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Posts from the ‘Rings of Saturn (Ringe der Saturn)’ Category

Dreamlife of Debris

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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.

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Ghostland

Ghostland Parnell

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 Backlisted Podcast Visits ‘The Rings of Saturn’

Backlisted

My favorite literary podcast does Sebald! Yes! The crew at Backlisted: The Literary Podcast (John Mitchinson and Andy Miller) plus guests Philip Hoare and Jessie Greenglass discuss W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn in episode 105, which was let loose on the world November 11. Here’s the description of the full episode from the podcast’s website:

In this episode John and Andy are joined by Philip Hoare, a broadcaster, curator, filmmaker and writer whose books include biographies of Stephen Tennant and Noel Coward, the historical studies Wilde’s Last StandSpike Island: The Memory of a Military Hospital, and England’s Lost Eden.  His book Leviathan or, The Whale won the 2009 BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction. His most recent book, RISINGTIDEFALLINGSTAR, is published by Fourth Estate. Philip presented the BBC Arena film The Hunt for Moby-Dick, and directed three films for BBC’s Whale Night.  He is Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Southampton, and co-curator of the Moby-Dick Big Readhttp://www.mobydickbigread.com.  

The second guest is the writer, Jessie Greengrass, the author of two books. Her first, the short story collection, An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It, won the Edge Hill Prize and a Somerset Maugham award (and was enthusiastically praised by John in the episode of Backlisted devoted to Huysmans). Her novel, Sight, was published in 2018, and was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and longlisted for the Wellcome Prize. Jessie lives in Northumberland with her partner and their two children.

The main book under discussion is The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald, first published in German by Eichborn Verlag in 1995 and in an English translation by Michael Hulse by the Harvill Press in 1998. Before that, John ventures back in timed space with The Years by Annie Ernaux and Andy is blown away by Vertigo & Ghost by Fiona Benson.

The foursome have an intelligent, wide-ranging discussion of the book, including Sebald’s use of photographs. Hoare, who goes swimming every morning at 3:00 AM (think about that for a moment!), talks about the “echo space” wherever photographs appear in Sebald’s texts—”where the words stop and the picture takes over.” Greenglass thinks of Sebald’s books as those “curious complicated cabinets” in which you can’t see the joints. I was so inspired by the comments on the books by Annie Ernaux and Fiona Benson that I immediately ordered both. Go have a listen.

‘The Blind Tourist’ Radio Program Does “The Rings of Saturn”

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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.

Sebald-Inspired String Quartet To Be Played in Brooklyn Dec. 5

Momenta Quartet

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).

Jane Benson’s “Song for Sebald”

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Detail of a “Song for Sebald” print, © Jane Benson

New York artist Jane Benson has been exhibiting a series of hand-cut archival inkjet-prints called “Song for Sebald.” In the exhibition, the prints are accompanied by music Benson has commissioned from Matthew Schickele. Here’s the full description from her website:

In “Song for Sebald,” Jane Benson explores the themes of separation and belonging through a radical encounter with the writer W.G. Sebald’s novel, The Rings of Saturn.  Benson begins with the physical text of the novel and a knife.  By carefully excising every part of the text except the syllables of the musical scale – do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti – she uncovers what we might call the “potential music” of Sebald’s prose:  a set of notes with a full tonal range hovering both inside and outside of the novel, untethered from the original text and radically disjointed within itself.  

From that point of radical excision and destruction, Benson moves to the process of re-creation. Benson actualizes the novel’s potential music through a process that links together author, artist, composer, and performer.  Each of the novel’s ten chapters produces a separate movement created collaboratively by composer Matthew Schickele; in each, the pace of the music is guided by the spaces between the excavated syllables (the spaces Benson has cut) and its emotive lyric determined by a set of improvisations guided by elements of Sebald’s prose.  Each chapter/movement has its own mood, dynamics, and process of creation, depending on the characters and themes of the original novel, and on interactive processes determined by Benson and Schickele.  The collaged recordings of each movement are encountered by viewers in sound pods equipped with headphones that are presented alongside each chapter of incised text, with the entire score played in the gallery daily at noon. 

