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
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.
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
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
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”.
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,
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.