January 8, 2016
In the "Largehearted Boy Cross-Media Cultural Exchange Program" series (thanks to Jami Attenberg for the title), authors interview musicians (and vice versa).
Tim Horvath is the author of the short story collection Circulation.
Adam Klein is a musician and writer. His latest project is the Size Queens multimedia ibook "To the Country."
Author Tim Horvath interviews musician Adam Klein:
Tim Horvath: I interviewed Adam Klein, one of the minds behind the deranged polymorphous ensemble The Size Queens, about their multimedia project, “To the Country,” released back in the summer of 2015. Part lo-fi rock album, part ebook, and part roadside attraction souvenir-haul, this hybrid work resists easy description or pinning down, but is correspondingly easy to get lost in, a most pleasurable set of rabbit holes. In keeping with the multimedia spirit of the thing, Adam and I vowed at first to use various means of communicating. We envisioned having multiple chat windows open, including Skyping and maybe Facetime at the same time, with a carrier pigeon at the ready. If new technologies sprung up along the way—holofax? quantum walkie-talkie? neuro-calligraphy?—hell, we'd find ways to use them too. Eventually, though, we got caught up in the thick of the conversation and the medium fell by the wayside.
I guess the place to start for me is that there are few models for this sort of collaborative, multimedia work. Or are there, and I'm just not aware of them? It seems to me that one of the biggest challenges with such work is figuring out how to allow these different media to each perform within the larger whole, to let each one have its space, without them canceling each other out. Maybe because of the musical underpinnings of the work, I'm thinking of them in terms of soloists, or in terms of an ensemble in which there are solo moments but also a larger collective work. Because “To the Country” goes beyond, as will be obvious to anyone perusing the work for more than a few seconds, music and writing alone--there are all of these visual elements that participate in the experience. They're not intrusive, but almost refreshing. I think we're accustomed nowadays to having the corners of our visual field pelted and disrupted by advertisements, so that it comes as a sort of relief to have aesthetically pleasing and interesting patches of visual input that aren't trying to sell us anything, that are just generous and ask nothing but our acknowledgement and maybe the slight voltage of our pleasure.
Adam Klein: I think it's critical that multimedia work takes an especial interest in weighing its elements. It's something I hope is taught in design. It's great to watch a smart producer mix a song, carving out space, dropping out elements as well as adding instruments in. You're always putting these processes up front, even if you're making a decision to bury everything behind a wall of feedback. But yes, there were unique issues we faced in releasing "To The Country" as an iBook, not least of which is that the band was sort of the unknown contributor. The band, and more specifically, the music, could disappear behind a list of accomplished writers. I hope that doesn't happen, but I also enjoy the risk. I think the real balance comes out in the design concept, which holds everything in its orbit. Chuck Mobley, who really initiated and then worked on the iBook idea with me, was also the person who found the 1940s Standard Oil and Pan American postcards of American landscapes. He re-photographed them for extra remove: they become representations of the representations of "nature." Thus they embody the questions of what constitutes "nature" or "the country" and what is our romantic idea of the "pastoral" in visual representations. The flash has an added benefit of a hard glow, which relates to the alien or metaphysical themes in the lyrics. In the iBook, the glitching suggests the instability of digital media—something many people consider a permanent, static repository but which is actually degradable, much like the organic, analog, or natural world. The glitching, agitated images, suggest the breaking through of the metaphysical, or at least the sense of the unpredictable or eroding aspects of matter that I think underlies our relationship to "nature"--our own "natures" and the nature of the world. The postcards organize the book -- they visually mimic the sending out of songs to the individual writers (and the postcard travels the country--even if only digitally, and even if [culturally] we have mostly discontinued sending “snail mail”). The image side of the postcard was selected to tonally fit between the song and text. Chuck was very careful about allowing the text to be readable. That was foremost. But I imagine he was deploying a very abstract skill in setting down the short GIFs and media embeds on the image side of the card. He was careful to avoid the bells and whistles. A couple of things readers who are really working through the project can consider: the addresses are not the authors', but they are all actual addresses--of highway gas stations, artist residencies, a drone retailer, an owl training site, etc. Those were fun to seek out. And the text has very light hyperlinks that lead to an ambitious glossary of personal and political associations. One of my favorites is the term public pool, which links to a scene from Goodbye Columbus. It's a country club, not a particularly welcoming place for Jews. And Richard Benjamin and Ali McGraw, well, they had an early sexual fascination for me, but also a musical fascination. The soundtrack to that film, which is very hard to get, is by The Association, and if you ask me, it's an experimental album, and a masterpiece.
