Clear Once, Over and Out

Dan Albertson

[August 2023.]

[In memoriam Clarence Barlow, 1945–2023, words that are unbearably sad to write. This text refers to him differently each time, so be not puzzled by the various iterations of words beginning with c and (usually) ending with e. For you, Birgit Faustmann. Who would not take away your pain were there power enough?]

In the past quarter-century, boundaries between artistic and personal relationships have seldom eroded in the same way as with Cherence, with whom a bond was formed at the crossroads of wordplay, music, languages (spoken, programmable or otherwise), and ribaldry.

Sure, an overview of his musical accomplishments is warranted, and one may follow (who could forget the pianistic exuberance of Çoğluotobüsişletmesi? The invention of his ‘80s-era chamber music?) (and on this topic, was the piano or the pun Choir Inch’s first love?) yet the more pressing concern is to record some of what cannot be put on celluloid or a data drive, the human face behind the creativity.

One personal example is also public, his entry in the Living Composers Project. While at first glance the use of “Albertson” there seems a tribute to someone whose words visitors to this website may know, and it could partially be so, it is in fact literal, as his father was named Albert. Aware as he was of Icelandic naming traditions, Clairvoyance made a suggestion some years into the existence of this page and, trusting Clearface, made the requested amendment. So it persists now, despite or because of its factual inaccuracy. Who says that lexicographers cannot conspire with their subjects? (He did, in fact, bear a proper middle name, the first name of the longest-serving American president.)

Other examples are etched in the heart or a memory that dims without extinguishing. With “immediate libations” to be had (and had), a night would stretch for hours and hours, the topics would roll from the absurd to the grammatical to the musical and even to the sentimental, no flicker or segue required. Was he playfully serious or seriously playful? He was wise, he was wise-ass, one need not choose. Comeuppance could make one believe that he knew everything, and perhaps nearly everyone. His knowledge was boundless, and he deployed it with such grace that the lesser experienced, and savvy, among us could only marvel at the juxtaposition of brilliance and modesty. Indeed, to call his intellect formidable does disservice both to him and to the words themselves.

Chore Wench was, for all his immersion in technology, new as well as old, nonetheless not shy of anachronisms, one of which was his insistence on Anglification in place names, a subject leading to many extended dialogues and one also at odds with his conversant status in multiple languages.

Besides anecdotes about his insights or compassion, or lessons learned, inside the classroom or at the bar or otherwise, everyone who knew him must have a “Chair Ants story”, an atrocious joke that makes no sense in any language except Clarespeak, or that no amount of explanation or justification could redeem, a laughter almost to the death. The chuckling must be audible even now, somewhere, somehow. Such roaring cannot be dampened. And he would have known how to find the Hertz low or high enough to be tapped into.

C-Low retired to Barcelona (Birgclerona, it must be added), having stayed in Santa Barbara longer than needed to pad his retirement, a post-academic life now, in cruelest form, cut short. Even at the last stage of his life, he was curious, he was exploring, making films to accompany his pieces of both recent and distant vintage, his aural sensibility turned increasingly visual. As ever, much was left unsaid, but fortunately much was said and much was shared – and much was imbibed, for life is short. How much time remains, no one knows.

The world seems immeasurably poorer without Chibalow in it, but already one imagines him turning the tables here and retorting with Pour Her Infinite Measures More. Onward, the journey goes, but now much changed, the light another shade ruddier.


[The music snippet is from Barlow’s Für Eleath (2013) for piano. The complete score for this piece as well as scores and audio for other works are available at the composer’s site: Curious ears should explore the 2018 double-CD set on Maria de Alvear World Edition 0034, “Clarence Barlow: Musica Algorithmica,” or seek out the 2000 Hat Hut Records disc, “Clarence Barlow: Musica Derivata” (Hat[now]ART 126).]


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