UARTET FOR DRUGS OF OUR TIME is an original synthesizer composition by Don Seaver, a psychiatrist at the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinics in San Francisco. The Quartet employs four musical "Voices" to represent four of the five major drugs of the San Francisco scene:
In a prologue to the Quartet, each of these Voices is introduced in turn, in the above order. The Quartet itself plays for two minutes; the first half-minute represents the period 1945-1965, and each of the next three half-minute sections portrays the ensuing decades 1965-75, 1975-85, and 1985-95.
The Quartet begins by evoking the Atomic Bomb, symbolizing the end of World War Two and the return of millions of tobacco-addicted GIs to civilian society. Their addiction will ultimately kill far more of them than did Axis guns, but there is little sign of this in the long, gentle honeymoon that comprises the first part of the Quartet. Tobacco's Voice thus dominates the first thirty seconds (twenty years), then gradually wanes.
The Voices of the other drugs now enter in turn: first speed, waxing briefly strong, then diminishing, only to return stronger than ever at the end; secondly heroin, which quickly succeeds speed's crescendo and is sustained more or less fortissimo for the rest of the Quartet; and thirdly cocaine, which gains in strength by stages until it finally outshouts all the others near the end of the piece.
The Quartet is followed by a brief "Hawaii" epilogue, symbolizing a 1995 assemblage of thinkers who reflect upon the turbulent half-century, in a setting of rich cultural diversity stressed by modern life but sustained by a hopeful spirit.
In this work, Dr. Seaver is able to achieve through music two qualities not attainable in other mediums: the emotive or "mood" dimensions of each of the drugs, and the resonances among them as they flow and ebb in the San Francisco scene. If excitement and anxiety are evoked by speed's Voice, and solace and sadness by heroin's Voice- and if each provides welcome relief from the other- there will then have been the beginnings of a connection with the great and terrible psychic life of an era. Any success in this regard must justly be shared with Olivier Messaien and John Coltrane, pioneers for Dr. Seaver.
The attentive listener will perceive several musical puns and references made by the composer, for example the contrast between the tenor Voice of speed (whose users are typically white youth) and the baritone Voice of cocaine (whose users are more often older and African-American.)
This composition would more completely depict the San Francisco of substance use, 1945 to 1995, if a fifth Voice- that of ALCOHOL- had been included. That Voice, however, amounts really to an unvarying background, a basso continuo. The listener can achieve this fifth Voice simply by playing the Quartet near a shower which is allowed to run continuously and vigorously.
I look forward to further exploration of this promising medium of expression, by Dr. Seaver and others.(printer friendly version)