2 JUNE 2021 — I never meant to keep such a long break from posting here — thank you to everyone reading this! — but I got incredibly busy and hope to make up for it in time.
Right now happy to announce my first large-scale composition, An Iceland Symphony, Op. 1: A Theatrical Symphony for All Ages, is available as sheet music in both paperback and ebook form.
At the time I’m writing this, very glad to see it’s actually at #1 on Amazon’s list of Hot New Releases in the category of Opera & Classical Songbooks! My first time seeing that #1 New Release banner on one of my books.
This is a large-scale work of 21 sections that calls for musicians of all ages and includes theatrical elements. The sections range widely in style and complexity. It leaves no one out.
Every note and rest has been carefully tested through hundreds of listenings since I first realised in early 2019 I had started writing this. I hope it may one day be performed live in Iceland by Icelandic musicians.
Until then, here is the full sheet music complete with performance instructions for the theatrical elements as well. I understand Kindle Unlimited members can view the ebook for free, but until the Look Inside previews come up for the paperback and ebook, here are the covers and some sample pages.
Ideally this music would be performed by live musicians, and there will be recordings sooner or later. The audio versions I have now are basically helpful demos only, to be shared with close friends, prospective performers, and writers on music, for example.
I continue to work on high-quality renditions of my own, but more on that later. I’ll also talk more about this in the next episode of my podcast. And as mentioned, one day I hope to see a full, live, staged performance of this.
Many thanks to everyone who has supported and encouraged me on my compositional journey.
And today “The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water“, about a British 1973 public service short film featuring the voice of Donald Pleasence five years before John Carpenter’s original Halloween.
Plus, yesterday I also launched a full day-by-day serialisation of my first book as a Medium series. This innovative Medium form is designed for viewing on smartphones. You tilt your phone to look from side to side. You can also subscribe to this. Here’s the link.
10th APRIL 2019 — The ebook edition of my first book, You Never Know What You’ll See in the Haunted Garden, Vol. 1, is now available on Amazon.
Everyone who buys the print paperback edition can also get the ebook version for free. The next volume in the series will be coming out early this summer. Amazon description for Vol. 1:
“The first in a series of eerie, beautiful coffee table books suitable for all ages. Rex the former game actor introduces us to the Haunted Garden through 30 full-spread wordless illustrations. These are books for leafing through, gazing at, and perhaps dreaming with, well suited for keeping on a living room table or a nightstand. This ebook is an exact reproduction of the paperback edition, allowing every detail of the full pictures to be seen.”
Amazon’s automatically generated preview ends just before the illustrated pages begin, but I have requested this to be changed to show more of the book. The change has been made and that update will soon be live on Amazon.
The new preview will show 20% of the content. Until then, an equally revealing preview can also be found on my site simosakariaaltonen.com.
29th MARCH 2019 — My first book You Never Know What You’ll See in the Haunted Garden, Vol. 1 is now available on Amazon.
More specifically, the paperback edition is — the ebook version is taking longer to work its way through the system, though it has already passed review, so should be available within some days.
The print edition is a large (8.5″ x 11″) 68-page colour paperback. Purchasers of the paperback will also get the ebook for free.
The Amazon product description:
“The first in a series of eerie, beautiful coffee table books suitable for all ages. Rex the former game actor introduces us to the Haunted Garden through 30 full-spread wordless illustrations. These are books for leafing through, gazing at, and perhaps dreaming with, well suited for keeping on a living room table or a nightstand.”
Creating something beautiful and imaginative for young people and the young at heart has long been one of my most cherished dreams.
I feel there can be few greater things a person can do than give a child something that may spark their imagination and create the kind of joy and wonder I remember from my own childhood when I pored over my favourite books. I still return to them and they thrill me as much as ever.
Works such as Lewis Carroll’s Alice books (late 19th century), the most beloved Finnish fairy tale novel Mestaritontun seikkailut (a really beautifully illustrated book from 1919 whose title translates as “The Adventures of the Master Elf“), and Malcolm Bird’s The Witch’s Handbook (1988).
I hope my first book, later volumes in the series, and items featuring this world and these characters will find their way one way or another into the lives of many children and others young at heart and give them something special and memorable.
Amazon’s automatic Look Inside has unfortunately provided a preview that stops short of the illustrated pages, but a more revealing preview is available on my official site here:
NOVEMBER 19th 2018 — A report from one of the London gramophone societies discusses Italian composer Pietro Mascagni’s 1890 opera CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA (“RUSTIC CHIVALRY“). The writer comments:
“[…] probably the most original point is the INTERMEZZO — which even the errand boys know — played while the curtain remains up and the stage is empty. It is a refreshing lull between the various passionate episodes of the drama.”
