Unlimited Americana:<br>A Conversation with Halim El-Dabh

Unlimited Americana:
A Conversation with Halim El-Dabh

Feature by Tommy McCutchon

When Halim El-Dabh speaks about his investigation of “energy and vibration” and the universality of sound, it is tempting to think his perspective aligns neatly with that of New Age music. However, El-Dabh is actually quite far removed from the genre. He is rigorously dedicated to pursuing a musical investigation of the ancient knowledge held within his Egyptian heritage, as much as he is dedicated to making sure America receives the credit for inspiring and facilitating that worldview. The seemingly paradoxical quality of that relationship would be taken as straightforward, were it not for the fact that America remains ill-equipped to share American identity with that of other nationalities, such that El-Dabh, a U.S. citizen since 1961, would be accepted as just as American a composer as Bernstein or Copland.

Toward Marzahn: <br>A Story by Bae Suah

Toward Marzahn:
A Story by Bae Suah

In contrast to Korean literature of the twentieth century, which battled with how to present social and political upheaval from occupation to war to industrialization, Korean writers of the twenty-first century often seem driftless. Many writers of this new generation experiment and take risks in their fiction but few have done so as brilliantly as Bae Suah. With its shifting timeframes, ambiguous narrator, and apartment empty except for small traces of previous inhabitants, Bae’s “Toward Marzahn” perfectly depicts a hypnagogic atmosphere unlike any other. Marzahn is not in Korea but rather a corner of Berlin, a city where Bae has spent long stretches of time, and her words give life to this realm far removed from her Korean readers’ homeland. Yet the loneliness of these characters never feels foreign or unfamiliar. Rather, it transplants Bae’s readers to her reality, which her critics have hailed as “a world of dreams . . . through which lost voices drift.”

Anna Thorvaldsdottir: A Part of Nature

Anna Thorvaldsdottir: A Part of Nature

Feature by Anne Lanzilotti

Grounded in the reality of the concert hall and its traditions, Aeriality invites the audience to focus on different aspects of the soundscape—at times treating it as a sound installation, as Thorvaldsdottir suggests. She asks the audience to have the willingness to explore these perspectivesand the requisite “unease”as they become a part of the resonant landscape of the hall. Thorvaldsdottir achieves the transition from “reality” to “aerial” by creating a clear progression of pitch away from its origin, and eventually through a timbral shift from pure tone to air sound. Sound itself is used as a way to change perspectives.

<i>KULTURMESSIAH</i>:<br>Patrick Frank and the Roads to Freedom

KULTURMESSIAH:
Patrick Frank and the Roads to Freedom

Feature by Max Erwin

The avant-garde after Cage and Lachenmann incorporated increasingly alien sound materials into composition—first extended techniques, then sound production from non-instrumental sources—until a point was reached where any source of sound could be interpolated into a composition and be recognized as “music”—or rather, could be recognized as such by a consensus of New Music audiences. Thus, according to this teleology, the conquest of sonic material (a process described in such precisely conquistadorial terms at least since Webern’s writings) had exhausted itself; there are no “new” sounds left to bend to the will of musical logos. Indeed, at one of Lachenmann’s lectures at the 2014 Darmstadt courses, he spoke of this material conquest in the guise of an orange: what do you do after you have consumed the inside of the fruit? Do you eat the peel? What next?

A Conversation with Eugene Ostashevsky

A Conversation with Eugene Ostashevsky

The title of your recent lecture was “Poetry and Multilingualism.” Can you tell us about The Pirate Who Does Not Know the Value of Pi, and whether you think of it as multilingual poetry?

