Sunday, February 19, 2012

Hopscotch animations

Here are four brief animations based on Julio Cortazar's Rayuela (Hopscotch). I can't really follow the Portuguese translation but I like the mood of these. The texts (one is wordless) seem to be taken from Chapters 1, 22, and 34 of the novel.

Thanks to Blog Morellianas for the tip.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Orpheus — The Lowdown (Blegvad & Partridge)

Peter Blegvad and Andy Partridge reportedly worked on this recording project off and on for twelve years, which works out to about two minutes and change a year of finished material, but if that's what it takes to create something this perfect then I'm all for it. Partridge was one of the founders of the rock band XTC and Blegvad has been, among other things, a member of the 1970s trio Slapp Happy, a cartoonist (Leviathan), and a solo singer / songwriter, but Orpheus — The Lowdown, which was released in 2003, isn't made up of "songs," though it does have words and music. What it is made up of is harder to explain; except for one wordless cut it's a suite of short texts recited or occasionally chanted by Blegvad over an aural environment composed of music, sound effects, squawks, and warbles, all organized around the mythological figure of Orpheus, legendary musician (a "lyricist" in the etymological sense of the word), charmer of beasts, and voyager to the underworld in search of his wife Eurydice, whom he won back from Hell by the beauty of his playing only to lose her on the return trip when he disobeyed an injunction not to look behind him as he ascended. Issued by Partridge's Ape House Records, the single CD comes accompanied by an illustrated booklet in which the lyrics (including some that are meant to be part of the project even though they aren't spoken aloud in the recording) are paired with effectively eerie artworks created by Blegvad and Partridge, of which the radiograph-like cover illustration is a representative example.

Blegvad's delicious deadpan narration — he manages to sound droll and legitimately profound at the same time — belongs to a category of declaimed performance that's relatively rarely encountered. Some of the texts he reads could pass for "poetry" (one of them is in fact an adaptation from Rilke), another is a quotation from an essay by the critic George Steiner, but most inhabit a hazy border zone between storytelling and incantation. The closest examples I can think of are John Cage's Indeterminancy pieces (also paired with music), and the work of the late Spencer Holst, though Holst's stories were, and were meant to be, light as a feather, while Orpheus — The Lowdown dives into deep mysteries of creation, death, and language.

Orpheus is a musician, but he is also a poet, a creator of words. In the first piece here he is revealed as a creator of worlds as well, able to build a city on the savannah out of nothing in order to win a bet against the gods. He is a distant cousin to Blegvad's King Strut (from the CD King Strut and Other Stories):
Imagination, like a muscle, will increase with exercise
King Strut developed his by having dreams and telling lies
He'd describe a situation or a piece of merchandise
He could summon it from nothing to appear before your eyes
Orpheus draws so much divine energy that he causes a "Brown-Out on Olympus." Later, in "Noun Verbs," the longest and one of the best of these pieces, Blegvad whispers that "what the dead lack / is substance..."
Time means nothing to them now, but words...
hot air shaped by thought
into blobs and ribbons
of intelligible discourse,
words have not only substance
but value.
In "Beetle," Orpheus deciphers the marks on paper made by an insect that he has first made to crawl through a pool of ink, and mutters excitedly "as image / after image / astonishes him / with its unexpected force and purity." In "Galveston," (a city "which he's heard is hell"), Orpheus tells a group of prostitutes:
When you come into this world you find pockets in your pants, handlebars on your bike, put there by those who preceded you. You walk in their footsteps. But, as regards the entry into and possession of yourself, you're a solitary pioneer.
There are brilliant illuminations like this throughout.

The aural backdrop to these texts can't be quoted and isn't easily described, but fortunately the CD can be heard, in full, by visiting the Ape House site. To fully appreciate Orpheus — The Lowdown, though (not to mention to support the artists), you'll want to get a hold of the physical package.

Blegvad and Partridge are reportedly in the final stages of assembling another CD, to be entitled Gonwards.