July 6, 2015
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Quintan Ana Wikswo's short story collection The Hope of Floating Has Carried Us This Far boldly combines prose and photography to create a unique, mesmerizing, and unforgettable reading experience.
The Chicago Tribune wrote of the book:
"Each of the 10 stories in the collection feels crafted into a distinctive object and thoughtfully presented, practically hung on a wall for the audience's contemplation. This makes for an unconventional reading experience that is as visual as it is verbal. . . in Wikswo's book, the text and paratext are equally deliberate and interesting, and are, as befits a cross-genre artist, difficult to separate."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
I wrote and photographed The Hope Of Floating Has Carried Me This Far while listening obsessively to music I stumbled upon during several years of fieldwork through the Baltic and Scandinavia – Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Russia, Finland, Norway, Germany, and Iceland. On many occasions I wandered into old stone churches late in the bright nights of summer solstice while the organists and musicians were all alone, playing strange pagan-rooted music during their free time. Often I was lucky enough to walk away with one of their homemade CDs.
Most of these songs have lyrics, but are in languages I don’t speak – many of them are in ancient medieval or pagan dialects which are gorgeous in rhythm and polyphony and unexpected structural patterns that really responded with how I was navigating my own book . I found myself able to write in English with perfect independence, existing in its almost complete absence during my travels.
Years later, as I researched the various songs, I was perplexed and delighted to discover that they each seemed to have a connection to each of the stories I wrote while listening to them. Surely this means there is a liminal space between the ears and the tongue in which the underlying intention of music and word – even incomprehensible ones - lodge themselves in the brain and begin to work their enigmatic alchemy.
STORY: THE CARTOGRAPHER’S KHOROVOD
ARTIST: Ólafur Arnalds
ALBUM: Dyad 1909
The Cartographer’s Khorovod is about a passionate but tormented love affair between a cartographer and a spy working for the underground resistance during a war – they are malevolently separated by an enemy at a bar. After the war, they relocate one another and begin to exchange letters from across opposite polar regions, each on different enigmatic missions with dubious odds of survival.
I was drawn to this song, written by Ólafur Arnolds - an Icelandic composer who originally played hardcore death metal drums – after she created the score for Wayne McGregor’s ballet Dyad 1909 about Ernest Shackleton’s successful 1909 Nimrod expedition to the magnetic South Pole.
Amundsen later said about the expedition aboard the Nimrod, "Sir Ernest Shackleton's name will always be written in the annals of Antarctic exploration in letters of fire." Shackleton brought along a printing press as he planned to publish a book in the Antarctic, and throughout the winter darkness printed thirty copies of the book - Aurora Australis. The team survived by following an ice blink – an opalescence horizon light that reflects off ice fields and is used by Inuit navigators. Shackleton wrote, "We are so thin that our bones ache as we lie on the hard snow." A cache of whiskey and brandy cases - abandoned in 1909 – were recovered intact in 2010.
Arnolds’ score for piano, strings and electronics recognizes the centenary of the visionary Sergey Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, which fled to Paris in 1909 during the Russian revolution. In the song, a khorovod is a women’s incantatory, ritual story, song, and dance that unfolds in a round or spiral form that references ancient pagan rituals of courtship, attraction, and romantic negotiation. The dancers stand in a circle that represents the solar disk, and move from east to west following the sun’s path across the sky. As Vadim Prokhorov wrote, “Structurally, the melodies of khorovod songs most often consist of two dissimilar, contrasting, question-and-answer-type phrases, creating different types of binary form.”
The photographs for this story were created at two sites: the coastal forests of the Baltic region and Germany, where Nazi tank fortifications and mass graves still remain, and traces from the Russian Revolution. Parts were written in the Adirondack forest battlegrounds of the Revolutionary War, where a group of Hessian mercenaries suddenly switched sides to fight for the Revolutionaries, a choice that Diaghilev did not make, either.
