A feature by Nell Pach
The previous century saw the explosion of magic realist fiction, texts where daily life and the fantastic filter through each other. The continued development of a genre that steps away from straight realism seems not just likely but, paradoxically, necessary for effective artistic representations of the real and the human. Can Xue's The Last Lover, at once alien and familiar in its casual miracles, its people and things that blink in and out of solid existence, and its radical reconsideration of subjectivity, reads like an inaugural, or at least transformative, text. Call it magic virtual realism. We are perhaps overdue for a literary approach to this new form of human experience. Most of us now live substantial portions of our lives within a cyber-sphere of kaleidoscoping stories, dialogue, and images. We waft in from all parts of the analog world to hold either infinitesimal or prolonged intercourse with people who appear, like us, out of nowhere; we friend them, fight them, not infrequently doubt their existence or aspects thereof. We share moments of feeling we don’t understand, we slide into oblivion or obliviousness with a click. We have come perhaps closer than ever to something that resembles a dreamscape in sober waking life . . .
A feature by Clément Mao-Takacs
Clément Mao-Takacs: I would like to start by clearing up a few clichés that have been said about you. To name a few: You’re from Finland, therefore, you love and get inspired by nature; you are “a fiery volcano beneath ice”; since you live primarily in France, you inevitably subscribe to French music. Can we try to make sense of some of these common preconceptions? Let’s start with the nature-Finland parallel.
Kaija Saariaho: I think there is some truth to the connection between nature and Finland. The country’s population size is so small and nature’s presence there is so important, that it’s impossible to live the kind of urban life you’d have in a big capital—even though some people try desperately to pretend they do. Nature is one thing, but what’s more important is light. Changes in sunlight throughout the year are so drastic that it affects everyone. You can’t escape it when you live there. And because of this experience—which is so physical, we feel it in our body—we have a very special relationship with nature. We have respect for it, we are aware that it’s something larger than us; and also, there are things that are a part of our culture, which can be seen in Finnish epic poems where nature is truly sacred—as is the case for many early cultures. For me, it really comes from this experience of living in the “period of darkness”—there’s a very specific term for this in Finnish: kaamos—all the while having hope for the sunlight to start strengthening again until it is fully restored. Springtime is extremely long, and since the earth has been covered in snow for such an extensive period, there’s a kind of rotting—but pleasant—smell, which gradually gives way to spring vegetation. My relationship with nature isn’t about admiring the aesthetics of a sunset; it’s something much more physical that I carry inside me . . .
A feature by Keenan McCracken
One of contemporary American fiction’s most lauded and prolific novelists, Richard Powers might also be described as the autodidact’s autodidact. An amateur musician and composer, former physicist, and self-taught computer programmer, Powers has become known for his deftness at tracing out the subtle interrelationships between science, art, and politics with a lyrical virtuosity and breadth of intelligence that have elicited comparisons to writers from Melville to Whitman to David Foster Wallace.
In his most recent novel, Orfeo (2014), Powers examines the post-9/11 political landscape through the life of avant-garde composer turned amateur chemist Peter Els, whose Orphic descent into the underworld of twentieth-century composition and lifelong fascination with patterns lead him to attempt encoding music into the DNA of a living organism. The third of his novels to use music as a centerpiece (after The Time of Our Singing and The Gold Bug Variations), Orfeo is yet more evidence of Powers’s rare gift for articulating the seemingly ineffable qualities of sound, one that is accompanied by a near-encyclopedic knowledge of music history. Incredibly kind and generous, Powers spoke with me via Skype about his new novel and how music factors into his vision . . .
A feature by Christiane Craig
The Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho's oratorio La Passion de Simone has, over this past year, been re-imagined by Saariaho, adapted specifically for conductor Clément Mao-Takacs’ nineteen-piece Secession Orchestra, vocal quartet, and soprano soloist Karen Vourc’h. This smaller cast, under the stage direction of Aleksi Barrière, provides a more direct and unmediated experience of Saariaho’s sound materials. The expansive tonal force of La Passion de Simone’s first production, an oceanic work for full orchestra, choir, and electronics, has been consolidated but not reduced in the chamber version, its sound colors intensified by a microscopic quality of vision that is perhaps better adapted to the piece’s investigation of human, as well as sonic, interiorities . . .
A feature by Daniel Levin Becker
The formal resemblances between Édouard Levé's Works and Georges Perec's I Remember pale away compared to their spiritual perpendicularities: one is an assemblage of purportedly original things that do not yet exist, the other a motley litany of things that once existed but never truly belonged to anyone; one is a series of ideas abandoned at the moment before they crystallize, the other a series of memory-points that exist to be shared and collectively reified. Perec had none of Levé’s impulse toward detachment; the questing in his work was driven by his interest, on some level a desperate one, in the way people could be objectively united in their subjective experiences of time and place, even if they shared neither. Whereas Levé was fascinated by people from a remove, Perec wrote in enormous part to remind himself that he was one of them . . .