Sebald’s experimental fiction and essays demonstrate a preoccupation with displacement, foreignness, and extraterritoriality, reflecting his own experience of self-imposed exile from his native Germany.  Both thematically and formally, Sebald’s prose reflects its author’s experience of radical dislocation; his narrators often seem to stand apart from their physical and textual surroundings, the stories they tell – at once personal and impersonal – reflect the creative potential of estrangement and disorientation. 

Benson’s work explores and expands this same creative potential; her elaborate and multi-stage process creates gaps and absences in order to stitch them together over time and across media, in a process of collaboration that links together nationalities, disciplines, genders, and fields of creative work.  In this, Song for Sebald not only gestures toward the work of a single author, but also speaks with urgency to our present international moment, in which the plight – and the promise – of displaced persons has become more important than ever before.

At Benson’s website, you can see all of the images and hear an eleven minute sample of Schickele’s haunting and spare music. (And yes, Matthew Schickele is the son of Peter Schickele, the sometimes comedic composer.)

The Guardian Reading Group Picks Sebald for June

Sebald Emigrants Harvill First

The monthly reading group of the British newspaper The Guardian, led by Sam Jordison, has selected W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn as its book for this month. You can read about the details here.

Lines of Sight

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As we approach what would have been the 75th birthday of W.G. Sebald on May 18, 2019, two interrelated exhibitions will be celebrating and examining his legacy at two neighboring institutions that are only 7 kilometers apart in Norwich: Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery and the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts. I’ll deal with each in a separate post, starting with Norwich Castle’s exhibition, “Lines of Sight.” From the website of Visit Norfolk:

“Lines of Sight: W.G. Sebald’s East Anglia” at Norwich Castle from May 10 until January 5 2020  is an unprecedented exhibition celebrating the work of the author W.G. Sebald on the 75th anniversary of his birth.

In collaboration with The University of East Anglia, this exhibition brings together a diverse selection of celebrated artworks, curious objects, archive material and the author’s own, unseen photographs to tell the story behind the creation of one of East Anglia’s most famous literary masterpieces, The Rings of Saturn (1995).

From the mystery of Sir Thomas Browne’s skull to the secret landscapes of the Cold War, from the ghostly vessels of the vanished Herring fleets to intricate pattern books of Norwich silk weavers, this exhibition gathers the threads of Sebald’s enigmatic text to present a uniquely poetic visual portrait of East Anglia that will appeal to both those familiar and new to his work.

W.G. Sebald (1944 – 2001) – or Max to his friends – is one of the most revered, authors of the late 20th century. His evocative and unclassifiable prose works: Vertigo (1990), The Emigrants (1992), The Rings of Saturn (1995), and Austerlitz (2001) – continue to attract a remarkable international following. His reputation and the passionate devotion of readers to his work have grown significantly since his untimely death in 2001 at the age of 57.

Born in the Bavarian Alps in 1944, Sebald spent most of his adult life in England, first in Manchester then moving to Norfolk in 1970, to study and teach at the University of East Anglia (UEA), where he became Professor of European Literature in 1988. The exhibition “Lines of Sight” is held to mark what would have been Sebald’s 75th birthday.

Curator, Dr Nick Warr from The University of East Anglia explains: ‘Sebald’s books are an idiosyncratic mixture of text and image. Part fiction, part autobiography and part travelogue, they intertwine global history with personal memory to recount the fates of lost and forgotten people. Sebald produced all of his published texts whilst living and teaching in Norfolk and the distinctive character of the East Anglian landscape and the stories of those who have made a home here are the elements that connect them all.

‘A remarkable feature of this exhibition are Sebald’s own, previously unseen photographs that he took during his walks along the Suffolk coast. This extraordinary visual record, loaned from the Sebald Estate, not only documents one of the most famous journeys in Modern European literature but also maps out Sebald’s creative process as it meanders its way around the places, people and events that have shaped the region.’