STORY: AURORA AND THE STORM
SONG: A French Galleasse
YEAR : 1999
Aurora and the Storm is about two scientist who fall in love but become enigmatically separated during a storm that submerges their conference hotel - I began that story during a dark matter physics conference at an isolated former Nazi resort hotel above the arctic circle in northern Norway, where a glacier avalanche once destroyed the entire village, submerging it under hundreds of feet of fjord. The photographs were created while stranded at a remote hilltop Hudson Valley inn during Hurricane Irene—a luxurious, ruined pleasure palace that was built during the early 1900s and later burned nearly to the ground, but destroyed by the water that was used to fight the fire.
A galleass is a highly powerful, devastastingly deadly militarized sailing ship equipped with oars – just the kind of vessel for survivors who are stranded in high waters of a hurricane to take looking for a lost lover. The Rachel’s were a small but breathtaking post-rock ensemble from Kentucky who worked primarily with viola, cello, piano, and an orchestral bass drum – the musical equipment of existential hurricanes. The word “Selenography” means the study of the moon’s topography, which is what the land looked like after a major aquatic disaster erases all natural features from the earth.
STORY: THE ANGUILLADAE EATER
SONG: Yfirlit – Fundurinn
ARTISTS: Steindór Andersen & Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson
I wrote and photographed The Anguilladae Eater at the Curonian Spit of Lithuania—a tiny spit of land in the Baltic Sea where Vikings used to raid the small fishing villages. The Spit is well recognized for its pantheon ancient and ferocious female deities that are still known to roam the coast. I spent hallucinatory time on the spit, feeling the very alive presence of these deities - my story invokes a half-eel, half-woman who repeatedly receives erotic visits from a Viking, who is half-lover, half-stalker – half-nemesis, half-beloved, who brings her to orgasm only to steal her egg and carry it away with him.
Over the centuries, these mystical, cryptic seaside towns have been invaded and/or occupied by Vikings, Russians, Catholics, and Nazis—I remain curious about how centuries of women responded to each attempt to explore, plunder, subdue, and control this disconcertingly female-ensorcelled slice of earth. I became very intrigued by the line between erotic exploitation and erotic satisfaction: what pleasures and pains emerge within the complex power negotiations between woman and man, human and animal, hunting and harvest, giving and taking.
Experimental composer Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson is a chief priest of Ásatrúarfélagið, a nondogmatic pantheistic Norse pagan religion, and says, “I believe in a higher power which appears to us in the multiplicity of nature and of human life. We have manifestations of certain primal forces which we regard as gods…these are powers that are visible, half-visible and sometimes invisible.” He revived the form of Rímur chanting - a 14th century Icelandic epic alliterative rhymed poem form with two to four lines per stanza. Most Rímor chants begin with a mansöngr for a woman whom the singer loves. Steindór Andersen is acclaimed for his mastery of the Rimor.
STORY: HOLDFAST CROWBITER
SONG: Vahtralt Valgō Pilve Pääle (From A Maple Onto A White Cloud)
ARTIST: Ester Mägi & Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
ALBUM: Magi: Tree of Song
I first encountered the music of legendary composer Ester Mägi at a small choral concert of her works in an ancient, melancholy church in Tallinn, Estonia, on the moody late night of summer solstice. Born in 1922, her highly influential and haunting polyphonic body of work draws inspiration from ancient Estonian runic songs and pagan folk music - which is traditionally sung by women – which some Estonians believe was driven underground during the 20th century Soviet occupation under Stalin, and most Russians believe was enthusiastically supported after Stalin’s death.
I wrote and photographed Holdfast Crowbiter in Nerida, Lithuania, on the on the Curonian Spit of Lithuania. There is an ancient local tradition there where men would walk into the Baltic Sea, trap crows with nets, and kill them with a single bite to the neck. These men were called “crowbiters.” For thousands of years, this land itself was under constant occupation and invasion by aggressive neighboring nations, and this took many of these men far from home, or killed them. For the remaining women, life involved navigating power relationships with enemy men, and surviving famine and hunger. Any source of food was precious.
Soon, there were female crowbiters, for whom this story is written. For the women who had to step and make a sacrifice of the sacred crows, the taste of salt in the mouth is not unlike that of their own blood, and the blood of other loved ones.