This INTERMEZZO is one of those pieces I listen to every available recording of mentioned in the pages of THE GRAMOPHONE. I believe I first heard it in two episodes of NORTHERN EXPOSURE: 3.23 “Cicely” (1992) and 5.22 “GRAND PRIX” (1994).
In the former, it accompanies a beautiful dance by town co-founder Cicely, and in the latter it plays as Ed Chigliak physically fights “the demon of external validation”. But no recording available is mentioned in this report, so no playlist item of this for now.
An article about a visit to a record-pressing factory of His Master’s Voice (HMV) mentions in passing a musician who was to die at the age of 35 later this decade (the 1920s) after a short illness:
“We saw the whole process of record-making. We heard an orchestra, with Max Darewski at the piano, in the recording room, and heard the piece instantly returned from the wax.”
I also mentioned him in the previous entry in this series in connection with a ragtime piece of his.
Also interesting to note the word “robots” already being used in this 1923 article (“automatic machines which worked like Robots at the making of screws, etc.”), considering that this word was coined only three years earlier, in 1920.
The review pages quote Debussy’s delightful comment on Grieg (many of Grieg’s pieces are among my favorites):
“Grieg is like a pink bon-bon stuffed with snow.”
I’m not sure whether Debussy meant this as a slight or not, really, but to me it’s quite charming and creates a vivid sensory impression. Also, like most northern kids, I’ve eaten snow more than once in my life — just for the taste or because thirsty when playing outside as a kid.
This issue was short of any references to recordings that hold special appeal for me. But rather than skip the Spotify playlist for this entry altogether, these would be my choices from an unexciting selection this time:
Two takes of the same Chopin piece by pianist Benno Moiseiwitsch: IMPROMPTU NO. 2 IN F SHARP MAJOR, Op. 36 No. 2. The difference in tempi makes one of the takes ten seconds shorter than the other.
Tenor Roland Hayes singing the American spiritual “SIT DOWN”.
Spotify playlist for this entry, “Let’s read THE GRAMOPHONE in Iceland: No. 5 — October 1923”:
This issue is available as part of the magazine’s digital archive, which every subscriber (a month or a year, digital or print+digital) gets access to.
OCTOBER 18th 2018 — The photo is from IceCon 2018, between panel discussions at Culture House Iðnó in Reykjavík (early October), but it made me think of theater.
Theater is special. There is a magic to it. This post is a small tribute to that.
From the heavy curtains to the wonderfully worn, scratched stage floors, to the costumes and props, makeup and music, light and shadow, real people and things in physical space sharing an experience that will always be new, never exactly the same, and of course the amazing, intoxicating smell that many theaters have, theater engages all the senses and involves us as human beings in a beautiful world of art.
I support the idea that parents should let children discover this magic in one way or another at a young age.
Some things in life simply make for warmer and often — not always, but often — more empathetic souls. And theater is one of those things.
OCTOBER 2nd 2018 — Scott Murphy is one of the legends of adventure games. He co-created SPACE QUEST for Sierra, and he’s also a really friendly, approachable, and down-to-earth person.
He wrote back when I messaged him in my earlier Facebook days, and we chatted from time to time, and I was lucky enough to even Skype with him once.
Then later Scott also provided a crucial voiceover — lines written by our leader Agustín Cordes — for our game SERENA.
I feel fortunate to have had some contact with Scott.
He is now dealing with a serious health issue and could use our support. He deserves it. The GoFundMe campaign for him is here.
I hope you may consider sharing the link on social media, and contributing if you can. It all helps and really makes a difference.
* * *
Scott once told me an anecdote on Facebook about DeForest Kelley— Dr. McCoy in the original STAR TREK — whom he saw in the early 1980s.
Our mutual friend and colleague Agustín Cordes — creator of horror adventure game classic SCRATCHES and of the upcoming ASYLUM — went on to comment that this exchange should be preserved for its historical significance.
And it’s true — a very human anecdote with two legends (Scott might squirm at this description) having a close brush.
So I thought, why not actually do that — preserve it? So here it is.
It started when, back in 2010, I shared the above photo from De, with these words:
“I wrote to DeForest Kelley towards the end of his life and received this unsolicited autographed photo. Thank you so much, De. I never had the honor of meeting you in person, but to me you will always be the real McCoy. A true gentleman and hero.”