When we record, we've had real magical moments of welcoming singers and musicians to come into the studio and we try not to tell anyone what to play. So by inviting these writers to provide texts, we were again going to exercise that same trust. Here's the song, do what you will. Some really stuck close to the lyrics. Others performed the Robert Quine solo. To my knowledge, this is a first release by a band in this format, so we are very aware that it is an experiment, that some will read a text and love it, and maybe not get around to the song. But some will. And some will do the bridging work required to take it all in. And while there is so much discussion of interdisciplinary work, it seemed right to jump in and perhaps make some mistakes, but to exploit the opportunities and take the risks. Do it and see if it works, how it works: that's a kind of motto for The Size Queens.
TH: I love that the postcards use actual addresses--they create this great framework for the book as a whole in their double-sidedness. It seems as though there are a lot of double sides in the work--the underbelly of nature, especially if we consider Standard Oil is behind some of the images, that the ones commemorating nature are so often fracking it while we ooh and ahh. And then there are the double meanings of "country," or the way the songs and stories function together, and so forth. By "double," by the way, I don't mean to emphasize the number two--more the sidedness, the way the stories are inverting our expectations or stereotypes, the way in which story and song exist not necessarily in perfect harmony with one another but in a sort of a tension at times, where neither one has ultimate priority. I found myself "flipping" back and forth, for instance, in that I'd listen to a song, then read a story, then re-listen to the song, which suddenly had this richer dimension. And sometimes, as happens in stories, the story itself contains its own flipping, as with Rick Moody's, for instance, playing with stereotypes not by hiding them but putting them right out into the foreground and then dealing with them head-on. Moody's piece also plays with our complicated contemporary state viz-a-viz nature, for instance, in the world of food, where, of course, "natural" is such a loaded term, one that gets thrown around rather willy-nilly. “Natural” is big business, after all.
AK: Years ago, when we released "III," Mary Gaitskill wrote a blurb for The Size Queens in which she pegged us as being double-sided and double-hearted. If there's poignancy in what we do, it's also a bit acidic, maybe there's a meanness to it, a bitter heartbreak. I think as a songwriter, I'm always interested in poking around truly horrible things but I can't do it earnestly any longer (at the same time, I'm not cynical). I can't look at anything head on, or I may be turned to a pillar of salt. The city is burning behind you, don't look back. And yet you must. It's a terrible conundrum. So yes, the Standard Oil postcards are ironic, but not entirely. The history of the automobile was—to be optimistic—naive; I'm sure people found it liberating that one could see the country, tour the backroads of America. Who the hell foresaw deepwater drilling and fracking? Maybe that came later, when touring America meant touring gas stations and chain restaurants. I think we paradoxically arrived where we are out of a kind of edenic imagination, a belief that we were wrongly exiled, and that, with enough initiative, energy, and positive thinking, we could earn our way back to a benign, pastoral, biblical birthright. And yes, "Big Oil" is the big business of "Nature," but so are "organic" and "artisanal" brands, and eco-aware products like "detergent-free cleaners." Nature is apparently worth a great deal to us, but only when we promise it's not being destroyed, or that it's “bottled at the source” or “sustainable.”
I like this idea of "flipping back and forth." Chuck and I discussed whether the music should continue playing when you moved over to the text pages, and decided it was probably best not to have it playing continuously, exactly so that an inquiring mind might listen to the whole song or go back and forth and ask the questions you have: what is the relation between this song and this text (and these images), or is there a relationship? What relationship do I expect or desire? That's probably the most important, to me. If you're doing video, the brain just accepts that the visual elements are related to the music. I think it may be because the moving image and rhythm of the song are sort of neurologically wired together. Whereas the iBook can more actively interrogate the way we consume media, specifically text and song. Must text support song, or song support text? I think this is what you mean by "ultimate priority." For me, the moment the book came into being, the songs were no longer just themselves. But others may not feel that way, and I may not feel that way in time.