During this time, many of these small pagan seaside villages were consumed by the constantly shifting sand dunes. Entire villages would sometimes vanish under the dunes, where they would be lost forever, with remnants of those structures still occasionally surfacing today…much like the pagan musical motifs that Mä’gi invokes in her compositions.
STORY: MY NEBULAE, MY ANTILLES
ARTIST: Skúli Sverrisson
YEAR : 1997
I wrote My Nebulae, My Antilles in the Antilles, and made the photographs at a decommissioned Soviet-era paper factory in Latvia on the coastal road outside Riga. The entire piece was constructed as I migrated between these two disparate places nearly on opposite hemispheres of the world. I found myself leading two separate lives in each place, but connected within my deep psyche. The work became a study in time travel, and how the self and the people we encounter along our migrations are affected by time-space.
The Anguilladae Eels are born in the Baltic and take years to follow a deep-water trench to the Sargasso Sea. It took thousands of years for humans to realize that the tiny eels of the Baltic and the huge eels of the Caribbean were the same creatures a lifetime apart. Much of the story – like Sverrisso’s album – surrounds this hypnotic structure that to me is a kind of long, lonely call and response between instruments (even though the album was created only with an electric bass).His music unfolds with a romantic deliberateness. It’s seductive, and determined.
I encountered this very rare album from bassist-composer Sverrisso while in Latvia. His incantatory debut solo album – recorded entirely with electric bass - later came to stand beside his extensive collaborations with the world’s most legendary avant-garde musician and performance artists. I’ve loved his soundscapes that leave space for other media, for shimmers in the psyche, and an oddly aquatic feel.
In the story, airmail letters between Latvia and the Antilles experience long migratory delays – in part due to an apocryphal story I was told about mail being dumped in the rivers and oceans of Latvia during Soviet times. I heard stories from the inhabitants of Latvia – subjected to ideologically based travel constrictions of the Communist Era – who waited years for letters from people who had fled the occupation, and those who remained often nurtured vivid dream lives lived in half-imagined southern island paradises.
STORY: THE KHOLODNAYA VOINA CLUB “The Cold War Club”
SONG: Otsekui Hirv Kisendab (Like A Deer Cries Out)
ARTIST: Rudolf Tobias
In junior high, I fell in love with a senior named Kent Koontz who was determined to become a test pilot for the U.S. military. I was outspokenly devastated when he achieved his dream. Shortly thereafter he was killed during a test flight crash, only a year prior to the end of the Cold War. As I discovered all the other women bereaved by the deaths of their beloved pilots, I wrote Voina imagining all the pilots waiting for us in the afterlife, thinking about the relationship between true love and total war. I created the photographs and story at Floyd Bennett Airfield in Brooklyn, where salvaged military warplanes are rehabilitated by a team of volunteer flight mechanic and pilot veterans. As they’d work in melancholy silence, I’d imagine this their own kind of living afterlife.
A choral and organ work, Otsekui Hirv Kisendab is based off Psalm 42: “My tears have been my food day and night…all your waves and breakers have swept over me… These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng…Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy? As with a sword in my bones, mine enemies reproach me.”
Intense and polyphonic composer Rudolf Tobias was born on a tiny Baltic island in 1873 while it was part of the Russian Empire, and later left to work extensively in what a century later became the cold war nations of East Germany and Czechoslovkia, where he was deeply influenced by the architecture of Dresden, later destroyed in fire bombing. He too created and imagined beautiful things, and after his death, perhaps watched the places in which he loved and created be destroyed by total war.
STORY: ON THE SOFA
SONG: 3 Gnossiennes: Gnossienne No. 1
ARTIST: Erik Satie
YEAR : 1890
I wrote and photographed On the Sofa after spending time wandering in the Jewish ghetto of Vilnius, Lithuania. Later, in Paris, I spoke with an elderly bohemian Jewish Lithuanian woman Holocaust survivor who spoke of her life in Lithuania before the Shoah, and her later adventures in Paris. As a young woman of twenty, she trained as a seamstress and opened her own shop, selling what she described as “menswear for women.” Her discreet shop held informal, private gatherings of women who loved her clothing, and women - as a result, she became socially unacceptable and was encouraged to move to avant garde 1930s Paris — the arrival of war merely hastened her departure. In Paris, after the war, she opened her own atelier, where she continued her line of clothing for women who wished to dress as men. But, she said, there was a woman, beloved, closer to her than a sister, who at the last moment did not join her. She had been a cleaning lady at a synagogue, and she did not survive.