A feature by Ian Dreiblatt
Carnegie Hall, May 31, 2014. I watch Arvo Pärt step haltingly into the rear of the auditorium. An usher, thinking him the old man he appears from outside of sound to be, asks if he needs any help, a faint impatience curling the edges of his speech. He shakes his head and proceeds to an aisle, occluded by clusters of Orthodox priests. He navigates among them slowly and without solemnity. Like the people around me, I’m anticipating the concert by remembering things. A procession of them, connected by an invisible logic that feels somehow singular. It’s like mourning. Slow motion up a chain of small bells . . .
A feature by Caio Camargo
Chico Buarque has become a living icon of Brazilian culture. For his seventieth birthday, he was the subject of countless homages and retrospectives, with an admiring piece on nearly every media outlet and birthday greetings and messages from a who’s-who of recording artists and other assorted personalities. The only notably absent voice was from the man himself. From the (relatively rare) interviews he grants, it is clear that he never felt comfortable in the shoes of his legend. Chico seems to make a point to puncture the inflated image, to paint himself as just a guy devoted to his art, who also happens to love soccer and going to the beach. But there is hardly any escape from the fact that he remains, after a decades-spanning career, a defining cultural touchstone. His work bears a great sense of history and politics, a connection to the land of his birth so strong that it is difficult to imagine Chico without Brazil, and impossible to imagine Brazil without Chico . . .
A feature by Declan O'Driscoll
The following interview was conducted for the occasion of Music & Literature No. 4, which includes some 80 pages of new interviews, graphic scores, poems, appreciations, and other writings on and by the musical duo Maya Homburger and Barry Guy . . .
A feature by Gábor Schein
The themes of memory and forgetting are not as distinct from the theme of responsibility as we would like them to be. Gábor Schein's beautifully developed and persuasive essay begins with the physical description of a specific part of Budapest, tracing it from its origins as a swamp through its development as an industrial slum and then as a quarter for the wealthy, going on to examine the regular changing of the city's street-names as a series of excisions from memory. Such excisions, he argues, lead to apathy and indifference. Corpses float down the river in 1945 but no one notices any more. The homeless and hungry of today move past us in the street but liberal public opinion uses them more to flatter its own conscience than to do anything. The Sebaldian sense of deep ground constantly opens at our feet but we move on, returning to the moral and psychological equivalent of the swamp out of which the city sprang . . .
A feature by Bradley Harrison
The following conversation appears in Music & Literature No. 4, which devotes some 90 pages to coverage of Mary Ruefle's entire published catalog to date and includes portfolios of new poems and erasures . . .
A feature by Reif Larsen
What makes Where You Are so fascinating is its dual existence as a box containing sixteen physical booklets and a website, where-you-are.com, to which this content has been ported. While many print books have attempted a similar multi-platform extrapolation, Where You Are seems particularly suited for a dual paper/digital edition given some of the central themes of the project, which seeks to explore how we locate ourselves in a swiftly changing world and how these methods of location have changed since the rich mnemonic stomping grounds of our childhood . . .
A feature by Paul Kerschen
László Krasznahorkai's 2014 Best Translated Book Award for Seiobo There Below—presented in Ottilie Mulzet's expert translation—serves to cement the Hungarian's status as one of the most original writers. And yet, only a portion of Krasznahorkai's extensive catalog is currently available to Anglophone readers. Here, Paul Kerschen delivers a masterful reading of the award-winning Seiobo There Below and offers a glimpse of what awaits us in coming years, including Destruction and Sorrow beneath the Heavens (forthcoming from Seagull Books in Ottilie Mulzet's rendering), The Prisoner of Urga, and Krasznahorkai's debut short-story collection, Relations of Grace. This essay, originally published in Music & Literature No. 2, is accompanied here by a series of photographs documenting the author's encounter, organized by Osaka University and held at the temple of Hōzan-ji, with the original manuscripts of the fourteenth-century Japanese actor and Noh playwright Ze'ami, whose spirit infuses Seiobo There Below, and whose influence is felt throughout much of Krasznahorkai's as-yet-untranslated oeuvre . . .
A feature by CJ Evans
The closing lines of Clarice Lispector's novel The Hour of the Star open a fascinating conversation about the Brazilian author's transgressive and hugely influential life, as a public literary figure and as a private person. Her works have inspired an astonishing range of artists, from novelist Colm Tóibín to film director Pedro Almodóvar. Here we join two of Lispector’s translators, Idra Novey and Katrina Dodson, and acclaimed writers Micheline Aharonian Marcom and Hector Tobar for a lively, 80-minute exploration of the infamous life and dazzling work of one of the twentieth century’s great innovators . . .
