In an interview with London Jazz News, musician Kit Downes talks about how his two recent albums Obsidian and Dreamlife of Debris (both for ECM Records, 2018 and 2019, respectively) were inspired by W.G. Sebald and by Grant Gee’s film Patience (After Sebald):
LJN: And continuing the “place” theme in a more abstract way, can you tell us about W.G. Sebald (both albums contain references to his work) and his influence on the music?
KD: The title, Dreamlife of Debris, itself comes from a supposed quote by Nabakov, mentioned in a documentary film about W.G. Sebald’s book The Rings of Saturn. The quote itself alludes to the way we can project emotion and character onto inanimate objects, to the point where they feel like they have their own life, dreamt by us – like a musician and their instrument in a way, especially the organ (being the enormous chaotic collection of pipes, whistles and reeds that it is).
These objects could be mundane and everyday, or galaxy clusters and gas giants – whatever the scale. This quote (in reference to the book) is alluding to the way Sebald finds meaning in these isolated landmarks and events on his walking tour through Suffolk by using them as springboards for enormous mental leaps of association and story telling – to places across the world and from other times.
This resonated with me – these unlikely combinations of instruments, alluding to different styles and periods, with no established pretext, meeting together in a space with no singular character. I enjoyed the risk of diving into that challenge, and enjoyed the strange dream-like space that we often found ourselves in musically.
Edward Parnell’s Ghostland: In Search of a Haunted Country is a highly personal exploration of the idea of “haunted” in literature and film. It’s also a bit of travel guide, a dash of history, and a family memoir. But as in so many things, it’s the blending that counts and Parnell is an expert bartender. I don’t think he ever uses the word but I felt as if he were trying to demonstrate how various terroirs affect the ghost stories and the strange folk lore that then show up in the fiction and cinema that he has loved since childhood. To do this, he guides us through large swaths of Great Britain in search of the sites depicted in these books and films. As we ride next to and walk alongside the thirty-something Parnell, making pilgrimages to locations where, for example, The Wicker Man was filmed or where some of the tales of Algernon Blackwood were set, we also learn bits and pieces of Parnell’s own life, how he came to love these kinds of books and films, of the difficult deaths of his parents, and the shock when he learns his own brother has a lymphoma that will eventually kill him, too. Read more
The Blind Tourist With Adriene, a weekly program on the independent public radio station WFMU in East Orange, New Jersey, describes itself as “your weekly trip across the world with radio, stories, histories, languages and more. A travel show turning chaos into different chaos.” The most recent show (December 5, 2019) begins a two-episode program dealing with W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn.
“Bookclub! The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald” is an hour-long mashup of readings, lectures, music, film scores, and more. During the first hour you can hear the voices of Sebald, Theodore Adorno, and others, jazz, an excerpt from the film Woman in the Dunes, brief pieces by Brian Eno and Benjamin Britten, readings from Flaubert and Kafka, and more. I found the program extremely sophisticated and listenable. Adriene introduces her concept about seven minutes into the program. To show just how deep and far Adriene is seaching for material to be included in her program, take these two examples, which blew me away. The first is Winfried Mühlum-Pyrápheros’s “Musica Nova Contemplativa,” which was originally created in 1964 as a purely visual score with its roots in minimalism and Fluxus. It was recorded only once, in 1970, and has just been reissued. The second is the dreamy song “Papa Loco” by the Haitian singer Nathalie Joachim.
To listen to this wonderful program and see the playlist for Part I, go here and simply click on “Pop-up player.” The second part will appear December 12.
Contemporary American composer/musician Elizabeth Brown’s string quartet Just Visible in the Distance will be part of the Interpretations program at Roulette in Brooklyn Thursday, December 5 at 8:00 PM. It will be played by the Momenta Quartet, to whom the piece is dedicated. If you can’t make the concert, you can watch them play the fifteen and a half minute piece on Brown’s website. Brown says this about her composition:
Just Visible in the Distance (2013) consists of intuitively assembled small movements, each flowing into the next. Persistent musical material from some of my earlier pieces resurfaces often. The title is from W. G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn, a book I love and have read many times.
That night’s event also includes compositions by Frances White, performances by baritone/narrator Thomas Buckner, and a video/sculpture installation by artist Lothar Osterburg. More information can be found here. Roulette is located at 509 Atlantic Avenue (Entrance on the Corner of Third Avenue; Accessible Entrance on Atlantic Ave).
Photo credit: Nile Scott
The adventurous Boston-based Merz trio named themselves after the nonsense word that German artist Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) used for his collage and assemblage artworks that often included found objects. Their goal is to offer “passionate, original playing and thoughtfully curated programming, often in the form of interdisciplinary collaboration.” Two years ago they developed a project of chamber music paired with visual arts and readings from W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn. Here’s the program description from their website:
On November 5, 2017, Merz Trio launched its first season with a “walking tour” through German diasporic art. Audience members were encouraged to explore a once-familiar recital hall now transformed into a gallery-like space. Reproductions of visual art by Kurt Schwitters lined the room; each was paired with a spoken excerpt from W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn. Both the Schwitters and the Sebald commented on a core musical program of trios by Haydn, Schumann, and Johannes Maria Staud, weaving together a narrative of fragmented memory and reconstructed identity in two, distinct, German postwar environments. Listeners were encouraged to make their own connections between art, text, and music, while also experiencing the program of Austro-German classics through this unique and poignant lens.
There is a short YouTube excerpt from the program at their website. While Merz Trio doesn’t seem to be playing the Sebald-related program anymore, they are performing a program involving Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth at Boston’s Plympton-Shattuck Theater, Saturday, October 26.
Belgium-based French photographer Bertrand Cavalier cites Sebald’s On the Natural History of Destruction for his interest in “the banality of space,” especially “brutalist architecture for its symbolic meaning of post-war trauma.” His work was recently featured on the website of the Photographic Museum of Humanity.
© Bertrand Cavalier
It’s the most innocent of beginnings: “Now I am going to tell the story of something that happened one night, years ago, and the events of the morning and afternoon that followed.” The nameless narrator of Sergio Chejfec’s The Incompletes (Open Letter, 2019) begins to tell us what happened on a pier in Buenos Aires when he saw his friend Felix off on a voyage decades earlier. But scarcely three pages elapse before the narrator digresses and begins to relate the strange tales contained in the postcards and letters that Felix has written him during the many years of his restless travels.
The Incompletes is Chejfec’s fifth novel to be translated into English and its my favorite so far. His narrator spends most of the book telling us about Felix’s strange experiences in Moscow and his interactions with a woman named Masha. But on nearly every page the reader is confronted with the fact that the narrator knows far too much. Like a magician who produces a live elephant from his top hat, Chejfec’s narrator not only recounts the details of Felix’s daily life and exposes us to his Felix’s innermost thoughts, he can also somehow account for the independent meanderings and thoughts of Masha. She manages the Hotel Salgado, where Felix stays in Moscow, a hotel which “innocently offered the traveler protection and shelter, though with the implicit warning that under certain conditions their haven might become a living hell.” Read more
On Thursday September 26 at 8:00 PM, there will be a book launch for Uwe Schütte’s new book Annäherungen – Sieben Essays zu W.G. Sebald. at the Literarische Buchhandlung Der Zauberberg, Bundesallee 133, 12161 Berlin. Here’s how to register to attend, according to the bookseller’s website:
Anmeldungen zu allen Veranstaltungen in der Buchhandlung unter 56 73 90 91 oder per E-Mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Eintritt: 5 Euro