I imagined her listening to Satie’s Gnossiennes, possibly the most soulfully erotic music ever composed by an adventurously visionary creator determined to break down established rules of his vocation. An esoteric and avant-garde figure, the British, Scottish and French composer Satie created the word gnossienne to indicate a revolutionary style of composition created in “free time” - without restriction of time signatures or bar lines, irregular formats, alterations to old scales, and inventions of new ones.
Divided into three parts like my suite itself, his Gnossiennes became the catalyst for consternation and dismay of the establishment (accustomed to the accepted music from Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, as well as women wearing dresses and having sex with men. He is believed to have had only one sexual relationship with a woman he adored who left him, "nothing but an icy loneliness that fills the head with emptiness the heart with sadness."
Like my friend, he fled the conventions of his time, and immersed himself in dada and theatre of the absurd, surrealists, Cocteau, cubists and Tristan Tzara. Montmartre and Le Chat Noir. And like the hostility my friend encountered in Vilnius, Satie’s Paris music school "insignificant and laborious" and "worthless and untalented.” Throughout his life, he created a secret collection of imaginary buildings drawn on little cards – not unlike On The Sofa, or my friend’s recollections of the long-destroyed atelier and sofa in Vilnius where she loved, lost, and escaped.
STORY: THE DELICATE ARCHITECTURE OF OUR GALAXY
SONG: Siren Song
ARTIST: Jóhann Jóhannsonn and the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus
ALBUM: And In The Endless Pause There Came The Sound Of Bees
The Delicate Architecture is about a child whose mother – a thwarted scientist - now lives inside a mason jar, and must be submerged in a lake at each solstice and equinox – a kind of siren. The photographs for this project were created at the lakes of the artist residency of Yaddo, which the original owner and founder Katrina Trask named after her four children who died tragically. The lakes are beautiful and haunting, and have long been used by her and others as sites for ritual, pilgrimage, and meditation on love and loss.
I was drawn throughout the writing of this piece to Siren Song, a pipe organ and choir piece by composer and sound art installation artist Johannsonn – his minimalist, neo-classical, drone, and electronic music invokes loneliness but also the determination of a siren, of being lured to water in hopes of some sort of union, or in hopes of drawing the living to join the dead, the contained, or the restricted. Like the solstice and equinox, the piece contains a lot repeating motifs, and an undulating, mesmerizing structure.
STORY: CAP ARCONA
STONE: Sinfonietta: Allegretto Allegro Maestoso (Fanfare)
ARTIST: Leoš Janáček
I wrote the love-and-war story Cap Arcona as part of a collaboration with Baltic/German visual artist Paetrick Schmidt, who told me his childhood experience with the Cap Arcona, a German luxury cruise liner that sailed the Baltic Sea in the 1930s. In my story, the love affair unfolds between a British fighter pilot and a German Jewish ornithologist – two lovers obsessed by birds, the diversity of human language, and war - who become caught up in the final fate of the Cap Arcona.
In the final days of WWII, the Germans requisitioned the ship and filled it with escaping Nazi war criminals and prisoners from evacuated concentration camps. It set sail for Helsinki, where the Nazis planned to disembark and then dynamite the vessel, killing all the prisoners. On May 3rd, it was bombed and sunk by the British Royal Air Force, and all aboard drowned. The RAF officer who gave the bombing orders later disappeared while flying an alleged Nazi ratline over the Bermuda Triangle.
Paetrick told me about the bones from the concentration camp prisoners that he and others would find washed up on the Baltic shore well into the 1970s and 1980s. I created the photographs at the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument in Fort Greene, Brooklyn—the internment site for the dismembered bones of Revolutionary War patriots killed on British prison ships on the East River whose bones were found along the Brooklyn shores for decades by neighbors including Walt Whitman. Other photographs were created at Floyd Bennett Airfield in Brooklyn, where warplanes embarked on bombing missions across the Atlantic throughout WWII.