Well, the Pirate is, maybe, a novel that consists mostly of poems. It has two protagonists, a pirate and a parrot. It is a book of several parts. Part One keeps asking about the similarities and differences between the pirate and the parrot, which is a bit like that question in Alice in Wonderland: “what is the difference between a raven and a writing desk”? And that question ultimately goes back to Plato, to the comparative procedure that gives rise to Platonic Forms. But with the pirate and the parrot, the added difficulty is that they are also the same. They are both PRT if you take the vowels out. So it’s like Jewish Plato. Anyway, Part Two consists mainly of pirate songs. There’s a chantey, there’s old school hip-hop, there’s a song my father used to sing to me when I was little. Because pirates party. Part Three is about skepticism. I am comparing the way parrots were taught to speak in Persia with the skeptical experience of al-Ghazali, a Persian philosopher in Bagdad. Al-Ghazali in a way went farther than Descartes, because he doubted not only learning and the senses, but also reason. His solution to the problem—nothing is provable, therefore trust God—is a total copout. In Part Four, the pirate and the parrot get shipwrecked, which is, like, a metaphor for immigration. Most of it is devoted to arguments about the effects of particular languages on the thought patterns of the speakers of those languages. It is thus about, or perhaps against, translation. This is one way of summarizing the book. It is probably the most pretentious way. In real-life terms the book is about the pirate and the parrot, about how they do and do not communicate, how they do and do not understand each other, how they do and do not love each other. More than one person has said that it’s about marriage. The philosophy stuff might even be something I read into it . . .

I went to the house but did not enter: a text by Paul Griffiths

I went to the house but did not enter: a text by Paul Griffiths

I took the route I’d made out on the map, going by car most of the way, then on foot for the last bit. There was no hitch. It all went well. When I got there I took up my place a short way back from the house, at the other side of the road; I stood there with my feet just down off the curb. Now; then. Then; now. Is it so odd?

Gaps and Tatters: The Poetry of Uljana Wolf

Gaps and Tatters: The Poetry of Uljana Wolf

Reading the introduction to German poet Uljana Wolf’s “Method Acting mit Anna O.,” I come across the word “Aberzählen.”  Momentarily forgetting my own German prefixes, I see a new mashup of “aber” (“but”) and most of “erzählen” (“to narrate”). Knowing Wolf’s penchant for neologism, code-switching, and pun, I wonder if this anti-telling is intentional, before the poet explains to me that this is simply “Ab-erzählen,” a no-longer-used term for free association, or “telling off” from the expected storyline.  We are sitting in a café in Berlin’s Neukölln district, where Wolf’s preschool-age daughter has somehow found a graphic novel on Hemingway and Sartre, and her husband Christian Hawkey works nearby.  Both of them teach poetry and translation at New York’s Pratt Institute, while Wolf also teaches German-language courses at NYU. True to her continuous contesting of language-borders, the poet divides her time between Brooklyn and Berlin. Most often she works at thresholds between German and English, which “makes the reader slippery, too,” as she puts it, referring to my misreading of an archaic word...

Restless Minimalism:<br><i>Lexical Music</i> and the<br> Text-Sound Compositions of Charles Amirkhanian

Restless Minimalism:
Lexical Music and the
Text-Sound Compositions of Charles Amirkhanian

Feature by David Menestres

I went all over San Francisco with a recording engineer from CBS Radio who had a Nagra, which is a really fine reel-to-reel machine. We would go into underground subway stations where there was a resonant cavity, and he would turn the volume up and point to me, and I’d say a word, then he’d put the volume down. And my idea was we’d have all these different sorts of fadings-in and -out and they would fall in counterpoint with each other, so you’d have different locations and different timbres of the voice and different words that would somehow add up to something greater than the sum of its parts.

"Words Ain't What They Used to Be":<br>A Conversation with Bernard Cooper

"Words Ain't What They Used to Be":
A Conversation with Bernard Cooper

Feature by Mary Mann

The strange flip side of making art from oppression is that it means being dependent on difficulty in order to create. Some artists have made work about this very problem—Cooper gave me the example of a Raymond Carver poem called “Your Dog Dies,” about finding out that the family dog has died and immediately thinking: how can I use this grief in my work? “There’s something mercenary about it,” concluded Cooper, “but it also does something that I think is miraculous: if you can take the unbearable or difficult or deeply unfair, those things in life that cause great suffering, and stand back and figure out how to redirect them into a work of art that will allow other people to understand, that’s a redeeming quality.”

A Message of Thanks from Gidon Kremer

A Message of Thanks from Gidon Kremer

The following is the acceptance speech delivered by Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer at the 28th annual Praemium Imperiale Award Ceremony on October 18, 2016. The Praemium Imperiale is one of the most prestigious international prizes in the fields of painting, sculpture, architecture, music, theatre, and film. This year's other laureates include American artist Cindy Sherman, French sculptor Annette Messager, Brazilian architect Paulo Mendes da Rossa, and American film director Martin Scorsese.

