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Posts from the ‘W.G. Sebald’ 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).

Recent Music & Photography that Make Linkages to Sebald

Merz TrioPhoto 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.

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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.

Concrete doesnt burn© Bertrand Cavalier

Berlin Book Launch for Uwe Schütte’s New Sebald Book

Uwe Annaherungen

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 info@der-zauberberg.eu.  Eintritt: 5 Euro

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Towards a Sebaldian Cinema

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Film still from Fritz Lang’s M (1931)

I urge you to scoot over to Adam Scovell’s website & blog Celluloid Wicker Man and soak in his excellent recent post “Echoes & Imprints: Towards A Sebaldian Cinema,” which is an edited transcript of a talk he gave at Norwich Castle on August 27, 2019 in conjunction with the exhibition “Lines of Sight: W.G. Sebald’s East Anglia.” Here’s how Scovell summarizes his own talk:

I’m going to talk about Sebald from three angles, all related to cinema. The first is to look at cinema as an influence on Sebald’s writing, his relationship to cinema and even his own shadow-career as a would-be screenwriter. Moving on from this, the second section will look at Sebald’s influence on cinema as a subject after his death, looking in particular at documentaries about the writer and how making cinema with his work as a subject affected the way in which filmmakers approached the medium. And, finally, with this somewhat symbiotic relationship defined, we’ll conclude by looking at the potential of a Sebaldian cinema in itself; a cinema influenced by his atmospheres and methodologies but which uses them to create new work.

It’s a very stimulating piece and includes several film clips, one of which is Scovell’s own short film Heavy Water. Make sure to scroll all the way to the end of the piece to find links to other pieces Scovell has written about Sebald.

The Power of a Single Pinhole

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Jewish cemetery, Alderney Road

In the hands of an expert photographer, a single pinhole can serve to transform the world we normally see into something visceral, something that can play tricks with our sense of time. An exhibition of color pinhole photographs by Karen Stuke called “Wanderhalle: after Sebald’s Austerlitz” opens September 1 in Berlin at Kommunale Galerie Berlin (Hohenzollerndamm 176, 10713 Berlin). Here are the details from the website of the exhibition’s co-organizers The Wapping Project:

The Wapping Project in partnership with Kommunale Galerie Berlin and PhotoWerkBerlin restages its 2013 commission by German artist Karen Stuke responding to W.G. Sebald’s masterpiece Austerlitz (2001). The novel is one of literature’s most haunting meditation on time, loss and retrieval. It tells the story of Jacques Austerlitz, an architectural historian who, aged 5, was sent to England on a Kindertransport and placed with foster parents in Wales. As he rediscovers his past, Austerlitz embarks on a journey through time and space, from mid-20thcentury mitte-Europa to contemporary England.

Stuke, an accomplished photographer in the use of the pin-hole camera, followed this journey, cross-referencing information from the book with maps and records. At the crossroad between fact and fiction, she found when they existed, the places of Austerlitz’s story: the Prague gymnasium from which his mother was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp, the railway journey followed by the Kindertransport, his house in Mile End…

The resulting photographs, all taken with her handcrafted pin-hole camera, are the work of light, time and memory. Elusive images created by aggregated traces of light, they evoke fuzzy memories, and justly lend themselves to both, the layers and recesses of Austerlitz’ mind, and Sebald’s narrative.

This body of work by Karen Stuke, originally entitled “Stuke – After Sebald’s Austerlitz,” was commissioned by The Wapping Project with funding from the Women’s Playhouse Trust. It was first exhibited in Wapping, London, from 12 October to 10 November 2013.

Karen Stuke (b. 1970) completed her studies in Photo and Film Design at the Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences. She took her first theatre photograph in the 1990s. Animated by the desire to capture the spirit of the play and its unfolding in time and space, she used a pin-hole camera and decided to expose a whole performance in a single photograph. Since then, Stuke has earnt an international reputation as an expert on the pin-hole camera, and collaborated with some of the most prestigious directors and theatres including Gottfried Pilz at the Vienna State Opera, Oper Leipzig, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Oper der Stadt Köln, Opéra Comique Paris and the Los Angeles Opera. She founded her own project space called Kronenboden in Berlin, where she focuses primarily on the intersections between visual and performing arts.

The exhibition is on view through October 27, 2019.

More on Karen Stuke here.

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Installation view of “Wanderhalle” at The Wapping Project, 2013.

Adam Scovell on the Two Sebald Exhibitions in Norwich

Norwich Castle

Norwich Castle

The two exhibitions celebrating what would have been the 75th birthday of W.G. Sebald continue their runs in Norwich. “Lines of Sight” at Norwich Castle runs until January 5, 2020, while “Far Away – But From Where?” at the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts closes August 18 of this year. In the meantime, I highly recommend the outstanding piece of writing over at The Quietus by Adam Scovell, who reflects on what both exhibitions can tell us about Sebald. In “Circular Histories: The Contemporary Resonance Of W.G. Sebald,” Scovell observes that it has become increasingly difficult to write about Sebald. Not only has a “cottage industry” developed to write about Sebald, but “there’s an aura to his writing which is easy to become possessed by.”

Nevertheless, he writes, “I found the two exhibitions to earnestly show a more tangible, practical way to understanding the man and his work. For me, it highlights two key aspects to it: the ability to detect the darker elements of our shared pasts constantly threatening to repeat, and why his engagement with walking and place was dramatically different to the images typically, and often unfairly, associated with such perambulatory forms of writing.”

Go take a read.