TH: In terms of the relationship between song and story/poem/essay, The Size Queens's songs even prior to this album seem by and large to tell stories. It's pretty obvious that storytelling, in other words, isn't a new medium for you. But the way a song tells a story and the way the written word does so are distinct. I guess I'm wondering what you learned about your songs in the process of doing this. Were you surprised by any of the interpretations? Are there songs that are irrevocably altered for you now that you've hung out with their story-siblings?
AK: Well, the songs were written first; I can't say that the stories influenced how they were written. But of course, a song like "Nature's Picture" overtly mentions "Dark Mountain," so Paul Kingsnorth had somehow burrowed into my preconscious mind. I am so honored he then offered those beautiful poems. But the song was also influenced by the cover of "Their Satanic Majesty's Request" for no particular reason and not consciously, except that the silly sorcerer's hat and the mandolin and the artificial plenitude, not to mention the planets, were all somehow working their way out in the recording.
Rick's piece is a romp. He just got into the utter abandon that's in the playing of the song, the concept of wildness that haunts every forest-dwelling crackhead with a hunger for messing shit up, and literally shitting where they eat. I sort of knew immediately Rick was right for that song, partly because it's so reckless and skronky and improvised and silly. He seems to enjoy that about The Size Queens, and his piece entirely shares the spirit. I was surprised at the way many writers responded. Overall, I think the record is an emotional record, so I was interested to find that much of the writing is cerebral, almost resisting that kind of nakedness or vulnerability. I do like the tension it provides. However, Melanie Rae Thon took an exquisitely lyrical approach to the victims of childhood predation that I make light of in "Faith." That's a very kind addition, to see the heart in our song-- the gospel in it--even though it's just a rock song. The whole record, though, is irrevocably altered for me. I will always have Joy ‘s story and Lynne's in my mind, or Jim's icy landscape, or J. Robert Lennon's sample.
TH: I think the Q and A at the end of Rick's story (spoiler alert) is also intriguing, and adds another layer...I know he likes to play with form, such as turning liner notes into a story in one instance in Demonology and even in Rick's magnificent story "Demonology" itself, which I always read as a series of photographs in various stages of development. But more, even, than playing with form, I think he is interested in those places where a story turns on itself, where it, and thus a human being, manages to stretch out and look at itself/himself/herself, rather than the form or meta-fiction for its own sake. It's never just about being clever, in other words.
AK: Yes, I think Rick's story deploys a decidedly self-conscious addition of discussion questions at the end of it, and I find it a bit more than just a playing with form, but very possibly a commentary on this strange, rather inept component to publishing where books are sold with "Teacher's Copy" questions already provided. He uses it to get at some rather poignant questions about the violation of what we can assume was his actual home, but the questions themselves are also a kind of violation of the author's story, so by providing his own "Questions for Discussion" he kind of pre-empts and mimics this publishing fad, and also reveals, I believe, a kind of contempt for it, though that may not have been his intent at all. I agree with you; it isn't a meta-fiction for its own sake, but a way of more deeply addressing the question of "trespass."
TH: With the Rae Thon story, when you click on "shadows," to take another example, you get transported elsewhere, both literally in your browser window and in terms of the emotional tenor of that moment. How much input did the writers have on those sorts of decisions? And have you gotten any feedback from the writers themselves on seeing their work in this context, or seeing possibilities of their work opened up through collaboration and multimedia?