“Cut to a Different World”:<br>Andrew Norman

“Cut to a Different World”:
Andrew Norman

Feature by Anne Lanzilotti

Several years ago when I originally interviewed Norman (which happened to be the same summer that he was writing the wedge that made its way into Play), he lamented that orchestral musicians often have a negative view of contemporary music. “One thing I’ve heard over and over from orchestral musicians is that they don’t like playing new music because it makes them feel like automatons.” Hearing Norman use that word again in our most recent interview when speaking about the essential nature of Play, and his interest “for human beings to be human beings when they play music” makes me think he really listened, that he really cares about orchestral musicians as people, and that that narrative found its way into Play.

Ann Quin and Me: An Appreciation by Deborah Levy

Ann Quin and Me: An Appreciation by Deborah Levy

A meditation by the Booker-Prize-longlisted author Deborah Levy on the enigmatic author Ann Quin.

I recognize some of my own influences in all of Quin’s writing. Her literary taste and aesthetic enthusiasms were European . . .

Uri Caine Defended by a Devotee

Uri Caine Defended by a Devotee

Feature by Mark Mazullo

As an artist, Caine lives in the contact points between genres, eras, and styles, and he does so freely. Prehistoric, early modern, modern, postmodern, classical, jazz, popular: styles and categories, disparate in time and space, mingle and merge, defying singularity, resisting isolation. His vision attacks the same parochialism that troubled Adorno, a mode of listening prominent not only in the classical context, but, as Caine intimates, in jazz and popular realms as well. Moreover, he proves time and again that when it comes to musical meaning, the performance is everything. The score is a mere skeleton frame, lifeless, cold, eager for human contact, a touch, a breath. In his exuberant and virtuosic experiments, he urges us to value equally the grandeur of the work and the necessity of the interpretive spark, the objective and the subjective, the limit and the limitless. Above all, he requires of his listeners a refusal of bias, an opening of ears, a leaving behind of fear.

Tony Conrad: <i>Skantagio</i>, an Appreciation

Tony Conrad: Skantagio, an Appreciation

Feature by David Grubbs

. . . I really knew very little about Tony, and in retrospect this makes me laugh, given everywhere he’d been and everything he’d done. To this day I continue to be surprised—though I shouldn’t be surprised at being surprised—as I learn more about Tony’s activities, as are even those people who were closest to him. Occasionally one hears the term “Zelig” in reference to Tony, but it misses the point of his functioning as an unexpected and often ingenious engine at the many intersections between music, experimental film, visual art, performance, media activism, and education. A better epithet is that of Virgil, the role in which art historian Branden W. Joseph casts him in order to survey the Inferno of the New York underground of the 1960s in Beyond the Dream Syndicate: Tony Conrad and the Arts after Cage (2008). Regardless, on that evening in the summer of 1994 we were having a grand old get-to-know-ya backstage at the Hothouse during a show featuring Gastr del Sol and Tortoise. Lord knows what we were even talking about. I recall Tony’s fedora; his signature contagious laugh, which he might abruptly cut off for comic and/or pointedly critical effect; and also the way that he made most people feel smart and interesting with his unending and often oblique line of questioning—a Socratic way of being, but without the didactic leading questions.  . . .

Keep in Touch: A Story by Zsófia Bán

Keep in Touch: A Story by Zsófia Bán

The latest installment in Music & Literature's monthly fiction series is a hypnotic piece by the Hungarian writer Zsófia Bán, who was born in Rio de Janeiro and who has lived in Lisbon, Berlin, Minneapolis, and Boston even as she established herself in film studios and in the art world. She now teaches in the American Studies department of Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest. This complex background informs the many layers of her "Keep in Touch," a text that proves Bán's extraordinary stylistic versatility, as well as her uncanny ability to perfectly render in precise prose the strange peregrinations of memory and meditation . . .

A Conversation with Anna Della Subin

A Conversation with Anna Della Subin

A feature by Michael Barron

In early 2013, when the writer and scholar Anna Della Subin began work on her book-length essay, now published by Triple Canopy as Not Dead But Sleeping, it was said that Egypt was again awakening. It had been roused by the uprisings of the Arab Spring, which Subin witnessed firsthand in her role as editor for the Middle Eastern culture magazine Bidoun. So went the rallying cry: “The revolution is in Tahrir, no sleeping in bed.” These words appeared as graffiti on a tank, referring to what had become the world’s largest sit-in. In America we are now living in the “woke” era, a term used to describe being aware of social injustice and racism at every waking moment. Or as Martin Luther King Jr. put it, “There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution.” Subin begs to disagree.