A feature hosted by Sarah Gerard
For Brazilian writer Hilda Hilst, writing was a continuous process of transcendence without ever reaching the transcendent; a radical subjugation of all traditional or seemingly “correct” modes of thought. A prodigious student throughout her life, she wrote in part to engage and challenge world thinkers, and drew from an incredibly wide set of traditions and fields of thought, including psychoanalysis, spiritism, Gnosticism, EVP (or ESP), pure mathematics and philosophy, biology, astronomy, and quantum physics. Her prose is ludic and polyphonic—physical and titillating—and often challenges a reader’s notions of what is sexually “appropriate.” This roundtable on Hilst is convened on the occasion of the translation and publication into English of three of her novels in less than two years by the American publishers Nightboat Books, in collaboration with A Bolha Editora, and Melville House. Our panel gathers six authorities on Hilst’s work, including four of her English-language translators and two of her publishers . . .
A feature by Benjamin Dwyer
British composer and double bassist Barry Guy is sui generis among modern artists. Guy is at once an ardent student of early and Baroque music and a master improviser across all musical genres, an architect and a Samuel Beckett devotee, who, by age 13, was immersed in the life of a professional musician in southeast London. Guy has served as principle bassist in virtually every major London orchestra, and his compositions for large improvisational ensembles as well as chamber and solo works have been performed internationally. Now Barry Guy speaks in an extensive, retrospective conversation with composer Benjamin Dwyer about his earliest musical impulses, jamming with Sonny Boy Williamson in the back of a liquor store, studying with legendary Greek composer Iannis Xenakis, collaborating with his wife and musical partner, the Swiss Baroque violinist Maya Homburger, and playing an instrument to the limit of one’s physical capabilities . . .
A feature by Taylor Davis-Van Atta
In the late 1990s, Ukrainian Victoria Polevá abandoned her own successful career as an avant-garde composer of polyphonic music in pursuit of the “absoluteness of renunciation, the pureness of an experiment.” Interweaving sacred and secular texts and musical traditions from a wide variety of eras, Polevá has since defined herself as one of Eastern Europe’s most original composers whose works are routinely performed by leading ensembles and soloists around the globe. In 2005, the world-famous violinist Gidon Kremer included Polevá’s “Warm Wind” in his concert cycle Sempre Primavera. Speaking here “completely unarmed, impoverished, down to zero” from amid the burning tumult of Kiev, Victoria Polevá addresses her daring evolution as a composer, the origins of her passion, the nature of collaborating with Kremer, and sorrow as a creative act. Music & Literature is honored to present the first English-language interview with Ukrainian composer Victoria Polevá . . .
Perhaps the video-game developer Jason Rohrer has the same issue that writers have: Passage shows his drive to create a type of art out of one’s personal and private thoughts. What makes the video game so special is the need for interactivity: that instead of reading about someone’s voyages, we become the author—that when we play, we become Rohrer—his anxieties become our anxieties; his fears are our fears . . .
A feature by Kolin Jordan
The experimental Mexican author Mario Bellatin is not concerned for your comfort. He doesn’t care if you get lost. His narration will jump from one scene to the next and if you trip on the lip of a conjunction or fall behind as he darts around the corner of a participle, that’s on you.
A feature by Emily Hoffman
László Krasznahorkai’s Animalinside is, in itself, already an adaptation. The Slovakian choreographer Jaroslav Viňarský has adapted Krasznahorkai’s novella for dance. The performance embodies the modes of existence the text describes, and yet does so within its own aesthetic parameters, with its own aesthetic integrity. At its best, the performance builds upon the original dialogue between the book’s text and images, and becomes a third surface for interpretive ricochet . . .
A feature by Nairi Galstanian
In 1969, the Armenian film director Sergei Parajanov released his masterpiece Sayat-Nova. A world-cultural event, the film prompted Andrei Tarkovsky to deem Parajanov “a genius” and Michelangelo Antonioni to proclaim the film “of a stunningly perfect beauty… Parajanov, in my opinion, is one of best film directors in the world.” For Tigran Mansurian, the Armenian composer who, with its score, invented a new musical language, Sayat-Nova was “an extraordinary phenomenon of universal importance.” Based on the life of the eighteenth-century poet and musician Sayat-Nova (King of Song), the film was released in English under the title The Color of Pomegranates. In the following interview, which took place during the summer of 2006, Mansurian offers a unique point of inquiry to Parajanov’s creative world as well as his magnum opus. Music & Literature is grateful to Tigran Mansurian for the opportunity to present this conversation for the first time in English.