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CHILDREN'S BOOKS:

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Background Information

In 1797, Goethe wrote his ballad Der Zauberlehrling, based on an old folk tale of magic run amok. A man of letters as well as a scientist, Goethe’s tale has plenty to say to us modern folk perched on the end of a technology-choked century.

In 1897, Paul Dukas composed his scherzo based on Goethe’s ballad, L’Apprenti Sorcier. Paul Dukas was obviously a good composer or he’d have been forgotten by now.

So in 1997, Helen and I thought I ought to have a go at The Sorcerer's Apprentice. It seemed fitting, since Disney's Fantasia was the first film I ever saw at the age of three, and of course, The Sorcerer's Apprentice completely bewitched me (I had flood nightmares for years as well). However, with the ever-present threat of an infamously litigious Disney Corporation lurking, I thought I'd better make sure my version of this tale didn't interfere with Mickey Mouse's. Besides, the millennium was just around the corner, and it seemed a good idea to do a late 20th century version of the tale.

So I updated brooms to vacuum cleaners, and magic to science, and the sorcerer to an inventor. The historical relationship between science a magic is fascinating, and as far as I'm concerned, science is basically magic that works.

I took loads of reference photos for this book to get the right atmosphere. I went to East Orange, New Jersey, to the preserved research and development workshops of Thomas Edison, which is now a museum. It's one of the coolest places on earth. I also took photos from inside the Deutsches Museum in Munich, Germany, where most of the electrical junk in my book came from. Helen is quite happy for me to stop the car in order to photograph electric power stations and other industrial locations.

Another thing that influenced the look of the book was my dad's electric organ. Before I was born, he blew a third of his inheritance money on an enormous electric organ (he blew another third on the house, and the final third on part of my college education, and now it's all gone). The organ was the biggest one the Allen Organ Company had ever sold to go into a private home. The house was a quite modest 3-bed ranch in the suburbs, so this organ totally took over the house. There were cables running through holes he'd drilled through the floor into bits of the organ that were in several different rooms. A whole closet in one bedroom was filled with these oscillators and some amplifiers with their magical orange glowing tubes poking out the top. Two giant speaker cabinets bigger than the biggest American refrigerator hogged precious floor space in the living room. Inside the speakers were rotating speakers which added a doppler tremolo effect. Every bit of this machine was beautiful and terrifying. My dad is a scientist and a musician, and the organ represents a perfect fusion of the two.

Not only did the organ inspire some of the look of The Sorcerer's Apprentice, but it stoked my interest in electronic music. I thought that an electronic recording of Paul Dukas' The Sorcerer’s Apprentice would be a suitable companion to my book. My publishers were nice enough to agree to do the tape, even though they knew they wouldn't really make any money off it. I didn't make any money either, but some of you out there might still believe, as I do, that money isn't everything.

In order to record a whole orchestral score, I realized that I'd be mad to attempt this without getting a computer. And that's when I really could have taken the advice from my own book, which cautioned against messing with things you don't understand. The entry of a computer in anyone's life is traumatic, especially when you use it for music, art, and internet at the same time. You make a deal with The Devil when you take on the kind of power a computer gives you, and I nearly went to hell and back recording the music (I certainly blasphemed enough to earn a few centuries in the eternal fires).

My advice to you out there is that if there are tasks you can do without your computer, do so. You'll be much happier. I'm too dependent on mine now, and if I shut it off forever, I will realize how stupid and weak I've become because of it. These machines make you think you're smart, but they make you dumb. Believe me.