(In that letter, I made a point of praising his fantastic voice acting for the two Interplay STAR TREK adventure games — available on GOG.com — that feature voiceovers from all of the main cast. I believe that was the last time he played McCoy, and he really did amazing, completely authentic work for them — likable, enjoyable, and funny to an almost unreal degree.)
See the end of this post for screen caps of the exchange between Scott and me, but here it is as regular text for easier reading:
“Simo, shortly before his death, DeForest Kelley kind of staggered into the restaurant I was cooking at just before I joined Sierra, a place called The Broken Bit in Coarsegold, California. I actually cooked a meal for him. (No, he didn’t die within the next 24 hours, bitches!) Unfortunately, we were quite busy, as it was a Saturday night, so I was unable to go out and stroll by his table. Oddly, he was alone, and word from the waitresses and busboys was that he seemed very sad and depressed. Poor man. In front of the camera, though, he was a true professional who will long be remembered. Quite admirable in that regard.”
“Thanks for sharing this, Scott. I treasure every anecdote about DeForest, even sadder ones like this. They all add to the reality of the man and only increase my sympathy for him… I have gathered that he drank quite a lot, but I wonder if something specific was weighing on him at this particular time. Do you remember about which year this would have been? When I read the biography [FROM SAWDUST TO STARDUST by Terry Lee Rioux] again, I could try to see if there is mention of what was going on in his life at that time. (The death of a pet or other loved one was always a terrible blow to him, for example.)”
“I can only guess, as I have barnacles on me older than you. It would have been between the beginning of 1982 and March 1 of 2003 [see below for clarification of these dates], which was when I began my career at Sierra. He seemed someone well acquainted with alcohol. It may have been a stereotype, but he did look that way according to the floor staff and my personal distant view of him through the small window in the kitchen/dining room door. It could even have been in 1981. My memory is a little suspect. I’d lean toward 2002–2003. I know it’s very difficult to have been someone of his celebrity, relegated to the occasional reprising of the role for the new ST movie, as well as making a living attending STAR TREK fan conventions. For some, that could have been, and quite likely was, psychologically crushing. Then there’s the alcoholic’s genetic predisposition. I hope the time frame helps.”
“Definitely — although did you mean 1981–1983 rather than 1981–2003? A quick flip through the biography reveals little about what he did in that time frame apart from the first STAR TREK movies (the first one was released in December 1979, the second in June 1982, and the third in June 1984), so probably it was not a particularly active time for him. From what I have read, I get the impression that he saw the McCoy straitjacket in an increasingly positive light as the years went on and he accepted the lack of other roles. Of course it must have been bitterly disappointing after steady employment for year after year before STAR TREK — but by the mid-80s I think he was saying he was retired from acting other than for STAR TREK. And he seems to have also valued the quiet life he led with his wife and their many animal companions. He was a very private individual anyway. If I remember right, I think none of the other original cast members were ever invited to his home. But aside from the sad decline of his own and his wife’s health towards the end of the 90s in particular, he seems to have had a solid strength in him (of course disturbed badly at times and certainly not helped by his generally frail health) and quiet convictions that he revealed rarely but that came across when he played McCoy. A fascinating man.”
“Yes, 1983. D’oh! Just woke up after a long night of trying to migrate my Outlook files onto my newly installed replacement laptop hard drive.”
“I figured it was something like that! 🙂 Thanks again for sharing this story. I have only slowly gathered over the years how much DeForest imbibed… No disrespect intended, we all have our weaknesses and it never made him harm anyone around him. Official sources have naturally been discreet about it, and the biography does not dwell on it either.”
Epilogue: Two years later
“This post should be preserved for its historical significance.”
And so it was.
Below is the exchange as it appeared on Facebook. Read from left to right like a series of comic book panels. Not sure why Facebook shows 2008 as the date, as I only got on Facebook in 2010.
SEPTEMBER 20th 2018 — Ray Bradbury loved cinema and cinematic storytelling all his life.
From trips to the movies with a beloved family member when he was a boy, he fell in love with the form and it never ended.
Two characteristics permeate all his writing: all of it is lyrical — he had the soul of a poet and that’s why he’s one of my favorite writers — and much of it is powerfully sensual. It engages all the senses.
He said one could film any of his stories by simply turning each sentence or paragraph into a shot. All the information was there, he said, in his writing: what to show and when and how.
From 1985 to 1992 the world enjoyed his TV series THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER. It was filmed on location in many countries: Canada, the United States, New Zealand, and France.