AK: Actually, the writers weren't consulted at all about the links, though I explained in advance that they could create stories that used hyperlinks, since this would be an iBook, and I encouraged them to use media as they saw fit, even offering them to communicate directly with Chuck Mobley who designed it, if they had any technical questions about how to do it. There were many opportunities for the writers to exploit the format. But frankly, most seemed a bit removed from it. None have commented on the links, or the glossary, which I think is such an important and fascinating aspect of the project (naturally, having created it, I am especially fond of it). Honestly, I don't think most of the writers have managed to download the book. I'm not sure yet whether this is just a typical Size Queens move: to create a project most people can't seem to access. Even conceptually, most people couldn't see the point or the opportunity. But that glossary, if you were just to move through the links, would take you through the political and pop cultural landscape that the band has mined for years. There are animations of fishermen enslaved on the islands off Thailand, and plenty of material on “intentional communities” and after a while, it's all like a Charles Kinbote annotation to "Pale Fire" -- a crazy "understory" to steal your own title.
TH: Steal away! With the flipping and the more acrobatic metaphorical leaps, I love how some of the song/story pairings fit together so seamlessly, like the Joy Williams piece, which seems to be, from a child's point of view (and the mother's, by her presence), another side of "Country Back." I love the simplicity of it, how raw and naive and exposed it is, with phrases like "off the griddle." Together, the song/story reminds us about the human consequences of political beliefs, that such beliefs don't just exist in some abstract realm or in the cable news studio full of pundits, but in a girl's breakfast. And I feel like the mother in that story is trying to get her family back.
AK: Well, you absolutely got how Joy's piece is like a reflecting pool of the crazy dad in the song. The mother's "off the griddle" line making it clear that she is not off the patriarchy grid; there's a little inconsistency between a man's hubris in the woods, and his poor wife, still trying to manage pancakes without the griddle. Funny how the ingenious efforts to remake oneself, or to create a utopian community, can somehow manage to leave women in the kitchen!
TH: I like how you talk about Rae Thon finding the gospel in your music--of course, nothings' ever "just a rock song," right, if only because rock itself is such a hybrid, such an amalgam of so many styles and strains of music? I always sense that revelry in mixture and mashup in The Size Queens stuff, which maybe has to do with the way in which you assemble your songs. I've been listening to a lot of contemporary classical music for my own novel-in-progress, and looking at some scores, and one of the things that interests me is the way that composers will sometimes write directions into the score that no one would actually be able to hear per se, but which steer the musicians in a certain direction, almost like some of the writing we see sometimes in screenplays, the asides to the actors. There's a textural element to your music where I find myself listening to the layers, for the "silent glissandos," as I see in the musical credits. I'm wondering if you can talk a bit more about how those textures come about.
AK: I so appreciate you noticing the "silent glissando!" Michael was playing the organ before it was mic-ed. But the room microphone picked up the sound of his glissando, so we kept it in. It's just the run of his fingers over the keys, but it's those errors that we really enjoy. When we recorded "Consumption Work," we spent hours finding the right sounds of spinning coins and jackpots and coins in a can. We're willing to run the risk of rudimentary illustration if it keeps us laughing in the studio.
TH: If we could jump back to the "Goodbye, Columbus" clip--here I was just thinking about it in terms of lust and our cultural associations with it but you drawing the musical connection (and a larger Association) and seeing it as experimental adds another dimension.
I was thinking about the sequencing of the stories and wondering if there was a conscious attempt to shape them into a sort of "album" of stories...or if the song sequence came first as a musical album. What provokes this thought is the way in which certain pieces seem to lead into one another stylistically--I'm thinking of the extremely gritty pieces by Rae Bryant and Melanie Rae Thon, followed by the leap into a very abstract, Borgesian meditation/musing on Borges and on vision itself, and then the J. Robert Lennon piece, which is, if anything, even more abstract, insofar as it sheds its narrative attire and dons such bureaucratic duds.
It's really cool, I note, to have a piece about an imaginary painting (I presume) that contains visuals but resists the temptation to include some rendering of the painting itself. I particularly like the way the final artwork repeats itself on an endless loop--what could be more Borgesian?
AK: That is a great way to see the texts working. I'd like to take responsibility for being more holistically engaged in the organization of the texts, but I really just sequenced the record as I would traditionally. In some way, the texts seemed to work in that order. I was very aware of Rae Bryant's piece being longer and more directly pulling from the lyrics, than say Maria Bustillos' piece. Brian Evenson gave me two pieces: one was a complete story, the other, I think he described as a provisional sketch or an experiment. Anyway, I chose "Lemon Reamers" because, unlike the finished story, it evoked an absent woman. I thought it was probably better to have something he felt less complete, but that worked more associatively with “Shine Your Light.” It was a tough call. But in the end, the spirit of collaboration, I felt, should free me from the idea that I am necessarily only responding to the complete, or stand-alone work of an author. I'm not working as an agent or publisher. We're making something together.
