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” . . .

The Discovery of America: A Story by Daniel Saldaña París

The Discovery of America: A Story by Daniel Saldaña París

Befitting its role as an arts journal committed to publishing and promoting underrepresented artists from around the world, Music & Literature Magazine is honored to inaugurate a monthly fiction series showcasing new and distinctive voices from around the globe. Our first piece features the disarming yet keenly pointed prose of Daniel Saldaña París, a Mexican author now living in Montréal who has been championed by such hispanophone compatriots as Valeria Luiselli, Mario Bellatin, and Yuri Herrera. His equally uncategorizable novel, Among Strange Victims, will be published in Christina MacSweeney's translation this June . . .

Every Cripple Has His Own Way of Walking: A Story by Ann Quin

Every Cripple Has His Own Way of Walking: A Story by Ann Quin

“Every Cripple Has His Own Way of Walking” was published in December 1966, the same year that Ann Quin’s second novel, Three, appeared. Many of the tropes and techniques developed in her novels are here. Marginal characters with marginal lives roam, fruit is waxen, milk topped by a coagulated skin, shirt cuffs are tide-marked and one is kept awake by phlegmy coughs in the night. In Quin’s books, human perspective is generally found kneeling at keyholes, or pressing an ear against a flimsy partition wall. But through the eyes of the child through whom this narrative is focused, the world is more bewilderingly distant and irreal than ever. It is rendered in chopped syntax and anacolutha; meaning doesn’t so much accumulate as is falteringly established and then partially scrubbed out or welded on or overlaid. The verb “to be” is frequently redacted and therefore sentences describe whilst never quite bestowing existence upon. Objects lack solidity and consistency, events a sense of having actually occurred. The undifferentiated dialogue always conveys more or less than what is actually said. Stock phrases trail off because, well, they hardly need completing. Or, what’s actually meant has been redacted, and lies hidden somewhere behind the ellipses. Rather, what animates Quin’s work here and elsewhere is a profound dissatisfaction with abiding, with going through the motions, with, as she puts it, the “never changing rituals” of everyday life, together with the hope that something else might be possible . . .

A Conversation with Lena Herzog

A Conversation with Lena Herzog

A feature by Cynthia Haven

Music & Literature found photographer Lena Herzog early on a February morning at a San Francisco landmark, the Renaissance Forge. The venue, on a gritty South-of-Market alley, is a marvel: the cavernous dark interior looks like a modern alchemist's lab, with a large open kitchen, cooking utensils, and pots hanging from the ceiling. Jars of herbs and spices line the walls. They share space with red-hot forges, wrought iron, sheets of metal, and iron rods . Blacksmith, hunter, and master chef Angelo Garro, the Sicilian proprietor, is a personal friend of Lena and her husband, the filmmaker Werner Herzog. The Herzogs are in a rush to return to Los Angeles—he has a film schedule and Lena must resume her tours for her newly published Strandbeests: The Dream Machines of Theo Jansen. Lena Herzog spent seven years tracking the evolution of a new kinetic species, intricate as insects but dwarfing its creator, a scientist-artist, in size as they roam the beaches of Holland. Her previous book, Lost Souls (2010) takes her back to her Russian roots: Peter the Great purchased and kept a remarkable collection of human and animal anomalies and kept them in the “Cabinet of Wonders,” housed in Russia's first museum on the Neva. But it is the human remains that are the “lost souls”—never alive, not even ghosts, but these Siamese twins and deformed fetuses remain heartbreaking in their eternal vulnerability, preserved in Herzog's humane and intimate photography. But Lena Herzog has a lot more to say in the brief hour before her departure, and not only on her photography . . .

