A feature by Daniel Medin
Daniel Medin: I can’t help but try to situate Le Silence des Sirènes in relation to previous works of yours, and one obvious connection seems to be to the concertos. Yet writing for a human voice has to be different from writing for piano or violin or any of the instruments featured in a traditional concerto; what sort of concerns does it raise for you?
Unsuk Chin: The human voice is always something different, as you say. Naturally, differences exist between instruments; for example, when a string instrument plays a long note, it expresses certain emotions which couldn’t be expressed in the same way if the note were played by the piano. But there is a stark difference between these instruments and the voice, because you can’t use the voice without implying a particular set of underlying affects. I can’t sing at all myself, but I have a great affinity for the human voice, and I’ve written lots of vocal music. The reason, perhaps, is that I come from Korea—Koreans like to sing, and when I compose for other instruments, even when the music is multi-layered and abstract, I try to sing it with my “inner voice.”
A feature by Ben Ratliff
BR: I want to know more about your grandfather. There’s an airport named after him, right?
MT: Yes, there is now. It’s in Ohio.
I know only a little bit about his time training African-American air-force pilots during the 1940s.
Yes, exactly, he trained pilots in Tuskegee. He wasn’t enlisted, but he was one of the non-enlisted who trained pilots. I don’t remember how many trainers they had, but he was one of the main guys that did it.
I began ejaculating when I was seven.
It came to me one morning, just like that. I started ejaculating feverishly all over my schoolbooks.
My parents disapproved. You’re not old enough to ejaculate. You’ll put an eye out.
So what. I continued ejaculating in secret.
I ejaculated, I ejaculated, I ejaculated, without fatigue, without boredom, without deviation, come hell or high water.
I held in my hand a magic wand. I ejaculated certain that I was creating marvelous things.
It was in my blood, to be sure. At the first free moment, did I play with marbles or chase girls? No. I did not watch television. I didn’t help my father in the garden. What did I do? I ejaculated.
At sixteen my ejaculations were strongly influenced by Rimbaud, but they weren’t very good now that I think about it...
What was the translation process like?
I wanted translation, or the impossibility of translation, to be an intrinsic part of the text. Because of that, its starting point was the untranslatability of the Bulgarian тъга (“taga”: sorrow, melancholy), the concept as well as the word itself. The text is made of various personal notes which take their structure from the notebooks I travel around with. I always have one with me, I am now probably on volume 67 or so.
Do you have it with you currently?
Yes, I always have the latest one. Though I travel a lot and carry at least the last fifteen with me.
Do you ever write on a computer?
Yes, but it all starts from the notebooks: the ideas, the phrases. I develop these further on a computer of course, and I do write prose on it, but poetry I can only write on paper. I am an analog poet. Poetry on a computer is a different genre altogether...
Feature by Kevin Laskey
Because of Coltrane’s musical stature and the public nature of his funeral, the performances by Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman had the power to establish the conventions of a modern jazz requiem—how to properly memorialize a member of the jazz community. In their performances, Ayler and Coleman memorialized Coltrane not through imitation or pale attempts at resurrection, but by organically integrating aspects of Coltrane’s playing into their own distinct styles—a form of musical signifyin(g).
Feature by Adrian Nathan West
Even more, perhaps, what mattered to me was to recreate the language my mother invented when she arrived in France, a trans-Pyrenean language, a language split in two, an inventive, joyous, poetic tongue that laughed at and manhandled the dominant language, and thereby opened new horizons of meaning. And this language, which my sisters and I called “Fragnol,” this language I was ashamed of when I was a girl but later loved with all my heart, could only have been invented between Spanish and French. With Catalan it would have been unthinkable.
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.
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.”
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 perspectives—and 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.
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?
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 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?
A feature by Ian Dreiblatt
Writing begins with the city. Cities, like books, are an attempt to make sense of the body . . .
Feature by Heidi Hart
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...
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 . . .
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.