Defiant and anti-authoritarian Czech opera composer Leoš Janáček believed music should be instructed by the language of human speech and birds. Janáček said his Sinfonietta for brass was intended to express “contemporary free man, his spiritual beauty and joy, his strength, courage and determination to fight for victory.” The impoverished Janáček often made do with a keyboard drawn on his tabletop – a determination that I found echoed in my pilot George’s pretending he was a bird and not a bomber, and my ornithologist Carolina’s attempt to feed Jewish religious food to birds before she was imprisoned behind the walls of Neuengamme.
In 1927 – the year of the Sinfonietta's first performances in New York, Berlin and Brno – he began to compose his final operatic work, From the House of the Dead, the third Act of which was found on his desk after his death.
STORY: THE DOUBLE NAUTILUS
SONG: Toccata in B Flat Minor
ARTIST: Louis Vierne
For the first five years of my life, I played above, alongside, and within the tunnels of the Stanford Linear Particle Collider; in later years, I spent time at CERN during the construction of the Large Hadron Collider, where dark-matter physicists introduced me to the coiling corridors and tunnels beneath the Alps. This became the inspiration for The Double Nautilus, in which the construction at CERN unearths an enormous, primordial, fossilized double nautilus, into whose darkness my lover-scientists descend – they lose one another in the darkness of the two interconnected nautili, and painfully try to locate one another only by the sense of sound within the peculiar acoustics of the structure. When Matthew Contos and I were taking photographs of the Nautilus, we tied it to a string from a fishing line, and as it twisted in the air, an eerie song emerged from within its nacreous whorls.
Principal organist at the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris from 1900 until 1937, composer Louis Vierne was born legally blind, and as his vision diminished he began to compose in Braille. "I came into the world almost completely blind on account of which my parents felt a very keen chagrin. I was surrounded by a warm and continual tenderness which very early predisposed me to an almost unhealthy sensitivity. This was to follow me all my life, and was to become the cause of intense joys and inexpressible sufferings.” He later shattered his legs necessary to play the organ, and was rehabilitated in Bern in a chamber of total darkness – a few meter from today’s entrance to the Hadron Collider.
The English physicist Lord Rayleigh observed in 1877 a peculiar phenomenon in which two identical organ pipes are adjacent to one another, the two pipes are barely audible. Once a barrier is placed between, they play loud and clear. Contemporary Potsdam University physicist Markus Abel discovered that “the two pipes influence each other as they are played, via the air between them. Even if initially tuned to slightly different frequencies, the two pipes change subtly until they sing exactly the same note, but vibrate the air exactly the opposite of each other. The two out-of-synch sound waves cancel almost perfectly, resulting in near silence.” Abel writes, "They adjust to each other in a way that the energy consumption is minimized. If the pipes are built to sound notes that are too far apart from each other, they'll sound independently. If the difference is too strong, it would take too much energy. You have a certain reservoir of energy that must be enough to synchronize these two pipes."
In the underwater darkness, without visual information, a Chamber Nautilus can detect mechanical and acoustical stimuli and respond to aquatic vibrations, displacements and velocities. For the Nautilus, there is a perfect distance from the source, at which is is most accurately detected. That distance has not yet been discovered by scientists.
Inside the accelerator, two high-energy particle beams travel at close to the speed of light before they are made to collide.
Inside the double nautilus, two lovers travel adjacent to each other, separated by a barrier of shell that, perversely, allows them to hear and eventually locate one another in a whole new kind of collision.
The structure of a chamber nautilus is gnomonic – the old structure is contained intact within the new. On the evening of June 2nd, 1937, Vierne was playing his 1,750th organ recital at Notre-Dame de Paris via his braille score when he abruptly pitched forward and died, his foot pressing the low "E" pedal of the organ. His lifelong dream has been to die at the pipes of the great organ of Notre-Dame.
Quintan Ana Wikswo and The Hope of Floating Has Carried Us This Far links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
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Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
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weekly music release lists
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)