The Future: Enrique Vila-Matas in Guadalajara

The Future: Enrique Vila-Matas in Guadalajara

I have come to talk to you about the future. The future of the novel, I suppose, though possibly just the future of this speech. I’m going to describe to you the future as for years I imagined it would be. Put yourselves in 1948, the year I was born, on the August afternoon when music stations in Maryland began to play the sounds of a strange, all but noiseless disc, soon spreading all along the East Coast, leaving a trail of perplexity in anyone who happened to hear them. What was it? Nothing of the kind had ever been heard before, so it still didn’t have a name, but it was—we now know—the first Rock n’ Roll song in history. Whoever heard it was suddenly pitched into the future. The music of that disc seemed to come from the ether and to literally float on the airwaves of Maryland. This, ladies and gentlemen, was the arrival of Rock n’ Roll, and it came with the deep unhurriedness of that which is truly unexpected. The song was called It’s Too Soon to Know, and it was the first recording by The Orioles, five musicians from Baltimore. It sounded strange—which isn’t so strange, bearing in mind that it was the first sign that something was changing . . .

On the Outside, Looking Out:<br>Alex Mincek

On the Outside, Looking Out:
Alex Mincek

A feature by George Grella

It was music written with an X-Acto knife, with absolute precision and attention to the fine details of phrasing and orchestration. There was almost constant, chattering activity, and the unsettling thrill of ideas racing by just past the point of apprehension, each adding to a complex and constantly changing experience. And then, like a pendulum, the piece swung into a different, but related, structural concept. The level of activity remained the same, but the sense of time and motion was entirely different. The music was like a frothing suspension, holding still via sustained pitches, but simmering through tremolos, rebowings, flutter-tonguing. There was the feeling that the music contained some sort of strange, awesome power.

 Coal Dust Is Also Nature: A Conversation with Isabel Fargo Cole

Coal Dust Is Also Nature: A Conversation with Isabel Fargo Cole

Madeleine LaRue: One thing that strikes me about all of the stories in The Sleep of the Righteous is Wolfgang Hilbig’s tendency to develop these slowly-unfolding contradictions. He’ll set up one proposition, and then later, seem to state the opposite. This happens even in the very first story: it’s called “The Place of Storms,” but there are, in fact, no storms. And in “The Bottles in the Cellar,” which is my favorite story in the collection—

Isabel Fargo Cole: Mine, too.

ML: It’s so great! And your translation is so beautiful. In that story, there’s a weird contradiction of time. The narrator seems to be terrified of the past that the bottles represent, but also terrified of the future—he’s afraid he’s going to grow up and have to deal with these bottles. And because of these fears, the present is somehow cancelled out. This all seems connected to Hilbig’s relationship to the past, to time in general, and to the post-war state he’s always writing about. Can you comment on that?

IFC: That’s a really interesting observation. I think there are a couple of different levels to it. One of them is that, fundamentally, he always calls into question the idea that you can have a precise idea of reality. Reality can be two things—maybe it’s one thing, maybe it’s the exact opposite, and it’s impossible to figure out what it is. You might try and try to figure it out, and it might look like one thing, but then suddenly turns into the other thing, and then back again . . .

The Loneliness of the Nearly Inaudible Bass Player: A Performer’s Reflections

The Loneliness of the Nearly Inaudible Bass Player: A Performer’s Reflections

A feature by Dominic Lash

There are of course tensions between conservatism and change even in situations (like contemporary music) where one might hope that the emphasis would fall naturally on change. There's nothing too surprising in this: the efforts to establish a certain platform and achieve a level of respect for a new form are frequently so demanding, and require so much continual labor to defend, that we should not be too astonished if this defense sometimes morphs into a neo-conservatism. And of course nobody wants running a clean bath to be achieved at the expense of chucking out the infant sat in it, even if the water has become cold and murky. So Graham McKenzie, who has been artistic director of the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival for ten years now, is to be applauded for the course he has steered between the old new and the new new.

Unearthing Erotic Genius: On Rut Hillarp and Swedish Modernism

Unearthing Erotic Genius: On Rut Hillarp and Swedish Modernism

A feature by Saskia Vogel

Rut Hillarp—who was she? Five years ago, The Gothenburg Post called her a grand dame of the women’s movement. Rut Hillarp—one of Sweden’s great, yet overlooked Modernists—turns those whom she touches into devotees: her readers, lovers, students and mentees. She is a cult figure, an antiquarian bookseller in Gothenburg told me after I had learned her name and embarked on a mission to possess each and every one of her books. As soon as his shop gets one of her books in (rarely), it sells. None were in stock . . .

