening to be sure.


(Allen Ginsberg)

When I think of death
I get a goofy feeling;
Then I catch my breath:
Zero is appealing,
Appearances are hazy.
Smart went crazy,
Smart went crazy.

A flower in my head
Has fallen through my eye;
Someday I’ll be dead:
I love the Lord on high,
I wish He’d pull my daisy.
Smart went crazy,
Smart went crazy.


I asked the lady what’s a rose,
She kicked me out of bed.
I asked the man, and so it goes,
He hit me on the head.
Nobody knows,
Nobody knows,
At least nobody’s said.


The time I went to China
To lead the boy scout troops,
They sank my ocean liner,
And all I said was “Oops!”


All the doctors think I’m crazy;
The truth is really that I’m lazy:
I made visions to beguile ‘em
Till they put me in th’asylum


I’m a pot and God’s a potter,
And my head’s a piece of putty.
Ark my darkness,
Lark my looks.
I’m so lucky that I’m nutty


(Jeff Dolven)

You fall asleep in a room in a house that was made for you,
all dressed up and asleep and a bed you didn’t make,
asleep in your shirt, in your size, your sleeve and neck and chest.

You wake undressed in another room, a dressing room.
You barely notice the walls are bare. The fatherly clerk
greets you sitting down, his arms aswoon with coats.

He’s dressed in evening clothes bespeaking another era,
melancholy black long tails between his legs.
He passes the garments one by one. They are unclean.

Sweat and blood and love have worked into the weave.
The stains fall naturally over your scars and your hungriest parts.
He winces at the fit each time, until his arms

are empty and his sleepless eyes confess he’s down
to one last hope: is this a dream? Of course it is,
you say. For here you are to blame for everything.


(Allen Ginsberg)

From Great Consciousness vision Harlem 1948 building standing in Eternity
I realized entire Universe was manifestation of One Mind—
My teacher was William Blake—my life work Poesy,
transmitting that spontaneous awareness to Mankind.

Instrumentation: 4 Singers and Electronics

Performers: Synergy Vocals