Four years ago, I posted a little blog about a poem called The Wonderdome Millenium. I first heard the poem back in 1971 when I was thirteen from a record album of modernist electronic music. When I wrote the blog, I didn’t have the author, the song, the composer, or the album name, but I memorized the words which struck me for their beauty and simplicity. After a bit of “internet research” I speculated that John Hollander was the author and Milton Babbitt was the composer.
Inspired by Walter Carlos’ 1968 milestone album, “Switched-on Bach,” I was listening to a lot of early electronic, experimental and Musique concrète — at least as much as a teenager could get from his local public library in 1971. As I kid, I was thrilled by pipe organs, player pianos, music boxes, Sousa Marches and any live music I could experience. I wanted to hear fantastic sounds, not just the mass-market drivel pumped through the AM radio “Top 40” pipelines, which continues to this day to characterize the music of the 1970s for most people. My favorite Beatles’ tune was “Revolution 9“. My favorite band was The D’Oyly Carte Opera company. My favorite nightclub was the Shakey’s Pizza Parlor down the street. I found the 1967 Superbowl half-time show thrilling and wonderful. Most of all, I was enthralled with the Moog Synthesizer and I wanted more of this wonderfully weird music.
The song that housed Wonderdome was unusual in that the music combined a modernist symphonic orchestra, a Moog synth, and a soprano randomly singing the text as she chose. I naively, but fully expected that synthetic music was the sound of the future, and a trend that would unite classical and popular music genres. The poem’s subject matter struck me as a pleasant and optimistic vision of the future, something that was lacking in the era of political turmoil and escalation of the Vietnam war. It would be a few more years before the futurist city of 1976’s “Logan’s Run” would make it to the local cineplex, but the vision of beautiful, clean, organized, livable, plastic and aluminum cities was deeply embedded in my mind, thanks in large part to Walt Disney’s promotion of Tomorrowland, the Monsanto House, and EPCOT, which in 1971 was still a corporate promise that was yet unbroken. I wanted to see the city of the future come to life.
I couldn’t find “The Wonderdome” anywhere. Not in Milton Babbitt’s discography, not in PoemHunter.com, not in WorldCat.org, not in Discogs.com, not on any of the search engines, nowhere. But I knew I heard it. And it is such a great phrase: “The Wonderdome Millenium”! I searched in vain at places like wonderdome.net and and wonderdome.co. I learned that the comic book heroine, Wonder Woman, had an invisible plane called Wonderdome and Woodhaven, Michigan once had a WonderDome for year round indoor golfing. There is some kinky art series called Wonderdome, and a lot of planetariums and museums have Wonder Domes for kids and performance art.
The only poem I could find on Google that mentions “wonder dome” is My Room by George McDonald.
Ceiled as with a rosy cloud
Furthest eastward of the crowd,
Blushing faintly at the bliss
Of the Titan’s good-night kiss,
Which her westward sisters share, —
Crimson they from breast to hair.
‘Tis the faintest lends its dye
To my room — ah, not the sky !
Worthy though to be a room
Underneath the wonder-dome :
Look around on either hand,
Are we not in fairy-land ?
From Poems by George McDonald, London:Longman,1857
It’s a fine enough poem, I suppose. Very Victorian, neat and proper in its references to Greek Gods, fine sunsets and fairies, but not quite up to the exotic luxuriousness of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1816 poem, Kubla Khan with its exquisite dome:
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
So, here we have all these modern and past references to Wonder Dome, but not mine. I began to doubt my memories. “Maybe, there is no ‘Wonderdome Millenium’ poem. Maybe I, like Coleridge, made it all up after a vivid dream.”
Until last week.
Ten days ago, I received a little email indicating that someone had left me a response to my Wonderdome blog. I normally ignore WordPress announcements in my inbox, but this one caught my eye. In the comments, a semi-anonymous “rickeyg”, a clarinet player of renown, left me a little note:
OMG! Seriously!? After I got over the shock that someone else actually listened to that record, I went to work to rediscover it.
“Louisville Orchestra.” This was the clue that I needed. I had totally forgotten about them. A quick web search of “louisville orchestra 1970 electronic” pulled up this information.
Yes, “Kaleidoscope” does sound kinda familiar! But still no Wonderdome. Drat!
A little more searching revealed this YouTube video:
And there it is! Soprano Joan Wall singing my favorite ditty!
I quickly found a record collector who was willing to sell his superfine copy for a few dollars, and three days later — viola! — Wonderdome was at my doorstep!
In my version, I only had one phrase off. In my memory I had switched “Comfort” for “Sounds are” so,
“Sounds are soft like lovely flowers”
“Comfort soft like lovely flowers”
Here is the corrected version with the correct attribution:
Robert Lockwood (1969?)
Two milky ways
No rain, no fog, no heat, no cold
The wonderdome millennium aluminum molybdenum
Comfort soft like lovely flowers
Birds sing hi-fi
I rather miss my version. “Sounds” was a nice complement to “Hi-Fi” and the aleatory nature of the song. But “comfort” elides better and is more metrically stable. And the imagery of flowery comfort is not bad either.
And the record is great! I love how clean it sounds compared to YouTube’s audio. My family is looking at me very strangely, but I am loving this. Took in the flip side, too. Not a George Crumb fan, but my mature adult side is appreciative of modernist music in a way that was hard for my teen self who didn’t quite know what I was listening to.
Who is Robert Lockwood?
In preparing this blog and the Discogs update for the Louisville Orchestra album, I realize that I know nothing about Robert Lockwood. There is a Robert Lockwood Jr. who was a famous blues guitarist, but it is unlikely that he was the poet I am seeking. There is nothing on the poetry of Robert Lockwood, and it is a common name out on the Web.
I know famous composers often incorporate the texts of friends and colleagues. For example, I met and was once friends with Prof. Shalom Goodman who met Philip Glass through a friend of a friend and contributed the English and Egyptian texts used in the his opera, “Akhnaten“. I figure that Robert Lockwood was a music student or colleague who worked with Merrill Ellis while at University of North Texas College of Music, but I just don’t know.
If anyone has any information on the poet Robert Lockwood, please drop me a note. I would love to hear from you.