I wonder if that sounds irresponsible?
TH: Not irresponsible. But that is definitely a provocative aesthetic decision. Collaboration over some inherent quality of the work. There's something great about it. I remember--paraphrasing here from memory--something in the Fishbone documentary to the effect that they decided early to be democratic about every decision involving the band, and that obviously shaped everything they did. So...it's certainly not an unprecedented approach.
AK: Yes, it's not unprecedented. But there is the sense that when you wear an "editor hat" you should exercise control or take responsibility. So, I'll take responsibility. I could be called out for not fixing it just so. But really, there is trust involved: trust that people give you what they want, and that expectations of a piece may be better evaluated by someone who is seeing the whole project and isn't as deeply engaged in the songs, perhaps not engaged in them at all.
In relation to the approach we took to distributing the release, as well as many of the "design elements," I would say Hito Steyrl's "In Defense of the Poor Image" would be a good lens for thinking about digital decay, transmutation, "slipperiness." I've been teaching communications, so Zeilinski and Flusser have been theoretically important to me. Chuck Mobley introduced me to Flusser. We are almost always in contact re: this profoundly uninteresting and misguided term "new media." Or "digital media." We're always rethinking distribution and audience, and especially what constitutes a successful venture, a satisfying one. And that's really what we're in it for. Fifteen years into making music, I don't really worry about reaching a larger audience. I'm far more concerned with challenging and entertaining the small group of listeners we have. I want to go deeper not wider. Also, incredibly influential: all of the DIY scene -- Crass, Throbbing Gristle, etc. -- who were brilliant marketers. Also, artists like Martha Rosler, Allan McCullom, Stephanie Syjuco. There are so many, but all of these musicians and artists were and are very strategic, serious, but also fun. I like that there are so many models for unpredictable and spirited artists these days. We have the mixed blessing that nothing is worth anything anymore. You have to do things with a kind of passionate disregard.
TH: Maybe can you say a bit more about how teaching communications has impacted your thinking about design? I'm intrigued by this notion of the "poor image" and how it ties into writing and to the overall work of art and its presentation. I was recently revisiting the journal Between C and D--do you remember it? That journal was printed on dot-matrix printer paper that you unfolded, and the whole thing, the way I remember it, was sealed in a Ziploc bag. By the standards of a glossy magazine or even a highly refined literary journal, it was unabashedly low fi, yet that was part of its appeal, right down to the dot matrix image. Maybe it was like a ship in a bottle, designed to withstand and outlast gentrification. But seriously, I'm thinking about it in terms of your work, which can do much that a strictly print work can't do. It seems to me that it's not just the "poor" image but the juxtaposition of rich and poor that makes it interesting to me. A sort of democratization that does more to destabilize the hierarchy than a crisper delineation and distribution might. In music, of course, we've also seen this for generations--the band that's too pristine on record is "overproduced," and their sound is wrecked. It makes me think about something that perhaps is obvious, or should be, which is why we are drawn to these ragged-edged things, these deckles of sound or image or even of language, apart from the fact that they seem to be the forms in which art-matter is distributed these days.
