A feature by Whitney Curry Wimbish
Oh: What I really love about playing this music is this sense of resourcefulness. You have to be ready for what’s going to come to you, and that flexibility transfers into other parts of your life. The skills you learn when you’re first studying music serve you in different ways. Resourcefulness, compromise—those are useful tools for good human beings…
A feature by Spencer Matheson
One of today’s leading pianists, Dan Tepfer has played with some of the great names in jazz: Mark Turner, Billy Hart, Ralph Towner, Joe Lovano, Bob Brookmeyer, and Paul Motian. His most recent recordings include Decade (July 2018), his second album with Lee Konitz, and Eleven Cages (June 2017), with the Dan Tepfer Trio. His current project, Acoustic Informatics, uses a concert piano that can be controlled by a computer, for which he has written programs that respond in real time to his improvisations. This is an edited version of an interview conducted in Paris in October 2017.
A feature by Clemens J. Setz
Several years ago, I had an appointment with a neurologist. There an EEG was performed. With a hairnet of electrodes on your head, you sit in front of a strong lamp, keep your eyes closed, and are subjected to flashes. The reaction of your brain to the flashing light, which flickers at an increasing frequency, is recorded by software. I don’t remember at how many hertz it was that I suddenly saw a spiral of falling gingerbread men. I told this to the assistant who was conducting the test. “I think I see gingerbread men.” To which she replied: “We’ll try one level higher, then it’s enough.” With the light now flashing marginally more rapidly, I still saw the incredible image behind my closed eyelids: falling gingerbread men, millions of them, a whole cosmos full. I had to open my eyes, because the sight was making me dizzy.
A feature by Sydney Boyd
To achieve this kind of intermedia voyage, it matters where you sit during Tutschku’s concerts. When I first walked into the theater and sat in the front row, Tutschku quietly approached and encouraged me toward the center of the room, gesturing at the circular positioning of the speakers. His advice quickly made sense: his music is remarkably attuned to its environments. It moves with space and bodies in mind, as his 2011 work Klaviersammlung, which opened this first program, succinctly demonstrated. Comprising recordings Tutschku made of ancient pianos that whir around an audience through sixteen channels placed throughout the theater, the piece transports you inside the body of an old instrument where you feel the hammers press and the strings pull, and the grain of the wood scratches along your cheek.
A feature by Madeleine LaRue
A Lesser Day is partly a reconstruction of memory—the narrator is attempting to order her sense of self via five different addresses she’s lived at during a particular period of her life—but it’s also something like a metaphysics of space. Where did this premise, or this structure, come from?
Actually, I had been working on a different book for several years, a novel that’s still unfinished. And in between all of this, I had my son. The hospital I gave birth in had a tiny library, where I happened upon a book by Marie Luise Kaschnitz titled Orte—“Locations” or “Places” in English. I stole it, brought it home, and read it in a state of wonder. It certainly provided one of the impulses for my book, although I didn’t know it at the time. Kaschnitz begins some of the sections of Orte with specific locations, as I do in A Lesser Day, and goes on to search her memory for everything she can remember that’s attached to a particular place in the past—in her case, very far in the past. She was writing about her childhood in the first years of the twentieth century, from a perspective of some seventy years later, near the end of her life.
Ellen Hinsey: In the spring of 1972, you were allowed to publish a single volume—your only officially sanctioned book of poetry in Soviet Lithuania, The Sign of Speech—
Tomas Venclova: During this period, the censorship situation had somewhat improved. After 1968, the prevailing atmosphere was one of a “freeze,” but there were some unexpected fluctuations in the party line, which were duly reflected in the editorial policy of the Lithuanian state publishing house. For a time, experimental verse was permitted (or benevolently overlooked), especially if it possessed a “life-affirming,” that is, optimistic, quality or had a folkloric aspect. Usually, a “locomotive” was required: The very first poem in a book by a first-time author had to mention Lenin or Fidel Castro (or, preferably, both) with due enthusiasm. Everyone consented to this demand, which was unspoken, or only discussed in private between an editor and an author. For me, it was out of the question. After my experience with my science book, I scorned the system and had enough respect for poetry to reject these “rules of the game.” Incidentally, Brodsky faced a similar dilemma. After his exile, a book of his poems was being prepared in the USSR, but Yevtushenko told him it needed a “locomotive”—a piece about Lenin or, at, least, about the great Russian people. Brodsky had a poem on people and their language, and quite a good one (Akhmatova admired it), which could perhaps have been construed as “patriotic” and therefore adhering to the official line. [My friend, the physicist] Romas Katilius persuaded him this would have been a gesture of capitulation. Brodsky refused to include it in the book; it was subsequently rejected by the publisher. To my astonishment, The Sign of Speech appeared without any mandatory “locomotive” or “lightning rod”—perhaps the first such case in Soviet Lithuania, or possibly in the entire Soviet Union.
M. R. James has written that “Not long before the war…” makes for a proper sort of opening to a ghost story. The idea, I presume, being that wars are occurrences of sufficient gravity, not to say regularity, that they remain always an identifiable yet ambiguous point of reference. To begin in this way is to say, “My little tale took place some little time ago, before our little lives took on their current ugly contours.”
A feature by Esther Kinsky
In Romanian Orthodox churches there are two separate spaces for believers to light candles in: one space is for the candles lit for the living, the other one for the candles lit for the dead. The one for the living is always on the left, the one for the dead on the right. When a person dies for whom a candle is still burning in the section of the living, this candle has to be moved from the left to the right. From the vii to the morţi.