All of the uncanny black and white images that appear in Sebald’s books were made in collaboration with the photographer Michael Brandon-Jones, who assisted the writer in transforming various photographs, found images and objects into the strange pictures that punctuate the author’s texts. A selection of rarely shown Brandon-Jones’ prints are on display alongside Sebald’s manuscript notes and instructions, giving the visitor a rare insight into how the text was carefully assembled image by image.

To augment this archival element of the exhibition with a view to expanding its appeal beyond those already familiar with the text, Sebald’s work is juxtaposed beside the objects and artworks he weaves into his narrative. Items from Norfolk Museums’ own collections, such as the ornate Norwich weavers’ pattern books are shown with loans from National collections, such as Willem van de Velde’s magnificent oil painting, The Burning of the Royal James at the Battle of Sole Bay (1672) from National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

With the story behind the creation of The Rings of Saturn as its focus, “Lines of Sight” is as much about showcasing the amazing things that inspired Sebald to write his masterpiece, as it is about inspiring renewed interest in his work for a new or established readership.

Each image in Sebald’s work is testament to his fascination with the overlooked; the objects, places, people and events that have drifted to the margins of everyday life. Inspired by Norwich’s most noteworthy polymath, Sir Thomas Browne, Sebald sets out in The Rings of Saturn to identify, through the diligent examination of these remnants, the patterns of nature and history and in turn seek meaning in the strange family resemblances they appear to share.

From the cosmic dust of an exploded moon to the gas lit winter gardens of a Victorian mansion; the luminous rays of Southwold lighthouse to the darkness of the Belgian Congo; the bombing raids of the Second World War to the history of sugar beet farming, “Lines of Sight” presents in an engaging and inclusive manner, Sebald’s unique perspective on the history and ecology of East Anglia.

Curator, Dr Rosy Gray of Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery said: “Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery is delighted to be showing this collaborative, seminal exhibition. The impact of Sebald’s work on artists today ensures that his writing and image-making is continually re-visited and re-discovered, bringing new audiences to the work. The opportunity to explore The Rings of Saturn’s visual complexity is an important moment, not only for existing admirers of Sebald’s work but also those with a more general interest in art, literature, photography and of course local history.”

More information, including a wonderful array of programs, can be found at the website of Norwich Castle.

London Review Bookshop Event – April 23

Patience Preview

I’ll be visiting London and Cambridge in April and the folks at the London Review Bookshop have invited me to join in a program celebrating the 20th anniversary of the publication in Great Britain of W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn. Grant Gee will be screening his terrific film Patience (After Sebald). Here’s the LRB’s program preview:

Marking 20 years since the translation into English of the late W.G Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn, one of the most remarkable books of the late twentieth century, Grant Gee introduces his acclaimed 2011 documentary essay film tracking both the journey taken in the volume, and the work’s own influence on numerous writers, artists and thinkers.

He will be joined in conversation by the film’s creative consultant, writer and critic Chris Darke, and Terry Pitts, founder of the remarkable literary blog Vertigo, founded out of a profound admiration for Sebald’s work. The evening is hosted by Gareth Evans.

You can purchase tickets for the 7:00 PM event at the LRB website. Come say hello!

In preparation for watching Patience, take a listen to the film’s hauntingly beautiful score by The Caretaker over at Bandcamp. Leyland Kirby (aka The Caretaker) used Franz Schubert’s 1827 piece Winterreise as his source material, which he “subjected to his perplexing processes, smudging and rubbing isolated fragments into a dust-caked haze of plangent keys, strangely resolved loops and de-pitched vocals which recede from view as eerily as they appear.”

Sebald Events for February 2015

If you are in New York City this Wednesday February 11, you might want to try to get to Symphony Space at 7:30 PM for a book club discussion covering W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn led by the amazing line-up of Rick Moody (The Ice Storm), Dinaw Mengestu (All Our Names), and Hari Kunzru (Gods Without Men). Denis O’Hare (American Horror Story) will read an excerpt from Sebald’s book. There is an admission charge. Click here for more information and to purchase tickets in advance. Symphony Space is at 2537 Broadway at 95th Street, New York, NY 10025-6990.