AK: Actually, my teaching in communications hasn't made me, in any way, equipped to really discuss design. I am well aware of design that is simply "wrong." On our first CD we intentionally used Photoshop as a means of destroying the illusion that the application provides expertise. You know, I think of how liberating it was to hear that The Mekons "didn't know how to play." I'm putting that in quotes because this many years after listening to "Corporal Chalkie" and the rest of "Devils, Rats and Piggies," I still can't imagine that anyone who listened to the record would ask them to "know how" when they so clearly knew "why" they were playing. Or perhaps it was only revealed through the making of it, which seems more likely. But, yes, Steryerl's essay can easily connect Ziploc baggies and early forms of distribution. To mark The Size Queens' ten-year anniversary, I'll be working with a music club in India to remix some songs. Chuck and I have been thinking a lot about bootleg recording, and most recently, about doing the record as a shortwave release. We spend many hours on Skype considering the conceptual package. That's when I find theory to be useful. For instance, Steyerl writes, "The poor image is an illicit fifth-generation bastard of an original image. [...] It often defies patrimony, national culture, or indeed copyright. It is passed on as a lure, a decoy, an index, or as a reminder of its former visual self. It mocks the promises of digital technology. Not only is it often degraded to the point of being just a hurried blur, one even doubts whether it could be called an image at all." I read this after we'd created “To The Country,” but this felt exactly right, a perfect accounting of how we were thinking.
What are we supposed to do in a spectral marketplace, where the music we make is accorded no value? I certainly feel obligated to interrogate what the world of "free" information means--how and why it's even delivered. How to fuck it up. We went from a kind of Photoshop joke on the first record, to releasing "Appetite for Redaction" in a leaked file of documents, then "Consumption Work: Tammy, Cybertariat, At The Aral Sea" as an image soundtrack to an audio album. A kind of reverse film. The iBook was a "natural" step for a record that purported--by its title alone--to be about "the country." But upon inspection, the concept of "the country" is so riddled with contradictory information and associations, it is itself a rabbit hole.
So, getting back to your mention of "overproduction." I know this well. The artistic problem of overproduction. To me it's about the need to authenticate for yourself that, yes, indeed, you have created a professional record, worthy of its barcode. You sit in a studio and the playback is big and glittering and the guitars wash over you and the vocal is high in the mix and it's just sublime. You have the experience of mastery. And then you live with it. And it hollows out. Our first band…we had good songs, but I wanted us to sound orchestral. I wanted things to be well played. Somewhere in my head an audience of autocrats were listening for a wrong note. Once that tyranny was acknowledged, the music needed impurities. We had to lower the quality. It's not just about "poor images" as you suggest. Forcing poor images to stand up in a world of high polish: that is gratifying. That is insurgent. And it's okay, because we know that the digital will become dust and we have no need to mourn it.
TH: Can you talk a bit more about this upcoming project? It sounds like a sort of an epidemiology of music--how does it spread through a population, etc. What do you envision? And while I am guessing, given everything you've said, that you'll never repeat this current project exactly, are you pleased enough with the results that you'd do another such collaboration? What interests you most now, having done this?
AK: Oh lord, I don't want to let the whole cat out of the bag. Maybe just the cat's ears. Not quite an epidemiology, though I like this idea very much. Perhaps a cartography? Epidemiology may give it a "viral" aspect, and this is an exploration of residual methods of sharing music. In short, we'll very likely be working on the ground in India to explore how much we can tolerate collaboration. I'm at least going to provide some tracks to people here to remix. I just want to see what happens. How could we operate outside of the American nostalgia for vinyl? That has us considering a shortwave premiere. I have to run all this by Michael. I think he's mostly aware of the project, but it keeps developing. We're also interested in the shabby cover art of bootlegs and the “labels” that specialized in them. I like the idea of analog theft, the original music thieves and traders.
TH: While “To the Country” may rely on an aesthetics of "poor images," it's put together quite professionally, which I hope you won't take as a backhanded compliment. It feels assembled, the sprawl of its parts notwithstanding. It rewards careful attention. As with, say, Danielewski's The Familiar, Volume 2, its deviations from strict text feel non-arbitrary. I feel that I'm in good hands, even if those hands are shape-shifting and designed to feel like many hands.
AK: I don't consider it a backhanded compliment to say it is professionally put together. I'd like to think of it as employing a number of registers, some that are graphically sound, and other elements, like the postcard addresses, that are just improper signage or forks in the road. These are country roads, as the record title might suggest. Well, Danielewski, that's definitely not a backhanded compliment!
