-The Story of the Society - How to Join the ICS Without Buying the Book-

The Story of the Society

--------> founders
The society traces its origins to a playful dare between ICS co-founders Nicholas Dobson and Michael Mellender. a pair of obsessive and jangled composers who, for years had been experiencing a case of creative block so utterly dire, so diabolically insidious…(reaching…becoming more poetic)… that it might best be described as an invisible prison that these miserable sniveling creatures lived in every day. Dobson’s playful name for his invisible prison was “The Hamster Wheel”, while Michael liked to refer to his as the “Howling Fantods”, but they were talking about the same thing; a mental purgatory where you are always working, but never doing the thing that you most want to do, and always waiting for some magical moment, or a special feeling that is supposed to arrive some day, signaling that it is time to finally take action, and when it arrives, that is when you will start living this good, free, real life as a musician that you have always imagined.

But this moment never comes.

--------> duel

The premise for the Game arrived at the end of a long, sprawling conversation about frustration, opposition, creative block, and the way the quality of being “inspired” often seems to move and change in response to different environments and situations. Example; why is it that when a person is standing behind you watching you work, you are suddenly incapable of having an idea, but when you are stuck on a Greyhound bus with a broken mechanical pencil you suddenly can’t stop having ideas?

That kind of thing.

After a while, they started talking about forming a band; maybe a controlled improvisation thing with…uh, micro-cassette recorders? Then it stopped being about a band. Then, one day in the spring of 2001, Nicholas sent Michael an email that challenged him to a “composer duel”.

This duel was the first version of the 20-Song Game. ND and MM would wake up in their separate houses, and each would try to write and record twenty new songs. Then, they’d meet at the end of the day for show and tell.

A few weeks passed before they actually got around to doing it, but when they finally did, the music that they came up with during the composer duel…exceeded…their…expectations.

It was like listening to music from another planet, or another dimension. A lot of it was funny. There was also music that wasn’t music at all. But the good stuff was bolder, more personal, and more vivid then anything they had ever made before. When they listened to this new material, it made the world seem different. People are capable of a lot more than they think. We are always hearing inspirational stuff that tells us exactly this, but when you encounter this dimension of life directly, it’s enough to make you want to


Mellender and Dobson found themselves completely overtaken by a burning desire to play this game as often as possible, and, naturally, they started telling all of their friends about it.

--------> becoming a society
Maybe six months later, there was a steady rotation of about ten people showing up at meetings. By the end of the year, splinter groups were forming. Soon, there were lodges in Minnesota, Texas, Wisconsin, Oregon, Colorado, more in California, etc. Not only was this happening, but new ICS members were also beginning to embrace the idea that their local lodge was a “secret society” with a certain degree of fervor. This meant that Mellender and Dobson were now regularly receiving ornate missives from mysterious dignitaries from distant lands, festooned with insignias and crests and lodge colors, and signed off with fanciful titles like “Sovereign Pharasaic Companion of Thelemic Lodge, Washington DC”.

An anecdote: on one occasion, Dobson and Mellender flew to Minneapolis to witness the eldritch rites of one “Bullet Lodge”, run by a fellow named Kai Esbensen. He took ND and MM to the Mall of America, where they got to pet sharks and eat Dippin’ Dots. At the Bullet Meeting, there was a call and response chant of “None shall dodge the Bullet Lodge!”. and Kai wore a monster fur helmet with horns. Kai likes magnets. He likes to write lyrics that provide meticulous instructions on how to build a radio out of household item such as pencils.

Wig Lodge is also quite amazing. ND and MM showed up one time and they were all sitting around wearing fezzes, with strange smiles on their faces. At the time of this writing, two Wig members, Steven Clark and Michael Wertz, are about to publicly perform an ICS opera with sock puppets. So,

--------> in conclusion…
After a couple of years, lodgers everywhere started to create new regional rules and, and entirely new games with completely new rules. These days, the Society might be best described as a “subculture of songwriters who create, play, and trade musical games”.
That has a nice ring to it.

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