A feature by Andrew DuBois
The island of Newfoundland seen from a map looks like fractal geography as printed fact. The island proper—the biggest part by far of the whole of what we call The Rock—has a kind of polyp on its southeastern-most side. It looks like an island that looks roughly like the island from which it hangs; and hang it does, because it is not an island at all, but a peninsula. It’s called the Avalon Peninsula—king and queen-fed courtly dreams of paradise in that name—and the closer and closer you read on the map, the more it looks like a living geological Mandelbrot Set. The ocean gives way to big bays, big bays to smaller ones, which give way to harbors and coves and little inlets; just like the Trans-Canada Highway, which starts here before stretching its ribbon of asphalt it seems like forever, gives way to smaller highways such as 70, 75, 80, which in turn become Main Streets and Water Streets and finally devolve into something called “drungs,” which are rural Newfoundland lanes. Avalon looks from here like the claw of a crab—cartography is maritime destiny—or maybe, in the knuckles and muscles and bones of its towns and the blood and veins of its roads, it resembles a damaged, but very much living, human hand.
Yes, yes yes, it’s very charming, is Peter and the Wolf, I won’t deny it, a fine introduction to orchestral music for the young audience who must somehow be made to swallow that bizarre, tiresome manifestation of human genius, those fireworks of polished brass and varnished wood, that spectacle of austere, black-dressed personages waggling their mallets, their sticks, their bows, as if it weren’t enough for a man to know how to handle a shovel, a drill, a saw, a ladle, an oyster fork. Sergei Prokofiev believed—rightly, cleverly, underhandedly—that some manner of sop had to be thrown to those little sprites, who might very well whine and carry on without some naïve little tale to distract them from the stiff-necked, solemn, symphonic tedium.
A feature by Maya Vinokour
Just as we can discern the ancestors of the novel—the letter and the diary—in eighteenth-century exemplars of the genre, so too does Lina Goralik’s writing betray its roots in the anarchic, confessional culture of early Runet. Even on paper, Goralik’s texts retain an intimacy and immediacy, a sense of just having been overheard, that digital natives associate with online posting. They are also eminently shareable, which is what compelled me to translate them in the first place—so I could keep on laughing and cringing, this time with English-speaking friends...
A feature by Madeleine LaRue
I was thinking about a lot as I was reading about how, in the translation workshop, every week we would have a theme, translation as X—translation as copying, translation as refraction, translation as dépaysement—and we would work with this theme and write about it. So as I was going through your book, I was thinking, “What is this translation as?” The first one is translation as affirmation: I accept the terms under which this writing has come to me, but I also accept that I can read it and participate in it, I accept that this is a proper text and not an inferior copy.
Yes, I think that’s what the opening section is all about—as I say repeatedly, I don’t read German, and yet here is this book, which I receive as The Magic Mountain, which has become very important to me. Perhaps it is worth making clear that all the materials that I draw on, all the books that I think with in This Little Art, whether it’s The Magic Mountain or Robinson Crusoe, are the books that Barthes was also thinking with [in The Preparation of the Novel and How to Live Together]. In other words, those are the books I was reading in order to translate Barthes’s lecture notes, and so they were the ones I was also thinking with as I was thinking about the translations. But beyond that requirement to read it, The Magic Mountain was also just this extraordinary reading experience. I mean, it’s an amazing novel. Unlike Barthes, who read it in Maurice Betz’s French translation, I received it in Helen Lowe-Porter’s English, in the form of the book-object that she made. The question I wanted to open the book with was: How to make the fact of this appear? How to make translation appear when, as we all know, it is so easy to lose sight of, so easy to forget and pass over? You know that famous line from Viktor Shklovsky? Something like “art exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony”—art exists to make things unfamiliar, to de-familiarize them even if ever so slightly, so they have a chance of being registered, kind of received in all of their strange particularity. How do you make the stone stony? I was thinking about that a lot: How do I make translation thick—
Alyson Waters: But then where does the first sentence come from, if it doesn’t come from your imagination? I’m thinking, in particular, of some first sentences from your novels that are too long to be quoted in full but which are utterly delightful: “Boborokine was not a big man, though not preposterously small, he must have stood, amounted to, or measured a head shorter than me, judging from his uniform…” (Prehistoric Times) or “The thickest clouds are gray, the tallest, mightiest cities are gray, the elephant, the hippopotamus, all the pachyderms are gray; they can be seen from a much greater distance than the garish hummingbird or butterfly, and yet the prejudice persists that gray is the more minimal manifestation of visibility . . .” (On the Ceiling); or a far shorter sentence, the one that opens Dino Egger: “Finally, I’ve got one, and now we’re going to find out.”
Éric Chevillard: The beginning is always a feat of willpower. I’ve often had to deliberately set down—like an absurd premise, an indefensible principle—a first sentence so bizarre that it opened up a wholly unexplored space. At least then I could be sure I was the first to land on this shore, to tread on this snowy stretch. I remember very clearly the moment when I started my novel On the Hedgehog by writing these words: “It seems exactly like a naive and globular hedgehog, this animal, there, on my desk.” It was practically automatic writing. I didn’t yet have any specific aim. But the impetus was there. I will maintain that any other formulation could have served my purpose just as well. It’s a matter of surprising myself in order not to repeat those worn-out phrases that have not only been put to use already in literature, but also come to dictate our very existence. I believe that art in general and literature in particular offer us the chance to broaden the range of our awareness as well as our areas of experience, to leap from a moving train of thought as if to free ourselves from the specific conditions imposed upon us. So the first words count quite a bit; here the words really do give the orders. If a writer isn’t careful he will innocently formulate the words that already dictate the world, whereupon everything will start over as it always has and, as Beckett puts it at the beginning of Murphy, the sun will shine “on the nothing new.” A mysterious or extravagant first sentence must, on the contrary, be justified. A different world order must be invented in which it makes sense.
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...
A feature by Maria Dimitrova
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...
A 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).
A 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.
A 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.