July 11, 2012
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Christian Kiefer's The Infinite Tides is a remarkable debut novel, one that spins its story of loss and grief through the eyes of an astronaut returned to Earth after the death of his daughter.
Booklist wrote of the book:
"[W]ith a shimmering lexicon of fractals, space travel, and physics as well as a piquantly metaphorical sense of place…Kiefer illuminates the nature of a mathematical mind, depicts a dire failure of familial empathy, and translates emotions into cosmic and algorithmic phenomena of startling beauty and profound resonance."
At heart, my new novel, The Infinite Tides, is about losing one's way. It is also about space, suburbia, love, loss, children, families, immigrants, ambition, and beauty. And lastly, it is about a depressed astronaut.
I always listen to music while I am writing. It provides a cover of white noise so that I am not distracted, but it also, and perhaps more importantly, creates a kind of slide by which I can reenter the headspace of whatever I am working on quickly and easily (an essential feat, as I have 5 sons and my near-superhuman wife cannot be in all places at once).
The headspace of Tides needed to be vast and beautiful, even while the landscape of the novel itself was sometimes claustrophobic. I was thinking a great deal about the films of Tarkovsky and Bergman, of Ceylon and Tarr. The music I listened to while writing had to contain within it a sense of this beauty, this vastness. I also wanted a sense of continuity—and so albums, not individual tracks.
This is much of what I listened to, endlessly, in loops, filling my head, filling my little room, filling my pages with silence.
Jefferson Pitcher, Now the Deer
There are few musicians with the sheer talent of Jefferson Pitcher, a guitarist and composer based alternately on the U.S. eastern seaboard and in the lake-effect weathered snowdrifts of Ontario. I've been fortunate enough to have collaborated with Pitcher on a number of projects and call him a dear friend. Now the Deer is a sonic caving in of organic instruments with a few strands of electricity weaving through the wreckage. Just chaotic enough to keep the listener from totally drifting into some whiskey soaked oblivion, rooted in melody and yet not shackled by it.
Morton Feldman, Rothko Chapel
I first happened upon Feldman's work via a Paul Zukofsky performance of his piece For John Cage (that might have been the first time I'd heard of Cage as well). I was 19 or 20 at the time and Zukofsky was my boss at the Arnold Schoenberg Institute. Cage called for Paul at some point that semester. "Who's calling?" I asked. "John Cage," he said. And my reply was something super composed like: "Oh holy crap! John Cage! Woo! Awesome!" To which Mr. Cage replied, "Just tell Paul I called." Feldman's piece for Cage is much more subtle than my response, but Rothko Chapel is his masterpiece, a shifting and nearly silent sound cloud of barely revealed textures in time signatures so complex and changeable and the piece seems to have no time at all. It is endless, like the work of the artist it comments upon.
Sometimes a loose confederation of likeminded souls is what is needed, an idea made true and audible in the work of Badgerlore, a sonic collaboration between Rob Fisk (ex-Deerhoof), Ben Chasny (Six Organs), Tom Carter (Charalambides), Pete Swanson (Yellow Swans), Glenn Donaldson (Jewelled Antler Collective), and Liz Harris (Grouper). What occurs is kind of mesh of sheared fur, broken twigs, thin hollow bones, and cracking leaves. A soundscape the Brothers Grimm would know and recognize.
In all honesty, I could have chosen any Boxhead Ensemble project to highlight here, for this is the music I turn to most often when writing. Niagara Falls is the one I've been listening to lately. Like Badgerlore, Boxhead has a loose membership, but the constant is its musical director Michael Krassner, who pilots a vessel that maintains a sense of sonic integrity even as its actual pallet shifts from project to project. Beginning with the soundtrack to the Braden King / Laura Moya film Dutch Harbor and extending to King's latest film, HERE (both of which are simply incredible), Boxhead takes Feldman's Rothkoesque soundscape into the 21st century. Heartbreaking in its beauty, simplicity, and depth.
Loren Connors, Night Through: Singles and Collected Works, 1976-2004
Connors has a long and storied career as an electric guitarist, bringing to the instrument, especially in his later work, a fractured beauty. Connors is, in essence, a bluesman, although writing that about a white contemporary guitar player elicits all manner of terrible connotations. Let me assure you: Connors does not play that kind of blues. Maybe he does not play blues at all. What he does is play some of the loneliest, most introspective, and damn beautiful music you will ever hear: sparse, most often quiet, and simply gorgeous. Night Through collects many pieces otherwise difficult or nearly impossible to find.
Brian Eno (with Daniel Lanois and Roger Eno), Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks
I had to debate some between Apollo, On Land, and the well-known Music for Airports, but in the end I went for Apollo for the (perhaps) obvious reason that the novel for which all of this is the soundtrack circles a few months in the life of an astronaut. Eno's Apollo is less musical than either On Land or Music for Airports and relies heavily on the low registers. This is rumble ambience, the sound of the depths of space as lead-heavy earth. The speakers buzz and choke. The machine warbles. The landing craft scrapes the surface of gray craters and shifts into a million wheeling stars.
Dirty Three, Whatever You Love, You Are
Like many of the artists on this page, I could have chosen virtually any Dirty Three album. Nonetheless, Whatever You Love, You Are represents this Australian trio at its finest. Guitar, drums, and violin scraping out a slowly meandering soundscape of lost love, empty landscape, and beautiful loneliness. "I Offered It Up to the Stars & the Night Sky" is particular resonant—both in title and motion—to The Infinite Tides.
Kronos Quartet, Early Music
A tour through pieces composed from the late-Middle Ages through the early Renaissance, contrasted (or rather supported) by alternating 20th century works in a project that feels very much of a cohesive whole. Opening with Guillaume de Machaut's "Kyrie I" (14th century) and ending with Alfred Schnittke's "Collected Songs Where Every Verse Is Filled with Grief" (1984/85), Kronos Quartet brings us along a musical vector as fulfilling as it is fascinatingly melancholy and emotionally complex.
Tom Carter, Skyline Grinder
Tom Carter is a prolific guitarist and collaborator, and we've already seen him on this list in the form of Badgerlore. Skyline Grinder consists of a single 36 minute track of solo electric guitar. In that 36 minutes, Carter takes the listener on a journey into the soul, its textures overlapping, blowing into drones, into harsh blazes of light, into quiet vistas. The view is staggering. The journey endless. Skyline grinder, indeed.
Arvo Pärt, Tabula Rasa
Pärt's work as a composer of sacred music is well known. Tabula Rasa leans heavily on his compositions for strings and piano, particularly "Fratres," performed here by Gidon Kremer and Keith Jarrett and, later on the same album, by the 12 cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. The former is breathtaking and the latter is about as beautiful a piece of music as you will ever hear, a work that takes the listener off the surface, away from the shore, and into the darkly shining lights that mark the infinite tides.
Christian Kiefer and The Infinite Tides links:
The Brooklyn Rail review
Dazed Rambling review
Entertainment Weekly review
Huffington Post review
Kirkus Reviews review
Lance Weller review
Of Books and Reading review
Publishers Weekly review
San Francisco Chronicle review
Tzer Island review
also at Largehearted Boy:
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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