A Conversation with Galina Rymbu

A Conversation with Galina Rymbu

Jonathan Platt: How can the language of poetry work with this reality? Can one communicate to oppressed, lumpenized workers through complicated poems?

Galina Rymbu: Poetry must work for a utopian exclusion of the languages of violence, but it can only do this with the help of a certain violence of its own, fiercely struggling with those languages for a future of peace. You can’t simply ignore them and write as if they don’t exist. There’s also an illusory kind of thinking here that we have to avoid. It can seem like the oppressed have a simple language, that we should employ a series of reductions to work with this language in order to be comprehensible as poets and artists. But there is no such thing as a simple language, just as there are no simple emotions. Here everything is even more complex—a real rat’s nest of complexity made up of the languages of violence, ideological pressures, propaganda, biopolitical manipulations, survivals of the past, fantasies, hopes, and even certain seeds of “emancipation” . . .

Eugene Ostashevsky Introduces Three Poems by Galina Rymbu

Eugene Ostashevsky Introduces Three Poems by Galina Rymbu

I first came across the young Russian poet Galina Rymbu shortly after she posted a poem on LiveJournal the day that Russian troops started operating in Crimea, and several days after the victory of the Maidan Revolution in Kyiv and the tawdry close of the Sochi Olympics. Russian media fanned the flames of patriotic hysteria and the Kremlin was clearly going to exploit Maidan to crack down on domestic dissent. It felt strange that a work of this artistic sophistication and power could be composed and posted on the Web simultaneously with the events it responded to. Its viewpoint was that of the minuscule and very young Russian Left—roughly the same political alignment as those of the poet-activist Kirill Medvedev and of Pussy Riot, to cite figures known to some Western readers. But the poetry was different. It was Big Poetry, very much grounded in tradition but also propelling it forward, into the terra incognita of the now. It’s been a while I read a poem that felt so real . . .

Two Poems by George Szirtes

Two Poems by George Szirtes

On the occasion of the launch event for Issue 6 of Music & Literature Magazine at The Forum in Norwich, the British poet and Hungarian translator George Szirtes was invited to read a poem as a preface to Roman Yusipey's performance, on accordion, of the Ukrainian Victoria Polevà's Null, a composition written for Yusipey himself. Subsequent to that evening, Szirtes was moved to write a further poem inspired by and dedicated to Yusipey. Music & Literature is proud to publish both poems in their entirety . . .

The Crucifixion of Kent: <br>Life and Work of an American Sculptor, Part Two

The Crucifixion of Kent:
Life and Work of an American Sculptor, Part Two

A feature by Matthew Spellberg

The artist William Kent worked in isolation for half a century in order to produce a fantastical universe out of wood, slate and satin. The inhabitants of this universe included insects, sea-monsters, giant safety pins, and outsized rubber chickens. Their creator gave them shelter and purpose. In return, they helped carry out one of the century’s most radical and bizarre projects of transformation . . .

The Crucifixion of Kent: <br>Life and Work of an American Sculptor, Part One

The Crucifixion of Kent:
Life and Work of an American Sculptor, Part One

A feature by Matthew Spellberg

The artist William Kent worked in isolation for half a century in order to produce a fantastical universe out of wood, slate and satin. The inhabitants of this universe included insects, sea monsters, giant safety pins, and outsized rubber chickens. Their creator gave them shelter and purpose. In return, they helped carry out one of the century’s most radical and bizarre projects of transformation . . .

At the Source: Dave Panichi's Life in Jazz

At the Source: Dave Panichi's Life in Jazz

A feature by Samuel Cottell

Panichi frequently alludes to the lessons he learned from his time in the BMI workshops with Bob Brookmeyer: "Repetition and change are the most important variables in composition. The hardest thing in music is to know when to introduce change. Brookmeyer used to say, 'Keep going in a particular direction until you think you’ve overdone it; then you can go somewhere else.'"