You know, I've been thinking about how the CD never gained traction, despite the fact that it mostly destroyed the vinyl industry. It was always received with a kind of lament. Certain pleasures were gone: opening a gatefold sleeve, or the mysterious markings on Factory records vinyl, etc. There was also an entire history of that format: the basically 12.5 inch sleeve. Warhol's cover art for the Rolling Stones and the Velvet Underground, and so many other artists who'd contributed to the form. Peter Saville, or the covers of “London Calling” and “Never Mind the Bollocks.” It was a weird historical moment where the idea of smallness, of portability, first began its annihilating wave. I remember how common it was to see vinyl tossed out on street corners. And this wave took on the ideology, in the era of the mp3, as a revolution against the "industry." Of course, that revolution only really bankrupted smaller and mid-level musicians and all the people engaged in manufacturing and even bootlegging of vinyl. Many of these people were artists. It's very hard to find people who know how to master for vinyl now, or how to lacquer a disc. So the ideology came after the initial destruction of the album as a "worthy thing." The CD was unworthy. No one wanted to pay for that little disc and its cracked covers and art that required magnification. The mp3 was the "staged" start of the supposed backlash against the music industry. So indeed, we have these shitty downloadable "booklets" you can now get with your "Deluxe Version" Itunes "album." These booklets are an unhappy trace of what we are nostalgic for, but it's unlikely that anyone really looks at them. Maybe the people who played on a record and want to see their name on it. Now, we have epubs, and we are again--perhaps more self-consciously--pursuing the small file, the denuded format. So despite the fact that the iBook "looks" good, it is ultimately a new, but also low form, with no real sustainable value. It's just a file.
But I like the idea of these constraints. I like the idea of making that which is already a low, worthless form. For a faux Kickstarter campaign, we had artists submit PDFs of their work for different contributor award levels. These PDFs of some great artists' works were of course worthless. Their valueless stature made them far more fun to work with--because we are trading in the ineffable, on some level. Which really returns to music: it is arbitrarily priced, but is ultimately the trading in color and feeling. It's wonderfully abstract, though there's great labor behind the making of music. And this is true of writing. What is a piece of writing worth? Some of our best authors today, and I will not name names, are making very small advances, and not earning them out. I'm still of the idea that we trade in sensibility and ideas first; the money is arbitrarily applied and is no inherent sign of virtue or talent, though it may be, if one is blessed by timing.
TH: Any last thoughts that will help readers and listeners make sense of “To The Country”?
AK: Well, I teach film theory, and I love melodrama. I sort of started with punk and ended up with Sirk and Fassbinder. But some of the ideas I really enjoy discussing about the form of melodrama are not far from how the iBook, and the music of "To The Country" work. Melodrama is a populist form, subjugating intellect to feeling, and the political to the domestic. When you asked about the sequencing of songs, I suppose in my head there are many small events taking place: certainly "Faith" and "The Man My Momma Knows" had to sit together: one is about kids in trouble, killing their predators; "Momma Knows" is a more complicated drama (a melodramatic trope, in fact) in which a mother and daughter compete for a pathological drifter's affection. I was trying to do a Sylvia song (“Pillow Talk,” specifically) with a “Forensic Files” twist. But it really is melodrama. Melodramas are always about communities, rules, vicious constraints. Erotic object choices are always wrong or thwarted, and desire must be postponed. I find myself writing songs about horrible little communities--as in "Country Back" or "To The Country" --and also about deeply alienated people--"Shine Your Light," for example, always makes me think of Kim Novak. If she were alive and young today, I would dream of casting her in a role with an infant, living from a small trailer in the mountains. All the songs are short movies in my head, but now they have short stories attached. "Alien," for example, was a weird mash-up of the Twilight Zone episode in which an old woman living in the country is attacked by flying saucers that end up being the US Air Force and "The Man Who Fell to Earth." I have no idea why those things came together for me, but they did. And J. Robert Lennon's piece seemed to be an analysis of the recording, as though sound was a mineral, could be analyzed as a sample.
Overall, I think the iBook is full of all kinds of promise, but is also a deficient, even obsolete platform. Those deficiencies should be right up there, front and center.
Tim Horvath links:
Adam Klein links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
Antiheroines (Jami Attenberg interviews comics artists)
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
guest book reviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Soundtracked (directors and composers discuss their film's soundtracks)