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The Ballade of Walter J Kovacs

The Ballade of Walter J Kovacs was originally written for ThingNY’s Spam 2.0 concert, which was this past February. When they announced their call for scores/anything I had been very interested in the nature of language: how it shapes our world in very real ways and how it adapts to the people who use it. Language is a funny thing – it’s at the same time malleable and unwavering.

While thinking about this, I happened to also be flipping through Watchmen, and I discovered something that blew my mind. This thing, which is sort of an Easter Egg that I won’t give away, has led me to develop an extremely unorthodox interpretation of Watchmen that I would be glad to share with you over a pint of whisky. It also led me down the road of finding ways to point out how much of an insane proto-Tea Partier Rorschach is. So, with this in mind, I set out to mangle his journal entries. My process? Take all of the nouns and replace them with the nouns 12 away in the dictionary. The technique was originally put forth by Oulipo as one of their ways to incorporate math into poetry.

What was fascinating to me about the results was how often the new nouns created a new insight into the novel.  For example, in the original text, Rorschach says in reference to Dr. Manhattan “I shall go and tell the indestructible man that someone plans to murder him.”  In my manipulation, he becomes the “indestructible meltdown.” Dr. Manhattan is, in essence, a personal meltdown who cannot be physically destroyed. There are others, but I’ll leave you to find them in the text, which you can access here.

This version was recorded by me, with Ryan Hendriksen playing the part of Walter (Rorschach’s given name). Ryan and I are beginning to work on some radio theatre and other projects and it was fun to just sit down and let him rattle this off in just a couple of takes. I am unfortunately playing the guitar part, but it’s okay because I imagine if Rorschach was playing guitar he wouldn’t be very good since he wears gloves. To replace the visual theater that ThingNY awesomely did at SPAM 2.0 (with Paul dressing up like our masked semi-hero, minus the mask), I added some city sounds in the background. He probably lives near where the 1 train is elevated.

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