In a text that moves between treatise and prose poem, Subin uses al-Hakim’s play as a launching pad into a dark galaxy of medieval martyrs and sci-fi saints, messianic sleeper cells and the insomniacs of our late capitalist age, to argue that sleep can have a revolutionary mandate of its own. “The sleeper is the ultimate social critic,” she writes. “Sleepers are assessors of our awakenings. And sleep cannot be censored.” We spoke this summer about Egyptian literature, protests against time, and whether a story can fail . . .

Writing towards Music: A Conversation with Paul Griffiths

Writing towards Music: A Conversation with Paul Griffiths

Matt Mendez: Writing about music doesn’t strike me as the sort of vocation one plans to pursue, in and of itself. The most common scenario seems to be falling into it by accident, and discovering along the way that one actually has an affinity for this odd, difficult, arcane art of using words to describe sounds. How did you first begin?

Paul Griffiths: I distrust autobiography, but here’s an anecdote. As a student, I was a member of the Oxford University Contemporary Music Society, which put on concerts with some very fine performers. I still remember the first time I heard the Berg Piano Sonata (1908) (which was then as new as Boulez’s Le Marteau sans maître is now), played by Julian Jacobson. At another of the Society’s concerts, it turned out that I was the only person in the audience who didn’t have a piece on the program, so I had to write the review for the student newspaper. That was the start.

“Bringing the Evil Things Out”: Notes on Abdellah Taïa

“Bringing the Evil Things Out”: Notes on Abdellah Taïa

A feature by Jesse Ruddock

Abdellah Taïa’s novels are impatient for justice in the streets and homes of Morocco and beyond. Taïa is an iconic gay-rights activist in the Arab world, as well as in France, the country to which he fled for his life in his youth....

A Conversation with Ágota Kristóf

A Conversation with Ágota Kristóf

In June 1999, Riccardo Benedettini, writing a thesis on French literature under the supervision of the poet Valerio Magrelli at the University of Pisa, traveled to Switzerland to interview the great Hungarian émigré writer, Ágota Kristóf. This transcript of their conversation is presently one of only a few interviews with Kristóf available in English.

Kristóf did not write in her native Hungarian, but in French, which she painstakingly learned after immigrating to Switzerland when she was twenty-one years old. And as Magrelli, who brought this interview to my attention, puts it, “Kristóf invented a new kind of French.” Unlike Beckett, who kept language itself at arm’s length for the sake of form, she did not experiment with French out of artistic ambition, but in order to live and be understood, not playfully, but with rigor and dedication to correctness—and she did so to devastating effect.

Kristóf fled Hungary on foot and under cover of night with her infant daughter, her husband, and two bags, one containing diapers and the other dictionaries. The family arrived in Austria before settling in Switzerland, where Kristóf found work in a clock factory. Among her fellow workers, many of whom were also exiles, talking was strictly forbidden. Outside the factory, she was mute for a lack of French, and even once had mastered spoken French, she remained effectively illiterate for years. Four of her friends, all Hungarians exiled in Switzerland, committed suicide soon after arriving. Kristóf’s memoir, The Illiterate, which describes these events, is one of the most restrained and concise examples of the genre in all of literature; at just forty-four pages, it portrays Kristóf’s life from childhood in a strange, private, and singular music.

In this remarkable interview, translated here for the first time by Will Heyward, Kristóf answers questions in simple and remarkably direct terms, reminiscent of the brutal sparseness with which she wrote her trilogy, The Notebook, The Proof, and The Third Lie. When asked how or why she created a certain disturbed character or perverse scene, she answers only that she knew that person, or saw that scene. That was just how it was. But her references to what we might call “real life” do not so much highlight the importance of her biography, but how she creates fiction. Even when Kristóf answers “I don’t know,” she reveals something. Kristóf writes; that is her answer. To write is to invent, to amuse, to distract from the life’s many kinds of suffering. As the character Lucas says in The Proof, “There are many sad stories, but nothing is as sad as life” . . .