Ray personally scripted every episode and proved his profound and natural understanding of how to tell a story in this form. His work for the series is a model of what to do and not do in scripting film and television.
(I prefer saying just “film” from now on. These are mini-movies in all but name.)
Scenes are allowed to unfold without drowning everything under too much dialogue. Just enough is said and not said. Sights, sounds, and yes, through the power of his work and that of his collaborators, also smells, tastes, and tactile experiences come through.
Iceland is to me Bradbury country and more like the remembered land of my childhood than anywhere else I have been as an adult. Magic is still possible here. The elements have power, like in his stories. The wind has a presence unlike anywhere else. There is the sea, there are mountains and waterfalls, and dark nights and summer cottages in pristine nature.
Stories live here and are respected. As is poetry. As is music. I write this in a snug bedroom with a great big bed and a slanting ceiling of the kind that through some geometrical alchemy seems to fire the imaginations of all creative people. I wish more than anything that I could really share all this.
In any case, Iceland is a great place to watch THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER. I also did so in Paris last winter, and before that in Finland. As an adult, and long ago, first in childhood.
“Marionettes, Inc.” (1985), directed by Paul Lynch (who also directed many episodes of the STAR TREK spin-offs), is not among my favorite episodes. I felt casting James Coco (1930–1987) as the protagonist was not the best choice.
But like all these episodes, this one too affords many incidental delights. Here are some of them.
This and every other episode of THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER is available as part of a DVD box set. Despite nearly VHS-quality video, it comes with my warmest recommendation.
SEPTEMBER 10th 2018 — What is Bradbury country? It’s a place where the magic of life and childhood are still possible. Where the elements and outwardly simple, primal sensory experiences can still get to you. The night means something, and the wind, and all the repeated rituals of life.
The first image and sound of the first episode of THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER after Mr. Bradbury’s introduction:
Boiling eggs, closely followed by brewing coffee and toasting toast. I can’t begin to say how refreshing it was to me to see and hear these things. I could taste and smell the eggs, the coffee, the toast.
I was reminded of the good things in life, the things we would miss most if we were shot out into space, never to return.
Where in our filmed fiction these days do we even see or hear these things anymore? And when we do, nearly always they are no more than halfhearted daubs of color to lend the thinnest surface gloss to a story without real human warmth.
In Bradbury and other fiction I can love, these things are primal, self-sufficient experiences that need no other justification. They may serve some story functions, but that’s not really why they’re there. They’re there because in these things our love of life finds expression. We share.
But that’s already getting too far into analysis. Better to just experience and savor when we can.
Why am I so preoccupied with what I call human warmth? And why the same with thoughts concerning childhood?
The questions are nonsensical to me, because I cannot imagine a human being I could love or even like who cared nothing for human warmth, and no artist or kind person worth much of our time has lost touch with or stopped caring about childhood — their own, and that of others.
And a person with a reasonably healthy and developed mind who did not concern himself or herself at all with thoughts and hopes of making the world a better one for children to grow up in could perhaps be called something of a monster.
When I came to Iceland again, one day I was alone pushing a cart in a supermarket, feeling sad for reasons I won’t even try to put into words — and remembering the amazing scenes with Sarah Palmer at a grocery store in the TWIN PEAKS Season 3 trailer and episodes — and suddenly I heard a child’s voice that made my eyes sting.
It was so clear from that voice that this child was growing up in a caring family, in a world that is largely safe and where real childhood is still possible.
I had not heard that anywhere since my own childhood. Not in Finland and not in Paris.
It is a quality that I see and hear here, in passing, all the time. But I don’t remember it from Finland since I was a kid myself.
And like I’ve said, I believe there can be no greater gift you can give in this life than giving a child a safe, happy, good childhood and start in life.
We are here now — but one day we won’t be. We have to care and do what we can.
Sometimes I have days or nights when I feel I am on the very edge of the cliff. In my life, in better days, and on better nights, I have been lucky enough to be the recipient of great human warmth in many forms.
Words, deeds, from people very close and from people very far and even personally unknown to me. They all found some ways to pour some of their warmth out into this world, to pass it forward, and to give some of it to others.
When I feel on the edge of that cliff, I must remind myself that even if a wind were to gust up and blow me over that edge, I should try to turn around and hurl as much of my warmth back into the world as I can, even in that last moment — like a wizard casting their life energy as a final message and protection and strength over those with life still ahead of them.
I am not a wizard, but I care. Whether in art or daily life, if we find ways to do that, we are helping.